Nothing against the fourth estate mind you, but we never figured to be breaking bread with such literati illuminati as John Kats, Kate Bennett, Melinda Scheckells, Nikki Neu, Beth Schwartz, and everyone’s favorite punk rock restaurant critic: Al “Mad Man” Mancini, all at the same time!
Not to mention Norm!, Melissa Arseniuk, Sarah “The Feldbergian” Feldberg, and Slapsy Maxie Jacobson. Among the leading lights of our social, edible and entertainment media, only Robin Leach wasn’t present — due to a prior commitment.
And, of course, the R-J, that’s still figuring out that there might be some world famous food in these here parts.
ELV imagines a conversation at Stephens Media going something like this:
Editor Frank Feebilito: Hey Heidi, I hear that there’s someone named Pic, or Pack or Pluck or something who everyone knows in Los Angeles and has a good restaurant here. Heard of it?
Ace Restaurant Reporter Heidi Hyphenated: Well…er…yeah Frank. He’s been here for a while… 5 or 6 years at least.
FF: We should probably get on that. Our readers might just be interested — if we get them away from stuffing their Social Security into slot machines. Whaddya think?
HH: You know, you might be right! As soon as I get done reviewing the $1.99 steak and eggs breakfast at the Fiesta, I’ll look right into it!
FF: If the food is good, I might even put down this Subway sandwich and have a look at it myself. Have you heard of this guy Emeril Lee-Gas or something?
HH: Uh…well…yeah he’s been here for a while too.
FF: He’s not a foreigner is he?
HH: I don’t believe so…You know boss, there’s a lot of restaurants in town with chefs that are world fam…
FF: Do they speak with accents or have funny last names?
HH: Well, as a matter of fact some of them do, but you know, they are some of the best…
FF: Best schmest…if they ain’t Amurican, we ain’t interested. I bet some of them fancy dancies even come from….FRANCE!
HH: Well, yes. but…
FF: Then fuggidabbadit…I hear there’s a new cook at Golden Corral who’s does a mean, 50 cent gumbo.
HH: I’m on it boss.
And so it goes.
On some level, we are sorry the food revolution that put our town on the world’s gourmet map has completely escaped its main newspaper. On another, that same paper is so irrelevant to this aspect of our community, it hardly matters.
We understand the R-J prides itself on the relative anonymity of it’s reviewer. And we know she pays for all her meals. But as a feature writer, Heidi Knapp Rinella should be given free reign to cover something as important as Vegas Uncork’d (and a private luncheon with Pierre Gagnaire) — and we think she could do a bang up job of it, if her bosses would take their heads out of their lowest-common-denominators.*
Had she appeared at the Twist luncheon, she would’ve been treated to a menu celebrating Spring and all of the American purveyors that PG and his chef/lieutenant Pascal Sanchez rely upon in creating one of America’s most creative, intelligent, and compelling menus.
And what a menu it is.
Maine lobster with coriander-Liebig sauce started things off. You don’t know what Liebig sauce is? Fool! Why, it’s a gelatinized vegetable broth flavored with cilantro and coriander. Duh! (Truth be told, we had to ask too…)
From there it was on to scallops three ways that even impressed Slapsie Maxie — he a scallop loather from way back. (Neither ELV nor Max truly hate scallops; they’ve just been overdone by chefs to the point of tediousness and cliche.)
Confronted with a carpaccio of such shellfish, topped with a bright red blob of Campari and rum “wurtz” — we were taken aback, as is common with much of Gagnaire’s food, and slightly unsure of how to proceed. But we dove right in, and experienced an odd-but-compelling “surf and turf” of the first order. Earthy beets, bitter booze and sweet, sweet shellfish (courtesy of Miss Cathy in Santa Monica) combined in the mouth into something ethereal — tightrope walking cuisine, without a net, that somehow works.
From there the meal progressed to a veloute of Sonoma Valley Foie Gras — better, Sanchez told us, for grilling and cooking, while he prefers the Hudson Valley product for terrines. Ah, the French! This foie “soup” came with a ewe cheese ice cream that gave a nice, tangy bite to the proceedings. Then came Confuscious Duck a la Sylvia Prizant of the Four Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania — an allspice-d stew from (what seems to be) the provider of lamb and duck for every great chef in America these days.
Four desserts later (pictured above), we were out the door.
If Eating Las Vegas were asked to distinguish between the cooking styles of our three great French restaurants, it would say Joel Robuchon is the most elaborate, Guy Savoy the most straightforwardly French, and Gagnaire the most intellectual and creative. If you want to be dazzled — Robuchon is a must. Savoy is where you go to be cosseted in comfort and drink that bottle of 1989 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti you’ve been saving. Gagnaire is there when you want to think about all the glorious possibilities modern, global French cuisine can place before you. Between them, we now have a holy trinity of French cuisine in our backyard that only Paris (France, not Texas) can match.
Think about that for a minute.
Because our local newspaper doesn’t.
TWIST by Pierre Gagnaire
In the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
3725 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
* Lest you think this is just about the R-J’s coverage of great chefs and fine dining, we’re not sure anyone there is even remotely aware of the existence of Spring Mountain Road either.