Thursday, September 25, 2008

MiX Restaurant and Lounge, Las Vegas Nevada

MiX is a difficult review…on one hand you have fantastic service, incredible food, a view like no other, and a dining room that is simply jaw dropping in every way. On the other hand you have a lot of noise, servers who are overburdened, and a crowd that could care less about the food because simply being “seen” at MiX is apparently cool. Well ladies and gents, I don’t pretend to be cool, but I do pretend to know a thing about beauty, skill, and service…and MiX has all three.
Checking in with the hostess downstairs and creeping up the external glass elevator 64 stories above Vegas is a wonderful trip, yet as inspiring as it may be nothing can prepare you for the scene entering the bar….darkness and firey reds out front with a glimpse of white in the back. Arriving early we traversed the bar and entered the white…or should I say the light? It is hard to say anything about the dining room that hasn’t already been said. From the beautiful and sparkling multi-million dollar kitchen to the brilliant chandelier to the view that simple begs to be oogled, the setting is stunning in all ways. Seated at a table of two with my back toward the ceiling high windows I almost felt envious of my friend until I realized I had a clear view of the hanging baubles and the glorious kitchen.

After a short wait our server showed up and provided us with menus and the best darn bread basked I’ve seen in some time; Raisin Almond Roll, White Forcaccia, Tomato Basil Spiral, Rye, Jalapeno and pumpkin seed plus both unsalted butter and a salted butter with chopped peanuts that tasted like the most decadent peanut butter imaginable. Sampling each bread at some point during the evening and requesting extras of the Tomato Basil and Raisin Almond, all flavors were wonderful and complimented different aspects of the meal quite well.

To my surprise, my friend glimpsed the MiX Grand Tasting with Wine Pairings and suggested he was interested. As my pal is not the world’s most adventurous eater this was fantastic news to me as I’d been eyeing the tasting with a few modifications myself – specifically, creating a menu of all-Ducasse classics as opposed to the “MiX” of Ducasse items and plates specific to MiX on the tasting. The waiter assured me this would be no problem and didn’t even mind if my friend and I ordered different mains and desserts. Top notch! Not being a wine drinkier myself I will simply note here that my friend stated ALL of the wines were excellently paired and I was extremely impressed by the knowledge of not only the Sommelier, but the waiter himself who discussed Rieslings and Ice Wines with my friend with a great degree of expertise. All told my friend received 6 solid pours for $75 and was very pleased.

For myself, the focus was the food and the evening unfolded as follows:

“Amuse Bouche” - eggplant Caviar w/tuna picatta, crispy chip – A small blend of tender eggplant and spicy tuna plus a crispy triangle for dipping, this was a wonderful taste to begin the evening. Barely spicy with hints of tomato and basil, the texture was like a creamy tuna salad without the mayo.

Dish 1: KAMPACHI SASHIMI, GREEN CURRY EMULSION, SEAWEED SALAD – Perfect Kampachi with a fairly mild flavor, yet delectably enhanced by the green curry this dish was quite attractive and a good followup to the tuna. As good as the fish was, however, the seaweed salad was incredible and my only complaint could possibly be that there wasn’t ten times as much. Then again, had I known how much food was to come I’d have known better.

Dish 2: TENDER POTATO GNOCCHI, FRESH MORELS & ASPARAGUS WITH VEAL JUICE AND FLAKED PARMESAGNA – Knowing my feelings about Gnocchi, this dish was a part of the reason I’d selected MiX in the first place. Unlike Thomas Keller’s buttery Parisian version, Ducasse opts here to utilize the Italian formula of simple and tender potato dumplings with just a little salt and complements from the dense and woody flavor of perfectly tender Morels and flawlessly crisp asparagus. The veal juice and parmesagna added a salty and savory component to the dish. While not the best gnocchi ever, the texture and flavor were sublime and I’d certainly re-order on return visits.

Dish 3: MACADAMIA/PISTACHIO CRUSTED HALIBUT, ASPARAGUS CREAM, PARMESAN FOAM – The show stealer for my friend and a solid frontrunner for best-fish-dish-ever for myself, it is hard to describe the delicate nuisances of this dish without experiencing it. Perfectly poached fish with a crunchy yet sweet and nutty coating bisected a plate with asparagus and creamy asparagus cream on one side and a cheesy foam on the other side. While each flavor was superb separately, the combination was even more stunning with the cream and foam drizzled over the fish. A second dish featuring asparagus and parmesan, it is easy to see why Ducasse serves these two dishes back to back frequently and I cannot recommend the combination enough. In a weekend that featured tasting menu fish preparations by Le Cirque and Alex as well, this may have been the best fish dish of all, and that is saying something.

Dish 4: ROASTED MAINE LOBSTER “AU CURRY”, COCONUT BASMATI RICE, PINEAPPLE, RAISIN, AND PEARL ONIONS – Quite frankly I’ve no idea what Ducasse was thinking when he prepared this dish the first time, but the thought it was certainly inspired by a muse or a God. To be fair, the curry was understated so anyone ordering this for heat will be disappointed…..I didn’t order for heat. What I ordered it for was a fantastically prepared lobster served over sweet sticky rice and complimented by roasted onions and sweet fruits. While not quite as mind-blowing as the Lobster at Alex (which may be my favorite dish of all time,) this is the second best Lobster preparation I’ve ever experienced and it will haunt my dreams until I find a means to prepare it myself.

Dish 5: ROASTED DUCK BREAST, BLACK MISSION FIG, RADISH & BABY TURNIPS, FIG SAUCE – My first substitution and absolutely worth the choice. A well cooked yet juicy duck breast, skin on and perforated for complete cooking, the meat was not gamey at all and the earthy/meaty texture was wonderfully offset by the figs and fig sauce, yet given a crispy textural component by the radish and turnips. While the “worst” of the dishes in my opinion, the competition was pretty stiff and that is no disrespect at all. My friend opted against substitution and instead received the MiX house special of COLORADO RACK OF LAMB, ARTICHOKE & CITRUS CONFIT which he stated was the best Lamb he’d ever experienced.

Palate Cleanser: PASSIONFRUIT AND MANGO SORBET WITH COCONUT LIME FOAM – Served in a Martini glass, I believe the phrase palate cleanser was invented for this dish. I don’t even like Mango and this item impressed me. My buddy did note that in addition to the 6 glasses of wine he felt like this was a bit too much fluid, but did note that the flavor and texture were excellent.

Dessert: BABA AU RHUM, MONTE CARLO STYLE WITH SPICED RUM AND CRÈME ANGLAIS for myself and the CHOCOLATE AND MINT “AFTER EIGHT” FINGER for my friend – While I’m not a drinker, I am a fan of rum cake and rank Mastro’s Buttercake amongst my all time favorite desserts. As this dish represents one of Ducasse’s most famous dishes I couldn’t pass it up. A small cake was served along with a pot of rum and a second pot of crème which was then reconstructed by the waiter tableside, first pouring a little rum and then a dollop of cream with further customization allowed for the customer. While not QUITE as good as Mastros, the dish was a beautiful compliment to the meal and left a warm feeling in my belly for the rest of the night. My buddy’s After Eight Finger, which I was allowed a taste of, was quite small yet given the potency more than adequate. Think of an After-eight or Andes mint….multiply the intensity and quality times twenty…’re almost there.

Madelines : To cap off the meal we were served four of Ducasse’s signature Madelines straight from the piping hot pan along with a pot of warm Nutella. While I realize the tradition of the Madeline has been carried on by both Stratta and Boulud, it is my understanding that Ducasse was first and though I’ve not tried Daniel’s, Ducasse’s option blew Alex’s out of the water. Moist, creamy, delicate, and perfect with the Nutella…despite my fullness I’d have eaten twenty.

Service was awesome throughout though I definitely felt our server was rushed given the 6 tables he was to cover with minimal help…another server or a couple of attendants would have been all the better. Timing between courses was approximately 20 minutes with the whole meal taking nearly 2.5 hours and feeling perfectly paced. If I were to offer one complaint it would be the overall decibel level of the restaurant, which despite its large size was substantial distant from the bar and kitchen and downright LOUD near the bar. My second complaint would be the fact that the balcony at the bar was limited to bottle service only, despite our spending $450 for two on the meal. Sure, we didn’t have to pay the $25 club cover, but it would have been nice to relax on the balcony afterwards as well. Thankfully the bouncer was cool and let me step out for some pictures. On the way out the bar was jammed packed and the music bumping with many people on the dance floor. On descending the elevator there was a notable line of 50+ waiting to gain access, to boot.

All told, the food at MiX is nothing but the best…5 stars in all ways. Unfortunately, instead of being a 5-star dining establishment with 5-star service, MiX settles for excelling at the food and shooting to be trendy which creates the paradoxical “heaven and hell” feeling Ducasse stated he was aiming for with the restaurant/bar concept. As cool as that may be, I feel the two would be better separated. While many say “go for the view and skip the food,” I whole heartedly disagree and would put many of the dishes at MiX up against Alex, Le Cirque, Eleven Madison Park, Spago, and others coast to coast…but the service and scene leave something to be desired for the true foodie. All in all a great experience that I’d strongly recommend, just not quite as strongly as I’d recommend a few other Michelin Starred restaurants.

I will note, however, that if Michelin decides to start starring bathrooms, MiX deserves four...check the view from.

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