Saturday, September 27, 2008

Alex, Las Vegas Nevada

Two beautiful young women simultaneously open the large wooden doors, one offering welcome and the other offering to take a picture; this is how dinner began at Alex. Entering the opulent dining room two more greeters appeared, one checking the reservation and the other escorting us down the staircase to our seats. Arriving at our seats, another two individuals appeared, one to check my coat upstairs, the other to assist us with our chairs. Water - crystal or sparkling? Crystal. "Very good, doctor." To be fair, this meal was months in planning and my friend and I were upgraded to "VIP" status by a friend at the restaurant, but regardless of that fact the stellar service was above and beyond what was expected.

Menus were received along with a wine list and approximately 5 minutes later the first course of canapes arrived from the kitchen. As we browsed the menu and debated the stellar tasting vs. the incredible list of ingredients on the prix fixe the experience began with a scallop chip piled with otoro and caviar, a Berkshire bacon wrapped Granny Smith apple, roasted heirloom pepper soup, and a gruyere cheese puff. While all four were absolutely sublime, particular favorites were the otoro and caviar with its fatty salty balance and crispy chip as well as the gruyere cheese puff which literally melted on the tongue and clung to the palate.

After much perusal and debate, selections were made and the somellier stopped by to chat with my friend about wine pairings for the choices. When my buddy admitted his naievety the somm, not pretentious in the least, suggested it was okay since he "just made it up as he went along." Two wines were selected by the somm and my friend stated both were excellent, albeit $30+/glass. After orders were taken, course two of canapes arrived including a Cucumber and salmon bouche, Carrot and spicey ginger soup, a king crab BLT, and a torchon du Foie Gras with apricot and pistaccio. Once again, all choices were explosive and dynamic with the carrot soup and its heavily layered flavors as well as the Foie presenting most prominently. The foie was so good that it almost made me wish I'd selected it as an apetizer....almost.

Breads and sweet butter next appeared consisting of four types served by our attendant. Choices included Orange Rosemary Ciabatta, Buckwheat, Toasted Corn Bread, and Cranberry Sunflower seed. Each selection was tried once with an additional slice of cranberry sunflower seed selected with my main and all were superb with their crunchy crust and moist/dense substance inside. Just after bread, a final amuse arrived in the form of a Kampachi Rillet with raddish, daikon, and savoy cabbage slaw topped with lotus root over balsamic - creamy, sweet, acidic, and beautiful.

For course one I selected the European blue lobster with Savoy Cabbage and Coral-Verbena Sauce while my friend chose the Napoleon of King Crab w/ Sweet Carrot Sauce, Jicama, Fuji Apple and Avocado. Given the rarity of blue lobster, I simply could not resist the opportunity and honestly it may have been the best dish I have ever tasted. More textured and sweet than its Maine counterpart, the butter poached tail rested atop whole claw similarly poached and wrapped in cabbage. The whole presentation was then drizzled with an incredibly creamy yet savory sauce with a hint of vanilla. It was mesmerizing.

While I cannot comment on the flavor of my friend's dishes, he claimed that the apple was the predominant flavor and secondarily the crab. Regardless, it was beautifully presented and quite large in portion.

As part of our 'VIP' status we were next provided a second appetizer on the house, my friend receiving the Parmigiano Risotto w/ Roasted Porcini Mushrooms and Crispy Chicken Oysters and myself lucky enough to receive the Veal Sweetbread Piccata with Roasted Porcini Mushrooms, Parmigiano, Arugula. While I missed the sweet component of other presentations, my dish was fantastic with two large pan-seared and crispy sweetbreads along side two enormous Porcinis and atop Arugula with shaved Parmigiano on top. My friend's dish which he graciously allowed me to taste was incredible with a level of creaminess almost unfathomable and a texture of silky perfection offset only by the woodsy mushrooms and crunchy chicken.

More chat with the attendants, waiter, and somollier followed the second appetizer and our mains arrived in short order. For a supplemental charge of $70 my friend opted for the A5 Japanese Wagyu Beef Loin w/Parmigiano-Bone Marrow Custard, Black Mission Figs, Arugala, Red Wine syrup from the tasting menu as his main while I chose the Wild Turbot w/ Stuffed Razor Clams, Shellfish Fricassee and Chateau Chalon Sauce. While my friend was duely impressed with his beef and the wine pairing, he noted that all told he felt A5 Wagyu was a case of diminishing returns; fantastic, but not THAT much better than American Kobe. Not the most adventurous eater, he also opted to avoid the bone marrow custard which I decided to taste...unique, but much like lardo, certainly not something I'd opt to order in the future.

While my friend was less than thrilled with his option, my choice was a success on all levels with the wonderfully mild fish poached to perfection, the razor clam shelled and floating in the savory sweet broth with calamari and black mussels, and the stuffing crispy with hints of wine and saffron.

Following our mains the plates were again cleared and while my friend sipped his wine we were brought a palate cleanser of Marscapone Panna Cotta with pear and sautern gelee. Like all other aspects of my meal, this dish again impressed in both presentation and flavor. Additionally I was brought a simple yet fantastic coffee to go with my dessert.

For dessert, two chocolate options were selected with my friend choosing the Malted Chocolate and Banana Napoleon and myself opting for the Crunchy Chocolate Caramel Bombe with Vanilla and Chocolate Sorbet, Chocolate Gnache, Crispy Rice, and Hazelnut cream. While I did not taste my friend's option, his oohs and aahs during its consumption likely told the story for me and the presentation was brilliant. As for the Bombe, all I can say is wow. Flawless and smooth gelattos served over thick and intense gnache was only the prelude to the incredible cylinder which cracked with pressure to reveal mellow hazelnut cream, chocolate cake, and liquid caramel. Salty and sweet...a definite contender for best dessert ever.

Full but not stuffed, 5 petit fours were brought with the check and Alex's famous warm madelines in a silver box. The fours consisted of a Rhubarb Cylinder with fresh rhubarb compote, a warm Smore, a tiramisu truffle, a vanilla Cream Puff, and a Strawberry cookie with creme fraiche. While all were good, only the tiramisu truffle was truly exemplary and the madelines simply couldn't stand up to the Ducasse's option at MiX from the night before....or perhaps the amazing desserts simply left us jaded. After paying we sat and chatted with the service team for a little while and were given a short tour of the restaurant including the chef's table. No pretense, no stuffiness, just graciousness and greatness....just like the meal.

From start to finish, nothing was flawed and no desire left unfulfilled. When asked about the goals of Alex, chef Stratta states that his goal is to make the customer's favorite restaurant their second favorite restaurant. While I'm not sure that I can say Alex is my "favorite" from a trip that included luxurious foods from Le Cirque, Keller, and Ducasse, the overall experience is definitely in my top five all time and there is no doubt that Alex deserves its status amongst the world's greatest restuarants. A five star experience that is worth every dime.

No comments: