é by José Andrés

Restaurant: é by José Andrés

Location: 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109. 702.698.7000 (Cosmopolitan)

Date: September 24, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Spanish

Rating: Mind blowing dinner theatre

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Our continuing epic Foodie Club Vegas venture brings us to é, José Andrés’ latest restaurant within a restaurant in Vegas. Earlier in the year we hit up Saam, a similar concept in LA. For those of you who don’t know, José Andrés is one of America’s leading chefs, a disciple of the world shatteringly original Ferran Adria. He apprenticed at elBuli in Spain before moving to Washington DC. My parents found him there at Cafe Atlantico fifteen or so years ago and we’ve been fans ever since. He is certainly America’s leading practitioner of modern Spanish cooking. But you can find some other examples here and in Spain. Calima, La Terraza, his own The BazaarTrés, and Saam.

é is a secret 8 person (2 seating) restaurant located in the back of Jaleo, also by José Andrés, which is a more conventional tapas and paella restaurant.

Half of the tiny room.

Behind the counter. One of the cool things about é is that the food is plated and prepped right in front of you.

One of the young chefs at work stirring a witches brew of nitrogen and alcohol.

Then finishing off the starter cocktails.

A kind of deconstructed nitro gin and tonic. We have nitro frozen gin, lime, and “tonic foam.”

This is a version before the foam was added so you can see the gin itself. Nitrogen is cold enough that alcohol can be frozen without ice (water). This leads to an ultra-smooth texture and a much higher alcohol concentration.

At work on the next course.

Presented in a cast of José Andrés’ hand is “Spanish Clavel” (some dehydrated fruit thing shaped like a flower) and to the left, caramelized pork rinds. The rinds were sweet and crunchy, very light and airy (for lard). The “clavel” was more about a bit of flavor burst and texture than any massive substance.

Our vegetarian was treated to a pringles-style version of potatoes-bravos (potatoes in spicy mayo) instead of the rinds.

Next course. Is that food?

Due to the difficulty in matching this cuisine with wine, we ordered the beverage pairings. These mix all sorts of cocktails, beers, wines, and who knows what with additional fun theatrics. There was even a non-alcoholic variant available.

This particular “flight” was Spanish cava in a machismo decanter where you are supposed to raise it as high as you can and pour it into your mouth. Due to my full-on lack of machismo and concern for my shirt, I didn’t lift it very high.

“Apple Brazo de gitano” is like edible styrofoam filled with a white apple filling.

 It melted in the mouth and was actually quite delicious. Pairing nicely with the apple was a stripe of caramel.

A non-alcoholic tomato and watermelon drink.

More action.

“Nitro almond cup.” The black stuff was caviar, the cup itself (but not the rocks) edible and cold. Inside was a kind of almond foam. I’m not sure what the cup was made of. It had about the consistency of nitro-frozen foie gras, which possibly it was.

“Crispy chicken skin in escabeche.” This was a lump of chicken on some chicken skin with a complementary foam. It tasted very chickeny — in a good way.

“Membrillo and la serena cone.” A little edible cone filled La Serena cheese and membrillo (quince) paste. So it’s like slathering this paste on cheese and toast, which is amazing by itself. This is typical of this cuisine, taking these traditional combinations and blending them in new shapes and textures.

“Black Olives Ferran Adria.” Instructions on how to make these can be found here. The pureed juice of the olives is coated in a thin gel. The olive bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness into the mouth.

“Bocata de calamares.” This is a mini brioche sandwich containing Uni, mayo, cucumber, and scallion. It’s a riff on a traditional beach food. It was certainly delicious, as almost any hot seafood in such a roll would be.

An inside peek.

A really whacky tasting blend of sherry and beer!

“José Taco.” Jamón Ibérico de Bellota with a blob of real caviar. This ham is regarded as the best in Spain, and among the best in the world. They are fed on acorns. Salt on salt here. A very savory combination.

Sphere making at work.

“Cava sangria.” This is a sphererized white sangria (made with cava). Inside is a bit of watermelon and mint. Basically like a burst of the drink in your mouth.

A ginger beer.

“Artichoke puree with vanilla.” These are little hearts of artichoke with vanilla foam.

“Lobster with citrus & jasmine.” Delectable. I can’t remember if the foam was the citrus or the jasmine. The mousse was the other. The lobster itself was tender and succulent.

The vegetarian version, eggplant instead of lobster.

A surprise visit from the executive chef, José Andrés himself!

“Cel phones and cameras are the bane of the modern chef,” he commented. :-) But he was game to pose with everybody in series.

A non-alcoholic carbonated sangria.

Plating.

“Chickpea stew with iberico ham.” The garbonzo beans were sphereized which makes them pop in your mouth. A sort of ham and bean soup — and a very good one.

The vegetarian received José’s amazing gazpacho.

This stuff is so good I’ve taken to making it at home.

Cucumber, sugar, and fruit “margarita.”

The show goes on.

There is an egg under that crispy thing.

Then a kind of bouillabaisse broth is added.

“Catch of the day.” A turbot steamed, with black garlic and little citrus spheres. Very nice and light.

One of several nice Spanish wines.

Pouches at the ready.

“Rosemary wild mushrooms in papillote.” Sautéed, then heated with a rich cream and mushroom sauce in the bag.

Pop. These are “lobster mushrooms” with a really thick meaty texture and almost lobster/abalone like flavor.

The rosemary foam complemented perfectly.

Finally a red!

To go with the “secreto of iberico pork.” This is Spain’s most famous pig, here roasted with rosemary and garlic. The cut is fatty, from behind the shoulder.

And served with chanterelle mushroom, black truffle, and balsamic.

The vegetarian got Vegetarian Paella.

And close up.

A medium sweet sherry.

“Orange pith puree with la serena cheese and crisp.” The cheese (which you can’t see) is like a Spanish goat Vacheron (one of my favorite cheeses). So this stood in as the “cheese course.”

Pineapple juice!

More nitro.

And tweezer work.

“Flan.” Flan with a granite of fruit. In any case it tasted like amazing Hawaiian shave ice (the kind with the ice cream).

A kind of chocolate coffee.

Back to work.

“Pan con chocolate aceite y sal.” Basically a big blob of whipped cream, crispy nitro frozen chocolate and high quality Spanish olive oil and salt. You’d think this wouldn’t work, but boy does it.

The sweet and salty and olive oily combo is very interesting and very Spanish.

“Arroz con leche.” A little cone of creme and fruit (lime?) fillings. Yum.

“25 second bizcocho.” This is a 25 second microwave version of some kind of traditional pastry. It was light, fluffy, with a soft citrus cream (the yellow blobs).

“Gin and Tonic.” This is a lovely and more traditional variant on the drink. The bitter tone of the tonic was actually kind of settling.

“Air chocolates.” Puffed white and milk chocolate rice crispy treats (without the rice crispies). Somehow the texture is manipulated into this form.

“Fizzy paper.” This is a crispy sugar confection that tastes like citrus pop-rocks. Very pleasant actually.

Overall this was a staggeringly fun meal. The combination of the playful yet delicious food, the theatrics, and the intimate little cluster of eight people (all of whom were diehard foodies — this being a very hard reservation to get) made for a really fun evening. I’m heading back to Saam in a few days so I can get a head to head comparison, but as it stands é seems to have a leg up on it, particularly in such as the smaller format with the plating in front of you is more intimate and fun.

Another amazing fact about this seemingly immense meal is that it was not in the least overwhelming. In fact, afterward us hardcore foodies went and had an entire second (albeit smallish)  three-course meal outside at Jaleo. Those less dedicated to gluttony went to gamble. It’s also worth noting that the service was fantastic and very attentive in é, they may have had four or five staff members to our eight guests!

It’s also worth noting that é only allows non-flash photography. And it’s fairly dark. For me, with my 5D mark II, a fast 2.5 F-stop macro, and 6400 ISO this was no problem. But if you’re trying on a snapshot or with a cellphone, forget it.

Overall an 11/10. Different, but a little more playful and approachable than the previous night’s Twist.

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

For more Vegas dining reviews click here.

Wynn Breakfast Buffet

Restaurant: Wynn Breakfast Buffet

Location: 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89109.  (702) 770-7000

Date: September 24, 2011

Cuisine: Breakfast Buffet

Rating: Quantity over quality

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What would a Foodie Club trip to Vegas be without at least one buffet. Being as we were staying at the Wynn Encore, and the Wynn buffet should theoretically be one of the nicer ones in town (and it was comped) off we went. This is the weekend brunch.


The room is pretty enough (by Vegas standards). The buffet is fairly reasonable at $32 on the weekend, $10 extra for all you can drink cheap champagne (we skipped).


Just part of the main service hall. This buffet goes for serious quantity and variety, at the expense of quality. Not that it’s bad, but it isn’t superlative either.


Fruit.


Salad.


Cesar salad.

More fruit.


Soups.


Meats.


Bagels.

Cheeses.

Salmon in pastry.

Fish dishes.

Fish cakes and potatoes.


Heat lamp pizza, four types.


Pancakes, waffles etc.

Sauces for above.

Pastas.

Eggs and good old fashioned pig products.


Pulled Pork sliders. Actually pretty good.


Veggies.

Prime rib, super fatty bacon, etc.


Sketchy mexican dishes.

Toppings for nachos.


Cerviche. Had me frightened.


Eggs with chorizo.


More mexican.


Chung King Chinese.


Now this is different. Congee. For those that don’t know, congee is a typical Chinese (and other Asian) rice gruel (like oatmeal) that you spice up with toppings. They didn’t have grubs, but they did have 1,000 year old egg. In China, I often saw grubs.


A few bits of dim sum. The center pork thingys were okay.


Cereal.

Veggies.

Lox and toppings bar.


Shrimp. Not the best shelled shrimp in the world, but edible.


Various cold salads.

The usual assortment of mediocre sushi rolls.


A made to order omelet bar.


Now dessert fared a little better. Maybe because cakes are more forgiving of sitting around.


I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

Candied apples and chocolate covered marshmallows.


Gelato. That was interesting. It wasn’t up to Italian Gelato standards, but wasn’t awful either.


Chocolate covered marshmallows.


More cakes.


Cakes. The Dulce de Leche was pretty good.


Cookies and cupcakes.


More goodies.


Fruit. Eww!

Pastries.

More.

And even more.

Cinnamon buns and coffee cakes.


Fat is flavor — my plate.


And a dessert sampling.

Overall this buffet suffered greatly from too muchness or quantity over quality. The LA based Tres buffet is an example of trying to do much more with many less dishes. Here, dabbling into every conceivable type of cuisine (Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.). So much that nothing could be well done. They should have just concentrated on classic brunch food perhaps. Who knows. But a lot of the stuff had that scary sitting around in chaffers factor. Yes, I’m a snob. Still, I was able to find some perfectly edible items. It just wasn’t great. The desserts were pretty decent though.

For more Vegas dining reviews click here.

Vegas with a Twist

Restaurant: Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

Location: 3752 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109. 888.881.9367

Date: September 23, 2011

Cuisine: Avant Garde French

Rating: Brilliant, Confusing, Tasty, Orthogonal

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Pierre Gagnaire is one of the elite crew of three-star Michelin chefs of a generation with Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon. And he’s the latest to venture forth into Las Vegas with an oddball new high end venture. Twist is mostly avant garde haute cuisine restaurant, with a little bit of a bent toward steakhouse? Maybe. Or at least he has a page of steaks and sides on the menu. I have to assume this is just Vegas pandering. We ignored it and went for a mega tasting.

Both the $7 million dollar build out (in the Mandarin Oriental) and the food itself is playful, intellectual, odd, and beautiful. Executive chef is of course, Pierre Gagnaire, with the onsite Chef de Cuisine being Pascal Sanchez.

In any case, the Foodie Club hit it with aplomb.


The distance cella of this culinary temple as seen from the approach.


The globes hanging above remind me of a non-magical Hogwarts cafeteria.


The bar. Notice the cracked egg wall decoration.


Echoed in the cover plates.


Tonights menu. We of course opted for the tasting. Seeing as six courses didn’t sound like enough (little did we know that most of the courses were in fact 3 or 4!) we threw in a foie gras supplement.


The wine list had some good offerings, but at the typical painful Vegas markups. We opted for a split of both the “classic” and “grand” wine pairings (depending on the person). One of our diners had a mostly vegetarian and fish menu, which the sommelier customized the classic pairing to.

So we open with a glass of classic champagne.


A series of amuses. Crispy lollipops filled with date purée and aged balsamic.


Chinese rice buns with carmelized onions, a bit of eel, and caviar.


Poquito pepper sauce. You just extract the little bread sticks and eat. Not so far off from a Spanish Romesco.


Gorgonzola and fig lollipops. Yum!


These were really good. Goat cheese and something. Sorry again!


Then to clear the palette, gelled anise. Like liqourish jello!

Overall, the amuses were very successful.


The bread was fantastic. From the crispy baguette (front left) to the amazing walnut raison bread in the back. The front right is a multigrain. Butter (not shown) was imported from Normandy.


A rose to go with the this first course.


These next three dishes together form the “twisted bouillabaisse.” This one is “Veloute of Cauliflower, ice cream of artichoke and olive oil.”


“Fish and saffron cocktail.” Red mullet, snapper, and sea bream rest in a gel of bouillabaisse! Had curious similarities to the bouillabaisse milkshake at Ludobites 7.0.


“Marmalade of red pepper, fennel confit and candied garlic.” This stands in for the traditional garlic toast.


Parker 90-91. “If Pascal Cotat’s 2009 Mont Damnes is not the place to look for sheer refreshment, that caution applies in spades to his 2009 Sancerre La Grande Cote, which pushes 15% alcohol and displays virtually inevitable finishing warmth as well as opulence. Musk melon, Persian melon, and passion fruit are wreathed in elder flower and narcissus. A sense of chalky underpinnings emerges on the wine’s silken, lushly-fruited palate. I would plan on enjoying this over the next 2-3 years and if I held any for longer would be vigilant.”


“Scallop & langoustine. scallops cerviche, mimosa langoustines, jerusalem artichokes gelée, celeriac & horseradish cream.” Like many of Twist’s dishes, very intellectual. The bottom is an artichoke gelée. The scallops like sashimi, but the real winner was the langoustine potato salad like stuff on top.


Yet another while to pair with this next dish.


“Kombawa Cod cake.”


“Bloody Mary Sorbet, ratatouille bavaroise.”


“Vegetable Gnocchi.”


With a spinach sauce.


Another rose.


This series forms the “surf ‘n turf” motif. This is “fanny bay oyster, scented with coconut milk and seasoned ginger, sapporo foam.”


“Nabrasaka Prime Beef Carpaccio, florida clam salad, shaved foie gras.”


“Chestnut soup, razor clams, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized hazelnuts.”


The soup being added.


And in its final form. This was the most successful of the trio.


A very fine medium sweet 2009 Riesling.


“Tomato and fig tart.” Lovely buttery pastry.


This being a “californian duck foie gras trio.” “foie gras terrine, rum glazed, served on summer fruits chutney with banana tartlet.” Certainly an excellent expression of solid strait up foe.


“Shaved foie gras, black currant sorbet, mustard seasoning.”


“Foe Gras Parfait, toasted sesame, red port syrup and diced duck breast.” By far the best of the trio, this was pretty amazing.


Parker 91. This highly unusual Italian white tasted like cloves! “The 2007 Cervaro della Sala (Chardonnay, Grechetto) is an especially fat, juicy version of this wine, with generous ripe fruit and a soft-textured personality. The oak is still rather prominent and the wine needs at least another year of bottle age, although it will always remain a very ripe, opulent, yet beautifully balanced Cervaro. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2015.”

Alaskan halibut. Shown table-side before plating.


“Alaska Halibut. Grilled halibut, smoked in the cast-iron cocotte, chicory fondue, fennel and Orange.”


With a beure blanc sauce.


And finished. A nice dish. A slight charcoal smokey flavor to the fish and the interesting fennel, orange, butter pairings.


The sommelier/wine director (Julie Lin) preps a bottle.


The next wine.


The Intermezzo. “Sorbet of red wine-pear, onion cream with roquefort, grated yukon turnip scented with walnut oil.” This wasn’t an entirely successful pairing. I like roquefort but it came on very heavy handed against the refreshing red wine sorbet.


Working the crazy decanter.


A chardonnay for the loup de mer.


“Brittany Loup de mer. Slices of loup de mer a la meuniere with green pepper. Shiso leaves & oyster plant, sauce champs-elysee.” No small amount of fish here!


“Carmelized shallot agnolotti with grapefruit juice.”


Two reds. Sant’Antimo Summus is a French-oak aged blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is a rich, weighty wine with a soft-textured expression of fruit, excellent length and fine tannins.


A blend of 25% Garnacha, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 15% Carinena, and 10% Syrah and aged for 12 months in seasoned French and American oak. Dark ruby-colored, it has an attractive perfume of cedar, red and black currants, black cherry, spice box, and mineral. In a relatively lean style for Priorat, this medium to full-bodied wine has some elegance as well as good depth and length.


Don’t stab me with the decanter!


“Wisconsin veal crepinette. Tenderloin Crepinette, pumpkin & shallot Gratin and Osso-Bucco Jus.”


“Fritto-Miso of Zucchini & Eggplant, San Daniele Ham.”


A trio of sticky yummy dessert wines.


In the glass. The right most like a medium sherry. The middle slightly carbonated and sweet, the leftmost botrytis (moldy grapes).


“Plums, Caramelized Plums, red currant gelée, Brandy Ice cream.” Like brandied cherries and cream.


“Amelie, green tea opaline, lemongrass ganache, glace royale citron.” Fantastic!


“Apple Royale, Cinnamon Gala Apples, Green apple-lime Granite, Cinnamon syrup.” Tasted like apples and cinnamon. Refreshing.


“Biscuit Chocolate Rue Balzac, chocolate glaze, banana-lime coulis, mojito sorbet.”


“Roma, parmesan sable, ginger confit, mascarpone cream, fresh figs, pisachios.” Vaguely sicilian in vibe.


Petite fours. A fruit thing front. A little macaron middle, and a chocolate square with pistachio cream in the back (my favorite).


Whacky stylings.

Butterfly bizarre.

The shofar decanter.

I have to agree with my colleague Kevin (his review of twist here) when he says that this cuisine is “unconventional, surprising, jarring even, with some truly unique combinations of tastes, textures, temperatures, and ingredients.” There were some “out there” dishes here, and I was a bit at a loss as to how the entire meal, and even individual dishes, or pairings or trios of dishes, fit together. But many tasted great, and even the ones that were confusing were highly interesting. Not everything work perfectly, but yet at the same time didn’t seem to suffer from an inferior palette. This is highly intellectual food, best perhaps compared to avant garde art that you enjoy, but don’t quite understand.

Service and presentation was top top top notch here. Everyone was very accommodating and skilled. It’s rare in the states to get this level of service. The wine pairings were superlative and interesting.

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

Weekend Draft

I just finished the rough cut of the third major draft of my new novel, Untimed. Just in time too to get out of town.

This weekend will be quiet and post free. I’m off to Vegas with the Foodie Club for some more high end gluttony. Namely Twist by Pierre Gagnaire and  É by José Andrés (my review of the comparable Saam here).  You can expect detailed coverage when I get back.

For more on the revision process, see this recent post.

Or for more posts on writing, click here.