RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR – TWIST BY PIERRE GAGNAIRE
When Twist by Pierre Gagnaire opened in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in 2009, it capped a culinary renaissance that had been seven years in the making. Beginning in 2003 with Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, our French revolution continued through the openings of Joël Robuchon (2005), Daniel Boulud (2005) and Guy Savoy (2006), and was such a sea change in the quality of restaurant cooking that the whole world took notice. By the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, only New York and San Francisco could lay claim to having a fine dining scene as sophisticated as ours.
Twist was last but not least to this party, but what an entrance it made. From the beginning, it featured the groundbreaking, modernist cuisine of Pierre Gagnaire, usually served in a blizzard of plates surrounding a central theme. At the time, you might be excused for thinking that you were getting too much of a good thing as Gagnaire’s chefs riffed on everything from crabs to cauliflower, sometimes overwhelming your palate in the process. These days, Chef de Cuisine Frédéric Don does his master proud by creating more focused menus, in a glistening atmosphere, delivered by a staff that never misses a beat.
Besides the razor-sharp execution, jaw-dropping presentations and fork-dropping flavors, what impresses the most about Twist is how it’s come together in the past year to become an almost perfect Las Vegas restaurant. It always had the pedigree, the spectacle and the world-class cooking, and now its menu fits the Strip like a Chanel suit. Exotic fare (foie gras parfait, langoustine beignet, smoked haddock soufflé) competes with eye-popping vegetarian menus as this kitchen toggles back and forth between wild tubot finished in a classic beurre Nantais to a not-so-classic black eggplant tortellini with black garlic velouté. This is cooking in the deep end of the epicurean pond, and in the wrong hands you could find yourself drowning in a sea of ingredients. Instead, everything from the proteins to the plants is always on point. If all chefs cooked vegetables this well, the birds and the beasts that roam the earth would have nothing to worry about.
The point of Twist is to dazzle, to intrigue, and to amuse; but it never confuses. (Along with those pirouettes on the plate, they also serve some mighty great steaks.) With an improved (and more affordable) wine program, and Vivian Chang’s ethereal desserts, it has become our most complete dining salon — ready to impress the neophyte gastronome as much as the fussiest gourmet — all served with a view that’s as breathtaking as what’s on your plate.
TWIST BY PIERRE GAGNAIRE
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Sara Steele is one of our own. An Eldorado High School graduate, she earned degrees from both the California Culinary Academy and the College of Southern Nevada before turning her talents to pastry. She began wowing customers with her dessert carts at the Wynn and Encore a decade ago, bringing a playful touch to all sorts of classic cookies, candies, and sweets at Botero and Lakeside. Then she left the grind of restaurant work for a while, much to the dismay of her fans. But the siren song of culinary creativity lured her back to the Chica kitchen when it opened earlier this year, and pan-Latin desserts have never tasted so good.
Steele’s forte is tweaking the familiar in fascinating ways. Lemon donuts are given a new personality when made with ricotta — and a definite wardrobe upgrade when dressed with white chocolate dulce de leche sauce. You won’t find a richer tres leches cake this side of Mexico City, and her take on the Venezuelan marquesa de chocolate is a study in sinful indulgence. Getting every dessert in the house is always the best option here, since there never seems to be enough donuts or churro-fried ice cream pops to go around. Sara Steele can make desserts sing in any language.
The Venetian Hotel and Casino
ELV note: Here they are, food fans, the only restaurant awards that count in our humble burg. Put together by three devoted critics — Jim Begley, Mitchell Wilburn and yours truly — and thoroughly vetted by über-editor Andrew Kiraly, these accolades get published every year in Desert Companion magazine, and are the result of intense research, discussion and fat-chewing. I’m only reprinting the ones I wrote for the ‘zine on these pages today (as sort of a Merry Christmas present to all the recipients), but to see the complete list and article, click here.
There are two requirements for a dessert to be magnificent: one, that it be intense; and two, that it be French. A French renaissance of sorts has blossomed off the Strip in the last year, and the team at Eatt is one of the restaurants doing the food of its homeland proud. On a menu full of standouts both lavish and light, it is Vincent Pellerin’s desserts that will have you swooning — and forgetting about all the delicious, healthy fare you just had for dinner. These classic cream puffs, named to celebrate the Paris-to-Brest bicycle race, are filled with a praline cream, then topped with a house-made chocolate bar and caramelized hazelnuts. They come three to an order, which won’t be enough — whether there’s one person at the table, or three.
EATT GOURMET BISTRO
7865 W. Sahara Ave.