Competition at the highest level of fine dining has intensified in Las Vegas. Pierre Gagnaire, chef patron of his eponymous Michelin three starred restaurant in Paris, has opened Twist, his only venture in the United States. He joins Alain Ducasse of Mix (in The Hotel), Guy Savoy (at Caesar’s Palace), and Joel Robuchon (at the MGM Grand), hoping to emulate their success.
Twist is located in the Mandarin Oriental tower, part of the $8.5 billion CityCentre development of hotels, residences, shopping, entertainment and restaurants. With contemporary design and opulent finishes, it provides a perfect casino-free backdrop of high end luxury in a prime site on the southern part of the Strip.
Sandwiched between the hotel below and residences above, Twist is located on the twenty third floor Sky Lobby. The seventy two cover restaurant has been imaginatively designed by Adam Tihany in colours of silver, grey and purple, with white cracked egg shell walls. Overhead lighting comprises over three hundred suspended illuminated spheres which actually shake gently on a windy day! Of particular note is the suspended wine loft, reached by a dramatic glass staircase. With double height twenty foot windows and split level seating, every table commands an excellent view of the glittering Las Vegas skyline. A sound proofed glass panel on the upper level gives a clear view of the kitchen, ideal for discerning foodies.
Led by Chef de Cuisine Pascal Sanchez, who previously worked at Gagnaire’s London restaurant Sketch, the kitchen functions with the precision and timing of a well oiled machine, producing complex recipes with consummate ease.
Food at Twist bears the inimitable Gagnaire trademarks. Each course is composed of multiple elements, presented separately in dishes of varying shapes and sizes. Endless creativity is shown in daring combinations, often in a French fusion style, that surprise and delight in their balance of tastes, textures and temperatures. Moreover, adaption to the native cuisine is in evidence, showing versatility in the use of regional ingredients and dishes.
The “Spirit” tasting menu is the best way to enjoy the embarrassment of riches that Twist has to offer. It is also the only way of enjoying a dish that helped to establish Gagnaire’s reputation – Langoustine Five Ways.
Six canapés included a simple tuna cream dip of velvety smoothness with ultra light Japanese rice crackers. Pecorino soufflé with Spinach veloute added savoury tones, whilst toasted almond sable gave a muted sweetness. Avocado jelly was rich and refreshing.
A first course of seared scallop, foie gras and squab breast was served cold which enhanced the rich sweet and savoury flavours. A black olive gelee added greater depth, whilst a sake–apple marmalade spiked with pomegranate seeds gave contrasting fruitiness and texture.
The marriage of the sea and earth was seen in a dish of John Dory fillet poached in Malabar black pepper to produce a gentle spiciness. The firm white fish against the creamy earthiness of cannelloni beans and clams in a Marin veloute gave balance of flavour and textual contrast. An added dimension – perhaps one element too far – was given by a “crunchy sauce” of grapefruit and tomato, which the diner was instructed to stir into the dish.
Langoustine Five Ways, to be eaten in a directed order, saw the crustacean seared, grilled and rendered into mousseline, tartar and gelee forms. The medium rare cooking of the hot versions retained their succulence and sweetness. Adaptations to the American palate were seen in garnishes of TTB sauce and creamy avocado with the grilled, and Iberico ham and bell pepper with the seared. Sherry Manzanilla gave the delicate mousseline a spirited boost whilst the tartar, garnished with turnip slices marinated in campari, made for a herby taste sensation. However, the most accomplished item was the gelee, a sublime essence made even more intense by the addition of lobster coral.
Compared with this tour de force, the meat course – after an over complex palate cleanser of grapefruit granite, rhubarb mousse, pineapple, cucumber, tomato and kirsch – came as something of an anti climax. Nevertheless, the prime sirloin, smoked before being grilled, was juicy and well flavoured. The garnish of stewed rhubarb and celery proved a piquant foil to the deep, rich bordelaise sauce. Accompaniments of bolognaise and carpaccio showed skill in varied preparations of beef, whilst grilled zucchini, broccoli salad and egg mimosa added typical American touches to this well balanced course.
The meal ended with a masterly demonstration of the skills of the pastry section. The Grand Dessert featured five items of seasonal fruits, vegetables, sweets and chocolate, revealing excellent technique in the making of sorbet, granite, ice cream, parfait, sable biscuit, meringue, ganache and coulis. The two outstanding items were the cooling Cachaca granite with cucumber marmalade and diced green apple, and the exquisitely rich chocolate ganache with ginger and ice cream, garnished with gold leaf.
Incidentals were also given care and attention to detail. Three breads – molasses, rye and French baguette – served with unsalted and seaweed butter, were of outstanding quality. Petit fours included innovative flash frozen citrus meringue sticks and peanut sables.
Wine pairing with the meal showed the refined skills of sommelier Julie Lin. Riesling, Rheingau 2007, with its lively citrus tones, was a perfect match for the rich first course of scallop and foie gras. Similarly, the choice of “Divine Droplets” sake and a Pio Cesare, Barolo 2006 with the sirloin, proved fitting accompaniments for the langoustine and sirloin respectively. Highly professional service was overseen by the charming Restaurant Director, Josef Wagner. His assistants were interested, friendly and informative, without being obtrusive. Their attentive but relaxed approach put diners at their ease and helped to give the restaurant a pleasing buzz of excitement and enjoyment.
Completed at breakneck speed, at a cost $7 million for an opening in December 2009, Twist has already made a strong impression on the Las Vegas gourmet scene. Its home in the Mandarin Oriental is a distinguished luxury brand location for its sophisticated cuisine. This is not a restaurant for the faint hearted, either in its eclectic combinations of ingredients or its pricing structure, which reflects its excellent quality. Consistency in all aspects of cooking and service over time are essential pre-requisites for success, but the early signs are most promising, auguring well for the future. Overall, it is highly likely that Twist will follow in the footsteps of Gagnaire’s other restaurants in Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong in gaining Michelin star recognition. It certainly deserves it.