A Totally Fresh Twist

[b]Pierre Gagnaire’s labor of love results in the most imaginative dishes this town has ever seen[/b]
Perhaps no other local venue is better suited for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner than Twist, Michelin award-winning chef Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter. From this perch on the 23rd floor, many of the tables offer stunning views of the Vegas skyline through the 20-foot-high windows. The room, created by renowned restaurant designer Adam Tihany, is beautifully understated, punctuated by glass orbs suspended in midair.
Still, the real romance comes from what is on the plate. I first experienced Gagnaire’s cuisine during the 1980s when he operated out of a glorious Art Deco mansion in St. Etienne, France. There he garnered his third Michelin star and soon moved on to Paris. Today, in addition to his partnership with the Mandarin Oriental, he has establishments in many cities, including London, Tokyo and Dubai.
Gagnaire, who turns 60 in April, is a lion of a man with a graying blond beard. He is what the French call a createur—a creative genius. His food is wild and imaginative, but the combinations work. This is food that you not only haven’t seen before, it’s food you’ve never even imagined. Is this cooking too out there for Vegas? Time will tell.
Gagnaire’s signature dish, Langoustine Five Ways, is one of the highlights of the restaurant’s six-course $160 “Spirit” menu. The presentation features five small dishes with a langoustine as its centerpiece, one grilled with avocado, one as a tartar with Campari turnips and baby greens, one seared with bell pepper and Iberico ham, one as a mousseline in a Manzanilla sherry butter, and finally, the last as a gelée with kombu and lobster coral.
Meanwhile, the intensely flavored mushroom broth zezette (French for “wacky”) includes slices of chicken breast and little vegetable gnocchi. On the side: a Bloody Mary sorbet, a Bavarois ratatouille and a perfectly round codfish croquette.
Dining à la carte, incidentally, makes Twist much more affordable. Like his Three Michelin Star Vegas buddies Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse, Gagnaire has gotten with the program. Not everyone wants a huge tasting menu, or a menu that costs hundreds of dollars. What’s more, à la carte allows you to experience the terrific canapés, fancy breads, complimentary mignardises (like petit fours) and impressive service, by simply ordering a main course.
And what main courses they are. Grilled turbot with lemongrass butter, seaweed-mashed potato, shitao turnip (a Japanese hybrid) and a hibiscus gelée flanked by a Thai grapefruit salad. From the “The Earth/La Terre” side of the menu, a sirloin of beef pan-seared with smoked parsley powder in a Burgundy escargot sauce is served with potato ice cream topped with Osetra caviar. What, you don’t have any potato ice cream in the freezer? Shame on you.
The Twist menu is peppered with Asian influence. Although these flavors are all the rage in high-end restaurants throughout Europe, it’s a largely new phenomenon to Las Vegas. And nowhere does it work better than at Twist, in the hands of Gagnaire, who offers the most radical, delightful change on the horizon. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any other, you will instantly fall in love.
Twist is at the Mandarin Oriental in CityCenter, 590-8888. Dinner for two is $89-$176, when ordering à la carte.

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