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