Monday, February 14, 2011

Vegas 1: Mix







My quest for the best possible food, which began in Chicago in 08 and continued in New York City last year, finally brought me to Vegas on Feb. 7th. The first restaurant on my list of places to try was Alain Ducasse's Mix restaurant, high atop THE Hotel at the bottom of the Strip.
Actually I'd had lunch 3 hours before. I was unfortunately staying at The Imperial Palace Hotel because it was the cheapest room I could find, and its ambiance reflected its price. Lunch in one of its dining spots, called oddly enough Hash House A Go Go: Twisted Farm Food, I hadn't eaten since some delightfully msg-free chicken noodle soup in the Vancouver airport around 10 AM and by afternoon I needed to eat something. I figured a salad wouldn't be too filling. Unfortunately I had failed to read the restaurant blurb on the sign downstairs advertising the place: Hash House A Go Go is home to the biggest helping in the western world, quoth Best of Las Vegas. My salad was the size of a large pizza! Tasty with granny smith apples, some nuts and cheese and sagey fried chicken. But I had a serious restaurant awaiting me at 6:00. I decided to walk off the salad (I ate maybe 1/5th) by walking to THE Hotel. Although all my dinner reservation restaurants say that men are supposed to wear jackets, I seemed to be the only male in a dinner jacket on the 2 mile walk. I felt ridiculously overdressed and was viewed with some strangeness by the other people in the street. Made me feel like a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan.
I'd read that Mix has a great view (better than its food) but I didn't realize how great until I got in the elevator. As it climbed up to the 65th floor, the lights of the strip hotels combined with the lights of the city and were mirrored in the reflective surface of the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. The images above are from later in the evening. I had a cocktail in the lounge waiting for the restaurant to open. The Stockholm Imperial proved too sweet. I was debating a more sour beverage at the lounge when it turned 6:00 and the restaurant was ready for me. I'm led into a delightful restaurant space by my server, Scott, who would provide excellent service for the rest of my visit. We carried on the topic of drinks, and he suggested a citrus gin tonic. That sounded refreshing. It turned out to be Extremely Refreshing and the perfect accompaniment for the food.
I had studied the online menu before even making a reservation at Mix the previous month. As I was ordering, eying the Sea Bass, Scott told me it was Real Sea Bass, not the pretend sea bass from Chile that was actually a different fish. From the list of Ducasse Classics, I picked the Sauteed King Prawns with crunchy marinated vegetables in coral vinaigrette as an appetizer. Before I could even mention the appealing Cod dish, Scott raved about it. I vaguely recall having fish in brown butter in France about 9 years ago, and recalled it being very tasty. The style of cooking is called Grenobloise.
My amuse bouche was identified as curried cauliflower. I see cauliflower a lot in fine dining these days. For some reason, it tasted to my palate like asparagus. An intentional deception or just my taste buds playing tricks on me?
No trick involved with the King Prawns in their vegetable ceviche. I was worried that one of the green things might be avocado, which I find poisonous. No, it's zucchini. I'm relieved. I dive in.
And find myself in another universe.
Exactly how I chemically interacted with the prawn would made a great novel. A blog can no more do it justice than my images above show just how beautiful the lights were. That's 2 life-altering experiences (the view from the elevator at sunset, the prawns) in less than an hour.
He could see how much I was enjoying the food, so Scott the Server inquired how I was enjoying the gin. "It's nice to see someone enjoy gin in this vodka-soaked world," he tells me, and then confides, "Vodka is gin without the flavour." Well said. Great service makes great food even greater. When I asked about the various flavours in the prawns and ceviche, Scott told me the sauce was made from the prawns themselves, lobster and verjus. "Ducasse uses his sauces in layers," I'm told.
The best cod I've ever tasted starts with the fried parsley on top. I usually fry up some parsley when I fry up a tuna steak marinated for a few days in oil, soy sauce and pineapple juice but what I do and what Ducasse does shouldn't be part of the same sentence. As I dug down into the meat of the cod, the brown butter sauce continued to blow me away. I had to titrate my chewing to enjoy all the subtle ways the cod played with my palate. Chew. Savour. Chew. Savour some more. I feel like I've just invented philosophy, a new way of thinking about food. The croutons in particular are the best use of this crunchy divinity since Chef Pino's gold medal winning mushroom soup I had at the food Olympics 3 years ago. And that's competition!.
The problem with slow eating is that the food becomes cold before I finish it. A glass of California Chardonnay has accompanied the dish and I try and mix it with with cod portions but feel like a failed alchemist. A skill I have yet to learn. When the wine was being discussed, its buttery nature seemed like a plus, combined with the brown buttered cod. This became less the case as the cod cooled. I asked Scot if he could bring me some fresh parsley and a couple of lemon wedges. He wasn't sure if Mix had any fresh parsley. The search was successful, and a plate of the non-fried greenery and nature's best palate-cleanser appeared. Would the two parsley's combine productively? Not really. Too much butter. Or maybe I'm just overwhelmed with the whole experience, both visual and culinary.
After the meal, Scot brings me yet another cocktail, this one on the house. He mentions vanilla bean and I can smell that. I'm in search of citrus, and it finally sneaks in when I get through all the foam on top of the drink. I feel like a pirate in reverse, uncovering instead of burying treasure. A lifetime of enjoying citrus is resurrected. Overwhelming aftertaste of passion fruit, fitting for the end of a passionate meal. Did the great image on the elevator prepare my senses to be expanded as much as this meal demanded? I'll have to compare it to the following meals during the week, all of which will be eaten without the greatest possible view. Will they be as good?

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