Twist by Pierre Gagnaire- Las Vegas

I weave through the evening crowds on the Las Vegas strip as I make my way toward CityCenter.  The abrasive sounds of honking taxis and electronic slot machines pierce my ears and follow me everywhere.  Obnoxiously drunk college kids bump into me without an apology, almost spilling their beer from the fluorescent plastic yard glasses that they carry like a trophy.  While crossing the pedestrian bridge to get to the other side of the street, I get caught in a bottleneck of tourists who push me aside with their cheap cameras in order to get their postcard shot of the neon city.  The noise and the crowds start to get under my skin and I quicken my pace toward the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

I enter the dark and desolate ground floor of the hotel, wondering if I’m in the right place- there’s nobody there.  All of a sudden it’s so quiet that I can hear a pin drop on the black marble floors of the elevator lobby.  As I relax on the velvet bench in the elevator that silently whisks me up to the hotel lobby on the 23rd floor, I have a momentary flashback of a similar experience.  I remember the same feeling of escaping from a crazy urban jungle into a quiet zen oasis when I visited the Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo.  There too, a magical elevator transported me from concrete chaos to a chic hideaway in the skies with 360 degree views of the city lights.  Only this time, I’m finally getting my chance to dine at Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant.

Pierre Gagnaire‘s only US restaurant, Twist, which opened in December 2009, is accessed through a dark hallway from the spacious lobby.  A wondrous spectacle of 300 illuminated glass globes floating from the ceiling at different heights against a dynamic backdrop of the Vegas strip awaits at the other end of the dark tunnel.  The charming maitre d’ greets me by name and escorts me to a table against the back wall on the upper level which has equally good views of the open kitchen and the city lights.  It’s a surprisingly small restaurant where every seat is a good seat with an amazing view of the Strip.  I breath a sigh of relief for the tranquility and intimacy in this gorgeous restaurant which is unlike others in this bustling city where ‘bigger is better’.

The soft purple lights accent the dreamy atmosphere of this quaint and modern haven where I feel far removed from the bustle of the city below.  In true Mandarin Oriental style, this hotel and restaurant feel exclusive and private.  Even the bathrooms are exquisite, offering panoramic views of the city through its polished glass windows behind the sinks.  The service reflects the 3 Michelin star status of the world renowned French chef whose adoring American fans have rejoiced at the opening of this US outpost. For me it’s a blessing, as I’m still licking my wounds from last year’s trip to France when I had to cancel Saturday night reservations at his world famous restaurant on Rue Balzac in Paris because I was sick.

For a brief moment I blush and check below my feet as I’m led up the staircase to the suspended wine loft which hangs above the front desk.  I’m wearing a dress, and the staircase is made of clear glass.  It’s a sharp and clean space and I want to spend time looking at each bottle, but I’m anxious to finally savor the inventive and curious creations of the irreverent genius.  I don’t even notice the staff tucking me into my comfortable chair or adjusting my table setting as it’s all done quietly and smoothly.  Everything flows with the grace of a summer wind, all except for time which seems to stop.

‘Cuisine does not measure itself in terms of tradition or modernity.  One must read in it the tenderness of the chef’ – Pierre Gagnaire

The intricate menu opens to a description of the $285 tasting menu, titled ‘Homage to the American Product’.  Maine lobster with Riesling granité, Washington Bay scallops with turmeric, biscotti and apple-cinnamon paste, Sonoma foie gras served with vegetable cocotte and Confucius Duck of Sylvia Prizant with fresh morels, finished off by a 5 course dessert, entice my taste buds to explore this option, but I opt for some a la carte items that I can’t pass up.  The Sonoma Valley foie gras dégustation is a must for me, as well as the Langoustine appetizer.  We waver about ordering an additional appetizer of veal sweetbreads, but knowing that 1 course at Pierre Gagnaire means 4-5 offerings of eccentric interpretations of the main product, we keep it simple.  As we peruse the menu, we sip on refreshing signature Twist cocktails, lemongrass mojito and ginger pear bellini.

Meanwhile, an amuse bouche extravaganza arrives at our table, starting with the wondrous  Bluefin tuna chantilly with flax seed crackers.  The luscious whipped cream, infused with smokiness, is so light and airy that it practically floats up into one of the orbs in the ceiling.

Ginger lemongrass sablé with rabbit ear almonds is served with a mini pecorino cheese soufflé topped with a cheese crisp and spinach velouté dot.  I relish the crunchy pecorino morsel that tastes like refined comfort food.

The Guinness and Jack Daniels geleé with gingerbread crumble crust proves to be my favorite amuse with its dark and sexy flavors reminiscent of bitter chocolate.

The Nolpi salad of finely diced cuttlefish, haricot vert, red bell pepper and celeriac doesn’t have much flavoring but it offers a wonderful play of crunchy and chewy textures.

As we try to decipher the 43 page wine menu, we talk about the small nibbles that we just had, only to realize that we hadn’t even ordered our food yet.  There’s so much enthusiasm at the table already and dinner hasn’t officially started.  Even the breads are amazing- molasses raisin bread, mini baguettes and auvergnat are served with wedges of addictive seaweed butter and salted beurre Bretagne.  My anticipation and excitement grow by the second- this is going to be a thrilling and wild ride, and I am buckled up and more than ready to go.

3 servers descend upon our table at once, each carrying 3 plates for a total of 9 to start off our appetizer courses of Langoustine and Foie Gras Dégustation.  We are given strict instructions to start with the pan seared langoustines, served with chanterelle and trumpet mushrooms in a langoustine broth,  seasoned with ‘Terre de Sienne’ spices of piment d’Espelette and coriander and finished off with orange zest.  The fungi bring a distinct earthiness to the rich and creamy broth which we happily lap up with bits of bread.  I wonder if I can order a jar of this marvelous bisque to go, to take a piece of Gagnaire heaven back home with me.

A blushing exoskeleton carries its naked flesh over its shoulders in this interesting seafood plating.  A poached wedge of pear accompanies the perfectly grilled langoustine which is flavored with ginger teriyaki Diablo sauce.

Langoustine mousseline with spinach velouté, perfumed with Sherry Amontillado and garnished with dill spears, is creamy and rich.  As I dig my spoon into the pillowy mousseline, the vibrant green color of the velouté comes bleeding out.

Dark brown langoustine geleé is brought alive by the acidity of the sweet and sour heirloom tomato Juliette marmalade, and topped with a fine dusting of  lobster coral.  The minerality of the Leth Gruner Veltliner Steinagrund 2008 that our server pairs for our langoustine dish goes particularly well with the slightly bitter finish that the lobster coral brings to this otherwise rich dish.

My favorite dish of the evening is the fifth and final dish of the langoustine course, the plump and sweet langoustine tartare, served on a platform of wakame seaweed ice to keep the dish at an optimal cool temperature, and nestled under a blanket of nori confetti.  The succulent langoustine tails, such delightful little treasures of the ocean, are held in place with a dollop of creamy nori chantilly and flavored with a spicy grapefruit syrup that brightens up the dish.

The 4 course Sonoma Valley foie gras Dégustation begins with a seared wedge of buttery foie, flavored with sweet and sour duck glaze and accessorized with a complex amalgam of salty and sweet.  Soft chunks of sweet apple marmalade and slivers of Iberico ham take refuge atop the foie gras boat that floats on a puddle of bright aromatic Spanish olive oil.  The fruity olive oil surprisingly doesn’t weigh down the foie gras, but instead enhances and even lightens the fattiness of the protein.  This is a resonant and delightful dish that is well thought out.

Seared zucchini buttons embedded in the top forest green layer of spinach pureé add much needed texture to this otherwise disappointing dish of foie gras custard.  I can’t get past the second bite of the foie gras custard which hides underneath the mossy vegetable swamp, and I apologetically send this dish back.

Perfectly round and toasty foie gras croquettes are served on a bed of delightful Trevicchio coulis made with radicchio and pickled red onions.  The rich and slightly tart purple coulis really makes the dish shine.

The fourth and final interpretation of foie gras is my favorite, a simple terrine flavored with Amontillado sherry on a bed of fig pureé and stabbed with delicate shards of crisp toasted ginger bread at skewed angles.  A splash of ginger bread powder completes the picture of what looks to me like a foie gras under attack.  The buttery and rich wedge of foie gras is exquisite, with each precious bite ending in a sweet lingering note of sherry.  The pairing of our foie gras dégustation with a glass of 2005 late harvest Alain Brumont Brumaire proves to be most triumphant with this terrine.

Our wonderful server surprises us with a complimentary palate cleanser of red beets and champagne parfait.  Succulent cubes of red beets marinated in campari and rum are topped with a layer of refreshing champagne sorbet and an airy beet würtz spuma finish.  The earthy and sweet flavors of the beets are well balanced with the fresh and fruity sorbet, and the vibrant color of the red spuma is mesmerizing.  It’s a sensational dish that almost makes me shed tears of joy.  I would love to try to replicate it at home.

Potato ice cream with chopped eggs and a generous dollop of Osetra caviar also resets our palates with its cold temperature and clean crisp flavors.  Naturally, the caviar is the leading actor here and the supporting cast of potatoes and eggs follow through with their performance.

4 enticing options for seafood include Alaskan halibut with hibiscus gelée, Maine lobster with duck foie gras cake, Loup de Mer with cauliflower velouté and John Dory with fennel pearls and star anise, but we’re hungry for the meats.  La Terre land critter selections like Nebraska bone-in rib eye, filet mignon, filet of veal and guinea hen all stimulate my salivary glands, but we forego these options to order rabbit and lamb.  Our rabbit course kicks off with an amazing marjoram stuffed saddle lightened with the vibrant colors and flavors of basil pesto, pine nuts, basil oil, tomato caviar and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  I am pleasantly surprised at how tasty this dish is, given that it is a fairly straightforward and simple dish with ingredients that we can relate to, unlike the quizzical and exotic flavor combinations of Gagnaire’s other dishes.

Morsels of pan sautéed rabbit leg dusted with cornflower, juicy chunks of chanterelle mushrooms, glazed turnips and snow peas in a lime jus all take refuge under the dainty umbrella of a crispy peppered nougatine.

Our Colorado lamb course starts with a juicy cut of mousseline wrapped tenderloin atop a blanket of thinly sliced braised turnip and beetroot, flavored with red wine lamb jus and garnished with smooth green blots of zucchini purée.  The soft mousseline encasing imparts an interesting layer of texture to the tender meat.

I happily gnaw every possible bit of flavorful meat and fat off of the lamb rib chop which is gallantly displayed on a mound of crispy spring cabbage encircled by an oregano and tamarind lamb jus moat.  A smidgen of dark brown tamarind mostarda brings a complex earthy accent to the well balanced dish, which pairs nicely with a glass of 2008 Laetitia Pinot from the local California vineyards of Arroyo Grande.

A light and refreshing cold Provençal Tian tower made with alternating layers of slow roasted lamb leg, heirloom tomato, microbasil and a hint of mascarpone cheese is the perfect way to end the savory portion of our meal.

Twist offers a la carte desserts for $16 each, but when you can order the 5-course Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire with seasonal fruits and vegetables for $24, the solution is quite simple.  The first dessert course, called LLLemon, is an invigorating citrus tasting flight of lemon sorbet and candied citrus rind in a lagoon of pink Thai grapefruit and citrus gelée.

Sweet honey cream sports a wide-brimmed almond tuille embellished with dried raisins at a tilt like a sassy Southern belle at the Kentucky derby, and the luscious quince syrup that finishes off the honey parfait is even more memorable.

The red cassis carpet is rolled out for the dainty morsels of coffee tartlette with whiskey chantilly and cassis gelée stuffed milk chocolate-pistachio glacée.

The whimsical vegetable dessert, titled The Evil, highlights a scoop of peppered mozzarella ice cream with tomato confit and microgreens, finished off with a film of dried tomato skin and sprinklings of candied eggplant.  It’s an interesting savory dish that one would normally expect to see in the appetizer menu rather than the dessert menu, and I wonder about the inspiration behind naming this vibrant and virtuous dish The Evil.

My favorite dessert is the beautifully layered sweet decadence of ginger and campari marinated Thai grapefruit, chocolate cake, chocolate cremeux and chocolate disc.  The subtle bitterness of campari liqueur and the hint of citrus from the bottom grapefruit layer bring sophistication to this triple chocolate decker by tempering the rich luscious cremeux from being too overwhelming.

In his website, Pierre Gagnaire writes that his restaurant is one which is present in the now, facing the future and respectful of the past, one which strives to give pleasure through a generous yet lively cuisine which takes risks.  I reflect back on my splendid meal of visual, gustatory, olfactory and tactile delights where every dish was a novel artistic interpretation and fantastic insight into his creative genius.  Every dish at Twist certainly had a twist, with flavor concepts and plating which were clearly outside of the box, yet done in a quiet and sophisticated manner that was believable and familiar.  At times saluting classic French cuisine, always using incredibly fresh local ingredients, and otherwise pioneering unconventional and whimsical compositions, this wonderful chef and his unpredictable cuisine has left me in awe.  Such brilliance only comes around once in a while, and I was honored to have had the opportunity to enjoy his creations.  A revenge visit to finally make it out to his flagship restaurant on Rue Balzac to redeem myself is in the works now.  Until then, I will continue to cherish the beautiful memories of this enchanted evening at Twist thanks to the legendary chef who always seems to have an ‘excès de vitalité!’

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas

3752 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(888) 881-9367

Random trivia:  Did you know that rabbits eat their own night droppings, called cecotropes?  When a rabbit is engaging in cecotrophy, it is eating nutrient packed droppings from its anus.  Santé!

Tapas Molecular Bar- Tokyo, Japan

His culinary Holiness Chef Ferran Adrià has revolutionized the world of gastronomy with his inventive and playful style of cooking.  Many of you have probably heard the sad news that the holy grail of all restaurants, El Bulli, will be temporarily closing its doors in 2012.  Initial rumors reported that Chef Adrià was going to open a culinary academy instead, but he later refuted these rumors and announced that he was going to reopen in 2014.  Whatever the case, nobody can argue that he was at the forefront of creating a whole new style of haute cuisine centered around the disciplines of molecular gastronomy.

Of all of the culinary trends that we have seen these past few years, this style of scientific gastronomy has had the greatest appeal to me.  I am a self proclaimed science geek who did a Chemistry thesis on the different chemical components of acid rain for my high school studies.  I was on the math team and competed as the science nerd on our BrainBowl team (our version of inter-scholastic Trivial Pursuit).  I was a Biochemistry major in college, and I chose the path of medicine for my career.  So when the high-energy particles of science and food collided, they broke the carbon chains of monotony and converted boredom into pleasure through a stable process called culinary fusion.  I love when spectacular food appeals to my 5 senses, but I love it even more when it stimulates my cerebral cortex.  You want to talk about how calcium chloride cross-links sodium alginate polymers to form jello?  Pull up a chair and let me pour you a glass of wine, sexy.  Purrrrr…..

Fortunately I live in Los Angeles where this culinary trend has taken off.  I had a few excellent meals at The Bazaar last year, run by one of Ferran Adrià’s disciples Chef José Andrés.  Chef Marcel Vigneron has incorporated similar techniques in his innovative cuisine, as demonstrated in his Hatchi dinner this past December.  Liquid nitrogen infused cocktails have been popping up in almost every bar around town.  On my recent pilgrimage to Tokyo, I had an opportunity to have a full-blown molecular cuisine orgy at the Tapas Molecular Bar.

Situated on the 38th floor of the majestic Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Nihombashi Tokyo, this exclusive restaurant has been raising a lot of buzz since it opened with the hotel in December 2005.  It feels more like an exclusive club than a restaurant, as it occupies only a tiny bar counter space in the middle of the Oriental Lounge adjacent to the hotel lobby.  The kitchen is run by head chef Jeff Ramsey, who used to work with none other than José Andrés at Minibar in Washington D.C.  Ramsey, who is a Japanese-American hapa, is the perfect fit for this title- with his experiences working with both types of cuisines in both countries, he can formulate innovative avant-garde menu concepts with traditional flavors which will still appeal to the Japanese palate.  The Tapas Molecular Bar has won 1 Michelin star for the second consecutive year.

There are only 2 seatings a night at 6pm and 8:30pm, and only 8 seats per seating.  The reservations attendant informed me that I had to be punctual for my reservation as the meal was going to start exactly on time.  Each item on the 20-25 course menu is introduced and described by the chef and subsequently served to all guests at the same time.  My dining partner and I arrived 30 minutes early to our 8:30pm reservations, and enjoyed a cocktail in the chic Oriental Lounge overlooking the breathtaking night view of Tokyo.  I ordered the Tapas Molecular Bar signature cocktail, the Fresh Pear Martini made with pear-infused Grey Goose vodka, La France pear espuma and Cointreau.  With the flickering warm lights from the fireplace reflecting on the V-shaped glass and the spectacular backdrop of gem colored city lights, this was one delicious and sexy martini.  The olives were also meaty, juicy and scrumptious.

Large silver metallic plates with the printed Winter menu greeted us at our seats.  Like traditional Japanese sushi restaurants, this was interactive counter dining where creator and eater came face to face.  Only this time, I felt more like a spectator at a theatrical chemistry lab watching the mad scientist and his docile assistant brew potions and create puffs of clouds over Bunsen burners.  The small kitchen behind the counter was like an experimental workshop, full of contraptions that could cryovac, sous vide, foam, spherify, liquify and gassify.  There were flasks, pipettes, test tubes and beakers abound, and all of us were mesmerized with the magical performance.  With every pop, sizzle and poof we all giggled like children at a puppet show and couldn’t hold back our oohs and aahs with each twist that came with the dishes.

Shattered Rose Martini 粉々のローズマティーニ

Liquid nitrogen was slowly poured into the martini glasses, creating a cool white layer of fog that brought mysticism and magic to the aperitif.  As the fog started to clear, it gave way to a cluster of flash frozen ‘shattered’ rose petals floating on a delicate thin top layer of ice.  Imagine a floating iceberg on a tranquil red sea in the cool arctic mist.

Puffed Barbequed Pork ふっくら焼豚

Triple Cooked Kuwai カリカリくわい

TMB’s version of chicharrones was a light and crispy piece of deep fried pork rind with a caramelized coat of dark sweetness and what I thought to be a hint of star anise.  It tasted like soy senbei rice crackers with a perfect addictive combination of sweet and salty.  Kuwai, a Japanese arrowhead vegetable that looks like an upside down apostrophe mark, was cooked to a golden crisp exterior while the bulb still maintained a warm and fluffy consistency.

Arctic Potato Chip 厳寒チップス

When I picked up this thin yellow ruffled sheet, I was surprised to find that it broke into pieces very easily between my fingers.  That was when I realized that it was a delicate piece of ice falling apart under the warmth of my fingerpads, and I’d better eat it fast before it all melted on my lap.  The water that remains after boiling potatoes was frozen into sheets and served as a chip.  I understood the intention of having this ice flake mimic the crispiness of a potato chip, and it was even salted very generously to taste like it came out of a bag; but it was too cold and too watery for me to appreciate the gustatory illusion.

Apple and Manchego アップルマンチェゴ

This was a TMB classic that has been served in other seasonal menus.  The exterior of this mini cigar was made of thinly sliced and baked apples which were rolled into tight cylinders.  A manchego cheese and apple juice sorbet was made with a Pacojet and piped into the apple tubes.  It made for a delightful sweet and creamy snack that I would love to have around the house for an afternoon tea session. 

Roast Pepper Caviar 焼きパプリカキャビア

A strange contraption of hanging syringes filled with alternating red and yellow liquid was brought out to center stage.  The chefs slowly pressed down on the plexiglass plate on top which evenly distributed pressure among the syringes filled with paprika essence and sodium alginate.  Upon contact with the receiving pool of calcium chloride, a chain reaction occurred where cross-linked polymers were configurated in the form of a thick gel, thus transforming liquid droplets into viscous pellets.  The bright colored ‘caviar’ was seasoned with olive oil, thyme and salt and served in a small porcelain spoon.  They didn’t have much flavor, but I loved the bouncy and slippery textures.

Tai Chazuke 鯛茶漬け

Ochazuke is a classic Japanese comfort dish where warm green tea is poured over a bowl of steaming white rice and condiments which typically include dried rice crackers and dried nori seaweed.  In this deconstructed version, a delicate slice of kelp-infused sea bream was garnished with strings of fresh kombu seaweed and crispy dried arare rice crackers, and served with an umekombucha (pickled plum and kelp flavored green tea)  liquid sphere.   When I closed my eyes and took this dainty spoonful into my mouth, the briny aroma of salty seaweed perfumed my sinuses, invoking a dynamic phantasm of a mighty sea bream swimming boldly against the strong currents of the winter Ohotsuku sea.

Bacalao Espuma バカラオのエスプーマ

Bacalao (salted dried cod) espuma was layered over a tomato cream base in a tall shot glass and decorated with a small garden of microgreens and red tomato caviar (seeds).  I loved the subtle flavors of the smooth bacalao cream and the overall playful art deco composition of the dish.  A thin baguette wafer topped with kalamata olive paste and semidried tomato bits added an extra layer of saltiness that complemented the sweet mellowness of the cream.

Scallop with Cultivated Pearl ホタテの真珠添え

Flash boiled scallops served on its shell with sweet papaya slices and paprika cubes were cooked to a perfect tender consistency, but the real beauty of the dish came from the glistening white pearl on the edge of the shell.  The gel foam made with honey, yogurt and lime juice, and painted with a gloss to make it shine like the real deal, was a bit too sweet for my taste but I appreciated the elegance and artistry of this aesthetically memorable dish.

Spider Crab and Jamón たらば蟹とハモン

A glorious red chunk of sweet spider crab lounged in the center of this playful dish, getting pampered with a deluxe facial spa treatment consisting of a moisturizing jamón iberico mask and an invigorating chardonnay vinegar cleansing foam.  The warmth of the crab meat slowly melted the paper thin sheet of jamón fat into a shiny coat of luscious savor, tucking all of the tasty crab essences into the plump meat.  Pink grapefruit jelly garnished with thin microgreens and coarse green pistachio crumbs added more texture and freshness to the crustacean, and for me personally the green ice plant stole the show.  With its dewy complexion and crisp crunchy texture, this vegetable was an absolute delight.  The fleshy and hearty green leaves were covered with small silver fibers which made them look like moist dew drops glistening in the early morning sun.

Black Truffle, Lily Bulb 黒トリュフ、百合根

A hearty yurine lily bulb cream soup was layered with truffle infused foam and topped with succulent wedges of lily bulb flesh, shaved black truffle, truffle oil and drizzles of concentrated bouillon caramel.  The savory flavors of all of the components came together in a successful melange of rich divinity, not to mention the seductive bouquets of rich earthiness wafting from the truffle slices.  This was one of my favorite dishes, and as a truffle enthusiast, I was very happy.

Secreto de Cerdo イベリコのヒミツ

Shhh….can you keep a secret?  Or two?

This dish named ‘secreto de cerdo’, or ‘the pork’s secret’, had more than one secret twist.  It was presented in a covered porcelain bowl that, when opened, released a puff of aromatic cherry wood smoke.  When the beautifully scented rich smoke cleared, voila!  It revealed perfectly cooked slices of Spanish Iberico pork on a bed of bok choy.  The other ‘secret’?    The section of pork meat served was actually called secreto, which is the highest quality marbled meat located under the arm beneath the layer of fat in the armpit.  It’s a special cut of pork that can only be harvested in small portions from each animal, and it’s practically like bacon.  The deep savory flavors of the secreto jus went wonderfully with these divine cuts of tender meat that were infused with the smokey perfumes of cherry wood.  This dish in particular paired perfectly with our Chilean Cabernet, a masculine bottle of 2007 Montes Alpha with hints of tobacco and black peppercorn.

Foie, Coffee, Potato フォアグラ、コーヒー、じゃがいも

My least favorite dish was a haphazardly plated array of roasted asparagus and thick potato discs which were garnished with frozen foie gras shavings and drizzles of espresso glaze.  The Hokkaido potatoes were starchy and bland, and were severely lacking in flavor despite being confited in foie gras fat.  The shaved slices of frozen foie gras melted quickly into a sad flesh-colored blob before I could salvage it with my knife.

Wagyu Ravioli, Kinome, Maitake 和牛のラビオリ、木の芽、舞茸

The translucent ravioli in this following dish was made with reduced wagyu beef consommé, brimming with rich meat flavors and bouncing with a firm gelatinous spring due to the high collagen content.    The ravioli was packed with savory morsels of beef shank and buttery bits of braised Achilles tendon. Sautéed maitake mushrooms added earthiness to the dish while a rosemary cream foam tempered the robust flavors of the meat.  The green kinome pepper leaves brought vibrant color and zest to this fantastic course. 

Xiao Long Bao 小龍包

Next came my other favorite dish of the evening, and the one that made me smile the most.  By this point in the meal, I knew that I couldn’t take the menu literally.  There was inevitably going to be a twist on ‘xiao long bao’, Chinese soup dumplings, and I toiled over what they were going to serve.  Was it going to be a deconstruted XLB?  An inside out XLB?  A liquid XLB sipped through a straw, or a puff of XLB scented smoke? The chef was busy torching away at something behind the counter and I couldn’t wait to see what was coming out.

What’s this, a lamb chop?  I was confused, as were all other guests.  This was TMB’s version of the popular XLB soup dumpling, where they took the same concept of having flavorful juice inside of a sealed package that bursts inside your mouth.  A pomegranate and meat jus gelatin cube was placed in the middle of the lamb chop through a center incision, sealed with meat glue, and cooked to perfection.  We were instructed to eat the whole thing in one bite so as not to waste any of the flavorful juices onto the plate, and boy was this one juicy and mind blowing dish.  I closed my eyes when I went for the kill and I felt my heart skip a beat as the hot mouthwatering juices burst inside of my mouth and filled every crevice with its intense richness.  I didn’t even bother with the sweet potato, pistachio, honey and ginger purée, as the lamb XLB was already perfect on its own.

Miso Soup 味噌汁

Another winning dish for the evening was the deconstructed miso soup.  A jiggly blob of miso soup ‘sphere’ garnished with white tofu ‘caviar’, a drop of green onion oil and dried wakame seaweed powder were all presented as separate entities on the porcelain spoon.  However, in that one swift bite, the miso sphere burst open like a water balloon under the slightest pressure of tongue on palate to mix with the other components to trick my taste buds into thinking that I was having a comforting sip of warm miso soup from the bowl.  This dish was fun, clever and playful.

Snow, Sel Guerande 雪ー冬のいぶき

The first dessert course was a winter dish that was made with nitro-frozen shavings of milk with sel guerande.  The liquid nitrogen formed that characteristic white mist that slowly and eerily spilled out of the bowl.  The crispy and crunchy flakes tasted sweet like condensed milk, and I loved the dragon’s breath effect that the liquid nitrogen created as diners munching on the dessert unwittingly snorted white smoke out of their nostrils.

Dessert plate デザート

An architectural display of various bite-sized sweets was presented to us as we started winding down from our extravagant meal.

Mont Blanc モンブラン

This delightful ball had a light whipped creamy interior with a dusting of brown chestnut powder.

Raspberry Soda 木いちごのソーダ

Olive oil gummy オリーブ油のグミ

The pink raspberry soda disc that fizzed with carbonation on my tongue tasted sweet and creamy at first, then changed to sour and tangy once the fizzing started.  The yellow olive oil gummy with sugar coating had a sweet yet rich and slightly nutty flavor.

Cappuccino cotton candy カプチーノ

Genuine chocolate truffle 正真正銘のトリュフチョコレート

I loved the cappuccino flavored cotton candy fluff ball whose fine soft fibers melted and collapsed in my tongue into a sweet coat of sugar.  The genuine chocolate truffle was genuine in both senses of the term- it was a silky black chocolate truffle that was generously coated with real black truffle powder.  The balance of sweet and savory, sugary and earthy were superb and divine.

Fruits フルーツ

The finale to our elaborate molecular cuisine extravaganza was a guided journey through the wacky world of miracle fruits.  First we were instructed to suck on a lemon wedge to confirm its almost painful sourness.  After we washed our mouths with a swig of cold water, we were told to suck on the small red oval miracle fruit for 1 minute.  After we spit the red seed out, we sucked on the same lemon wedge again.  Gasps, laughter and shrieks simultaneously erupted from the arena as all 7 diners were taken by surprise by how sweet the lemon tasted.  We sucked on the lime to find that this too was as sweet as honey.  The juicy navel oranges?  Practically like mango.  The miracle fruit changes sour flavors to sweet, and this effect lasts for up to 2 hours.  They told us that the reaction is stunted by heat, so hot liquids like coffee or tea can destroy the sweetening effect.  I unknowingly took my last sip of Cabernet and was jolted by the fact that it tasted like vintage port wine.  What an amazing fruit!

Some dishes lacked flavor and finesse, but all dishes surprised, fascinated and entertained.  Each dish had a creative interpretation and clever twist that kept us on our toes all evening.  I was disappointed that Chef Ramsey didn’t do our 8:30pm seating, and instead we had a rookie Japanese chef who seemed a bit nervous and diffident.  I still got to chat with Chef Ramsey after my meal and overall I was happy with the unique experience. For 14,000 yen it was worth every precious minute to be a VIP front row guest to this exclusive private show that would almost put Cirque de Soleil to shame.  Floating gadgets, morphing forms, disappearing objects and colorful illusions captivated all who were fortunate enough to participate in this once in a lifetime memorable meal at the Tapas Molecular Bar.

Tapas Molecular Bar

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo

2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi

Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 103-8328 Japan

Telephone: +81 (3) 3270 8800

Random trivia: The miracle fruit, which is grown in West Africa (the one we had at TMB came from Ghana), contains an active glycoprotein called miraculin.  Although the exact mechanism is unknown, miraculin binds to taste buds to create an illusion of sour foods tasting sweet.  Research is being done to use this for cancer and diabetic patients.