TWIST and Shout – in Vegas Magazine

ELV note: This month’s Vegas Magazine features the following profile of Twist by Pierre Gagnaire. For those of you who don’t hang out at Rehab or Tao Beach (where Vegas mags’ coverage is ample, even if the clothing isn’t), we thought you might enjoy the article in this more-clothed-but-no-less-dignified format:

Twist & Shout


ASK PIERRE GAGNAIRE if he was worried about opening in Las Vegas in the worst economic climate in over 30 years and his answer will invariably be, “No, no, no. Never, because I am more worried that my sauce doesn’t work, not that the restaurant won’t work.”

Having now tasted those sauces on multiple occasions, Monsieur Gagnaire has nothing to worry about.

If you’re not acquainted with this mad scientist of a culinarian, his Vegas outpost, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, is the perfect place to sample those nonpareil sauces and fork-dropping creations the gourmet world has been raving about for the past 20 years. But first, a word of caution: You don’t go to a Pierre Gagnaire restaurant looking for a traditional big-deal meal any more than you go to a progressive jazz concert expecting to hear “Turkey in the Straw.” If your food tastes run to the musical equivalents of catchy pop tunes or lush, recognizable symphonies, you might have a hard time coming to terms with a restless spirit who is always looking for something new and exciting. But people rarely express shock or disappointment with what comes out of the kitchen. “Customers have all read about us even if they’ve never tasted our food,” says executive chef de cuisine Pascal Sanchez. “They’re so much more sophisticated now. They come to our restaurant expecting to be surprised.”

Those surprises have been toned down somewhat for the Vegas audience. In Paris, where Gagnaire opened his namesake restaurant on the Rue Balzac in 1996, he’s famous for sometimes offering five or six variations of a single main ingredient for each course. Here diners can usually expect three, although his Langoustine Five Ways might be the absolute most stunning dish on the menu. Each small plate respects the sweet, nutty salinity of the crustacean while using another ingredient (or two) to accent it just so. For those who prefer turf to surf, Gagnaire plays with Hudson and Sonoma Valley foie gras (which Sanchez calls his favorites in the world—no small compliment there), preparing them as a terrine, a custard, seared with sweet-and-sour duck glaze and as a croquette with pickled red onions. Each of these multifaceted courses comes at you as a barrage of plates, so you and your tablemates can compare how the central ingredient stacks up to the different treatments.

Whereas the appetizers and tasting menu are Gagnaire’s playground for all of these explorations, main courses (on the à la carte menu) are slightly more conventional but no less delicious. A simple loin of venison is served with a Grand Veneur (venison-flavored ice cream) quenelle and a red cabbage-black currant jam drizzled about the plate. As for the deer ice cream, it’s intriguing but more compelling in concept than reality. The Nebraska prime beef sirloin served with a side of smoked parsley powder and a small carafe of thick, dark-purple Burgundy escargot sauce might be the single best steak in a town full of great steaks.

If it’s fishy simplicity you seek, head straight for the Santa Barbara spiny lobster or the Dover sole. The spiny lobster appeared in thick chunks under large, thin rounds of mushroom, all at room temperature and napped with a Champagne dressing. On the side, thin cappellini in a small bowl waiting to be tossed into the green pepper, celeriac and cauliflower velouté that sat beneath it. The first half of the equation was all subtle textures and flavors; the second, bright, clean and assertive, effectively complementing the seafood salad.

You expect the Dover sole “pan-fried corn flour” to be the classic preparation: a large piece of fish filleted and served with a sauce. What you get is small ribbons of fish, fried and mounded on a plate of baby greens, haricot vert and small broccoli. The “ivory” (wine-butter sauce) drizzled across the top of the fish and around the plate is so good you’ll want to dispense with utensils and lick it directly.

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire is not about pirouettes on the plate as much as it is about the exploration of tastes and flavors. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the succession of small plates that make up any of the six desserts offered nightly. Chocolate lovers will swoon over Everything Chocolate, a cake, ganache, candy bar and tuile, while those looking for sharper tastes shouldn’t miss All Citrus, a study in acidity in four small helpings. Every time you take a bite from any of them, as with most of the menu, you will feel as if you’re truly tasting the essence of each ingredient for the first time. Such is the genius of Pierre Gagnaire’s cuisine that the familiar becomes a revelation in intensity.

Press Luncheon at TWIST by Pierre Gagnaire

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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.