Dining

High Praise

Nearly a decade later, the high-end, high-up kitchens at Ducasse’s Mix are running better than ever

Walking into Mix is like walking into a fizzy champagne bottle. The drama begins when you take one of five private elevators to the top floor at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, and follow the backlit, steel tunnel into the dining room.

The restaurant was reputed to have cost around $15 million when it opened in 2003. The champagne effect is from the strands of carefully strung Murano glass bubbles that extend from floor to ceiling, one of designer Patrick Jouin’s many innovations.

It’s white here—white walls, white leather booths. Views of the Strip and airport runways below are dramatic; outdoor seating, on tiny patios that run the perimeter of the restaurant, is a thrill during spring and summer, when you won’t freeze out there. Bathrooms get into the act, too, as dark cocoons of black glass reflect light from below.

The restaurant belongs to Alain Ducasse, a man with more Michelin stars around the world than anyone else. He has recently installed a new chef de cuisine, Bruno Riou, whom he brought to Las Vegas from Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London. Riou has re-energized things here. The food is better than ever right now, by my lights.

Not to say that it is perfect. I recently dined at Alain Ducasse in Paris, and had one of the best meals of my life: crayfish bisque, a warm paté of guinea fowl and black truffles wrapped in pastry and a baba au rhum as moist as a brand-new sponge first napped with warm water.

The welcome and service here don’t compare with that in France, either. I was recognized and greeted warmly, but my guest, a woman who entered through the bar, was treated off-handedly by the hostess, something that would never happen at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.

Still, Riou is terrific. He’s added some new dishes, one of them being an uncommonly rich, and textbook-perfect quenelles of lobster and chicken with homemade tube pasta and black truffle. And almost everything I’ve tasted from his multimillion-dollar kitchen was nearly as good as what you get in France, though somehow not as magical.

Max’s Menu Picks

APPETIZERS

Lobster and chicken quenelles with black truffle, $34.

Spicy crab salad with guacamole, $20.

Seared duck foie gras with bicolor daikon and a port reduction, $17 (half) and $32 (whole).

Potato gnocchi with pumpkin two ways, wild mushrooms and crispy bacon, $26.

ENTRÉES

Pepper-crusted Australian barramundi, $36.

Roast Maine lobster au curry on coconut basmati rice, $49.

Filet mignon Rossini, $69.

WINE

Optional wine pairing, $40 with tasting menu.

You could order a la carte, but the best way to go here, if you have the stamina, is to opt for one of two tasting menus: Taste of Mix, the five-course modern road ($90 per person), or Alain Ducasse Classics, four courses including his famous rhum baba ($120 per person).

My guest and I solved this by doing both. The kitchen sent out a snack called barbajuan, little fried pasta pillows stuffed with Swiss chard and Gruyere cheese, and they were incredible. Just don’t eat all of them or you’ll never make it to dessert.

Taste of Mix includes a delicious spicy crab salad with a touch of guacamole and seared Sonoma foie gras with daikon radish; excellent pepper-crusted Australian barramundi; and a disappointing boneless rack of lamb.

The foie gras almost tastes Japanese, but the lamb, shaped into what looks like a nuclear power plant, could use more flavor.

The classic menu begins with potato gnocchi with pumpkin, bacon and wild mushrooms in an absurdly rich cream sauce; roast Maine lobster au curry on coconut-flavored basmati rice; and filet mignon Rossini—a steak, basically, topped with more foie gras and truffles—and the rhum baba.

If I hadn’t tasted the original, I’d be more tolerant. But the baba was dry even after we poured a small cruet of rum on it. In Paris, you get to pick your poison from a cart of premium world rums. I had mine with Matusalem Gran Reserva rum from Cuba and gobs of Tahitian vanilla whipped cream from a French cow.

Mix is still well worth a visit, but the Champs-Elysees seems far away when you’re on the dessert course.

Inside Mandalay Bay, 632-9500. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat. Bar open till 2 a.m. daily. Dinner for two, $130-$265.

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