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!



Providence restaurant on Melrose Avenue, headed by Executive Chef Michael Cimarusti, needs little introduction.  Cimarusti opened this restaurant after mastering the art of seafood cuisine at the Water Grill in downtown LA.  With 2 Michelin stars under its belt and a good fight by Chef Cimarusti on Top Chef Masters, this restaurant is already a legend in the US.  Specializing in seafood and consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles for food and service, my recent dinner experience here at Providence did not disappoint.  The white porcelain barnacles that decorate the walls of the dimly lit dining room climb all the way up to the high ceilings, giving diners the illusion of being small fish submerged in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

As I sipped on my excellent Dorian Gray cocktail with campari and rosemary, I looked around the dining room and immediately noticed how the heirarchy and craft of each staff was reflected in their uniform. The last time I saw this type of formal distinction was at Le Meurice in Paris.  I don’t know what it is, but dining in a restaurant where there is such formality and tradition makes me feel safe and secure.  It gives me the comfort of knowing that everything will be perfect and that I am in good hands.

Looking through their market menu, I was ecstatic to find my cousin’s wine.  It’s quite rare to find it in wine stores in LA let alone restaurants.  Even though I was drinking the same bottle for free just a few months ago when I visited my cousin in Burgundy, I didn’t hesitate to dish out the big bucks to order this wine for my tasting menu dinner.  The Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc 2007 ‘Les Perrières’ was an excellent pairing with our special seafood dinner.

The amuse bouche was a playful tribute to 3 classic cocktails in molecular gastronomy style.  The greyhound, one of my all time favorite cocktails, was a vodka and pink grapefruit sphere with a soft gelatinous membrane that burst splendidly inside my mouth.  The gin and tonic jelly, with a fresh twist of lime juice, was refreshing and amazing.  With a crunchy sugar layer on top and a soft gelatinous texture inside, this made for a really fun amuse.  The mojito sphere was my favorite, having a silky and smooth consistency.  Que rico!

Our next plate had a lot going on.  The house cured Tasmanian sea trout with shimeji mushrooms, ginger crème fraîche and crispy rice crackers was an absolutely divine play of wonderful textures and flavors, and one of my favorite dishes.  The sea trout was smoked to perfection and and the crème fraîche had the perfect amount of subtle ginger zing to bring out the fatty and sweet flavors of the fish.  The hint of toasted rice aroma that infused my nasal passages when I crunched down on the rice crackers added another level of enjoyment to this bite.  The soy marshmallow cube with wasabi pea crust had a soft, almost liquidy texture that was amazing.  The mini grujere, a type of French cheese bread, was delightful.  Warm, soft, airy and succulent…being served only 1 of these tiny grujeres was the ultimate tease.  The carrot soup with crème fraîche was smooth and creamy, and had a nice subtle vadouvan kick.

The Santa Barbara sea urchin with toasted sesame seeds, avocado, rice chip, crème fraîche and caviar was insane (everything here at Providence was so good that I’m running out of adjectives already). Fresh buttery sea urchin with caviar is a combination that is almost fail proof, but Chef Cimarusti took that to a whole new level.  The avocado added more buttery texture, the crème fraîche added more creaminess, and the rice crisp imparted a light and pleasant texture to the dish.  The only complaint I had about this amazing dish was that the toasted sesame seeds overwhelmed the pure essence of the uni, and should be taken out.

Kanpachi with shaved white truffles and deep fried soba/buckwheat was excellent.  The crispy texture of the soba was fantastic with the tender cuts of fresh kanpachi sashimi, all bound together with a nice creamy viniagrette.  I was sad that the white truffles shavings were weak in aroma and flavor.  White truffles normally make my heart dance and flutter, but these were severely lacking in potency.

The other star player of the evening was the Santa Barbara spot prawn dish in salt crust and rosemary, prepared and served tableside.  As soon as they wheeled the cart into the main dining room, the wonderful aroma of prawns filled the air and everybody looked over in awe. With the speed and calmness of a Shaolin master and the precision of a neurosurgeon, our veteraned server prepared these prawns so quickly that his hands and forks look like squiggly lines in my photo.  The whole process was a demonstration of supreme craft and skill, and I had front row VIP tickets to this amazing show.  The prawns were dressed with cold pressed Arnaud olive oil and ready for eating within minutes.  The succulent sweet flesh paired with the intense flavor of the prawn eggs and innards was simply astonishing.  This was my favorite and most memorable dish of the evening- and how ironic, given that it was only prepared with salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.  Simple IS best when using fresh ingredients.

The next dish of eel and foie gras with bermuda onion, soba, frisée and thin white truffle slices with vinegar sauce and parsley dots was confusing.  I had an eel and foie gras dish at Bistro LQ not too long ago that left me equally puzzled.  I love eel and boy do I love foie gras.  But I feel like these 2 proteins compete against each other rather than complement each other, and I’m still finding it difficult to accept this combination.  Otherwise, the sauces and other components of this dish were flawless.

Salmon belly with matsutake mushrooms was quite sensational.  This dish showcased 3 ways to enjoy this highly prized fungus- raw thin slices, large braised chunks, and an intensely rich and flavorful sauce.  I was surprised to see matsutake prepared with salmon- matsutake is a delicate fungus that is normally paired with a lighter white fish that doesn’t dominate its presence.  Salmon has such a distinct flavor, presence and fattiness that would normally overshadow matsutake, but Cimarusti knew exactly what he was doing.  I could tell that he really understood ‘his Holiness the Matsutake’- by preparing it 3 ways, he pulled out its aroma and essence to a maximum to make it all about the matsutake.  The wonderfully tender and fresh salmon was just there to make sure that the mushroom really shined on stage.

French turbot with tomatoes, cauliflower (chunks and purée) and panisse with basil sauce was Chef Cimarusti’s final bow to the seafood portion of the tasting menu.  The fish was tender, buttery and remarkable.  Whenever I dine at a restaurant, I always get a meat dish- not only because I love a good cut of red meat, but also because I’ve never been excited with cooked fish dishes.  It’s very rare for me to be impressed and happy with cooked fish, as I often find it either overcooked or boring.  Not so here at Providence, where almost every dish was a sensation and an absolute joy.  Dining at Providence almost made me wonder why one would ever eat meat at all- okay, that’s taking it a bit too far now.  Bravo to Chef Cimarusti, who obviously loves and understands the precious creatures of the ocean.

And what’s a meal without a cheese cart?  Providence offered a really fine selection of cheeses, from my favorite stinky Epoisse to the robust Robluchon, an aromatic truffled cheese to a soft ashed goat cheese.

Apples, figs, candied walnuts and a wonderful apricot, black pepper and Riesling jam accompanied our superb cheese dish.  Sommelier Drew Langley chose 2 divine ports for us to enjoy with our cheeses that transported me to heaven.  The 1998 Graham’s vintage port Quinta dos Malvedos, was full of sultry richness and smooth texture.  What really hit the spot for me was the 30 year Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port.  Smooth and sweet like honey with a sophisticated boldness, this was one of the best ports that I’ve ever tasted.

And now it was time to enjoy pastry chef Adrian Vasquez’s sweet delights.  Melon soup with mint granité, blackberry gelée, vanilla ice cream and fresh blackberries was a cool and refreshing way to start the dessert course.  The soup tasted like sweet exquisite Japanese melon from Senbikiya, and was without a doubt the winning dessert of the evening.

The deconstructed banana cream pie with graham crackers was interesting.  Although it wasn’t my favorite dessert dish, I appreciated the playfulness of this dish.

Pineapple mousse on a pineapple sheet with horchata gelato, goat’s milk caramel dulce de leche, guava pate de fruits and a rice cracker was a sensational play of varying textures and sweetness.

We also had 2 other dessert dishes that I unfortunately forgot to photograph.  As you can imagine, I was a bit distracted with the feast.  A coffee mousse with chicory caramel ice cream and roasted hazelnuts tasted like really good tiramisu.  A chocolate peanut butter ganache with Chambly Noire ice cream and chocolate covered pretzels wasn’t so successful.  The ice cream, made with a black Belgian ale, sounded better than it tasted.

As if the tasting menu wasn’t satisfying enough, we were gifted with a lovely box of chocolates all handmade by pastry chef Vasquez.  The beautiful chocolates came in a sleek black Providence box with a magnet flap closure that I plan to use as a jewelry box after I’ve devoured all of the delicious chocolates.

Is Providence worthy of 2 Michelin stars?  Absolutely.  Fresh quality seafood executed with innovative concepts and astounding flavors, coupled with impeccable service make for a high class establishment.  In this LA environment where a ‘celebrity chef’ or reality TV hotshot seems to be opening up a new restaurant every month,  it’s comforting to know that I can get unpretentious service in this classic longstanding restaurant.  There is absolutely no attitude here- only warm hospitality and excellent food.  Come to Providence to experience true fine dining in its purest form.


5955 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90038

(323) 460- 4170

Random trivia: Did you know that turbot, along with flounder, halibut and sole, is a type of flatfish that has both eyes on the same side of their head?  They are all born looking like normal fish, but after a few weeks one eye migrates to the other side, one side of their body turns white and the other dark, and their body flattens out.  Turbot is a ‘left-eyed’ flatfish whereas halibut, sole and flounder are ‘right-eyed’.

Bond Street at the Thompson- Beverly Hills


At the Beverly Hills Thompson Hotel, Chef Brian Redzikowski mans the helm of the kitchen at Bond Street restaurant.  The restaurant and hotel, just like the original in New York’s SoHo, is beautifully designed in true Dodd Mitchell style.  Sleek dark brown suede banquettes and checkered patterns encompass the dimly lit dining room.  The classy bar is an ideal place for incognito lovers to whisper sweet nothings by flickering candlelight. A quaint sushi bar sits by the open kitchen,  a traditional Japanese haven almost hidden from the otherwise contemporary space.  The large wooden communal table by the bar decorated with bonsai plants almost took my breath away.  My goodness, is that a George Nakashima table?  After close inspection, I could tell that it wasn’t, but it was still a beauty.  Japanese artistry juxtaposed with lustrous modern design compose the perfect background for the innovative food here at Bond St.

IMG_0004Chef Brian Redzikowski is almost too perfect of a fit for this restaurant known for sushi and Japanese fusion cuisine.  Only a chef who has the mastery of classical French techniques and an eye for Japanese aesthetics can competently operate and actualize this menu.  His impressive bio reflects how his path was naturally bound for the executive chef title at Bond St.  Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse, Le Bernardin and Joel Robuchon at the Mansion have refined his culinary skills.  His position as executive chef at Matsuhisa in Colorado and executive sous-chef at Yellowtail in Las Vegas prove his competence with Japanese cuisine.

He started off our special tasting menu with a prosecco sangria jello and foam.  The flavors were sweet, fruity and seductive.  The foam layer fizzled away like fine prosecco bubbles.  As we examined the chiffon lace decoration on this dish and toasted with Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé champagne (a signature Robuchon bubbly), the two former Robuchon chefs that I was dining with both chuckled as they simultaneously exclaimed “This is SO Robuchon!”

My favorite dish of the evening was the big eye tuna tartare with truffle oil, thinly sliced red onions and microshiso.  It was stunningly plated on a thin wooden plank that was reminiscent of the Nakashima-esque wooden table by the bar.  Served on a light and airy crisp, this dainty appetizer saturated the air with its ethereal truffle aroma.


A ‘sashimi’ plate of king crab and hamachi.  The intense aroma of the bacon foam on top of the king crab with vinegar gelée opened the flood gates of my salivary glands.  This foam can easily be marketed to become a basic tabletop condiment right next to salt and pepper.  I felt like the vinegar gelée was unnecessary and took away from the excitement of the bacon essence, but the hamachi belly with soy strip was delightful.  The soy flavors kicked in after a few seconds, as the strip slowly dissolved in my mouth and transfused through the wonderful fattiness of the fish.

The Skeena river salmon sushi went back to the basics.  After all, this is a sushi restaurant (well, sort of).  But of course, Brian put a little twist to it.  It was served with soy pearls, small round jelly-like pearls that were probably made with either alginate or agar.  Although it was a fun concept, I would have preferred to keep this simple and a little more traditional with soy-marinated salmon roe.

By this time we were knee deep in the most insanely delicious bottle of 2005 Domaine Etienne Defaix Chablis Vielle Vignes from Burgundy- a perfect balance of dry and sweet, and went well with all of the seafood dishes.

Foie gras with spicy rice krispy treat, yogurt powder and yogurt chip was interesting.  The best part for me was the actual foie gras which I only got to enjoy for a nanosecond before it disappeared under the overwhelming sweetness and chewiness of the rice krispy treat.  I didn’t quite understand the role of the yogurt, as it did nothing for me, and the yogurt powder reminded me of infant formula.

The next dish was a corn flan with carrot marshmallow, sweet pea foam and spot prawns that I unfortunately forgot to photograph.  You can see a photo of it on Chef Redzikowski’s site.  A deep white bowl with a layer of yellow corn flan at the bottom was colorfully dotted with orange and green and a side of light green pea foam.  The flan was incredibly smooth and silky, and the sweet pea foam was beautifully aromatic.  The crunchy texture of the croutons mixed with the succulent meatiness of the prawns and melty marshmallows was brilliant.  We all loved this dish.

The Alaskan black cod with miso dengaku and potato miso foam was nice.  The cod was perfectly cooked and flavorful, motivating me to eat carefully with the precision of a plastic surgeon so as not to leave behind even a small flake on the plate.  I was a bit surprised to see a red miso dengaku paste on this fatty fish, as cod is usually marinated with white miso which has a lighter taste.  The warm potato foam was good enough for me to want to bathe in.  Bravo to the bottle of 2004 Chenin blanc ‘Les Genêts’ from Savennières by Damien Laureau for enhancing this portion of our dinner with its fruit and honey undertones.


The sous vide Snake River Farm Kurobuta pork belly dish was interesting.  It was served with artichoke foam and olive oil powder.  Our server gave us strict instructions to incorporate the foam and powder in each bite.   I applaud the chef’s creativity and determination in incorporating molecular gastronomy elements in his dishes, but I was deeply perplexed with the elements.  The powders and foams were too frail and muted to do their part in enhancing the fatty pork belly.

The sous vide Kobe beef on a bed of applewood smoked bacon was presented beautifully.  The beef slices were nicely marbled and fatty as Kobe beef always is, although I question the presence of the bacon.  I’m assuming it was for consumption and not just for visual and olfactory foreplay, as these were some of the toughest slices of bacon I’ve ever had.


The beef was accompanied with a side of veggies.  Similar to the carrot marshmallows in the corn flan dish, it came with a round carrot sphere served on a bed of cippolini onion purée with microvegetables and honey teriyaki sauce.  The cippolini purée was exquisite, teeming with that unique sweetness that only an onion can produce.

Sous vide meat round 3 was Sonoma lamb with carrot purée and powder, gingerbread, lamb jus and mint paper.  The meat was tender and delicate, and beautifully done.  The arrangement of dots, cubes and powder was like a Japanese rock garden.


The meats were beautifully paired with a flawless 2006 Vosne Romanée by Domaine Forey Pere et Fils.  Luckily we still had a little left to enjoy with the first of 6 desserts which couldn’t be more perfect with this wine.  As a tribute to the Vosne Romanée, these pinot noir and strawberry liquid-filled chocolate spheres were chaperoned by pinot noir reduction dots, micro shiso and strawberries.  Upon first glance, this brown sphere seemed timid and nervous, sweating fine beads of perspiration under the ravenous stares of its predators.  Once consumed, its surprisingly thin and delicate crust ruptured between tongue and palate in a torrent of seductive poison, rendering its predator paralyzed in a fervent state of ecstasy.


The warm cherry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream was next up in this sinful dessert carnage.  It was nice to get a classic French dish made simply and splendidly.  It was an amazing dessert that almost caused a war when it came down to the last bite.


The lemongrass and espresso ice creams with cappuccino foam was sharp and refreshing.


The caramel flan with popcorn foam was interesting to say the least.  Not my cup of tea, but a bold experiment in unique flavor and texture combinations.


Mochi donuts with coconut ice cream and rhubarb was something I could easily do without.  The mochi balls had a caustic chewy texture that made it distinctly un-mochi like.


The grand dessert finale was fittingly carried out by the caramel chocolate ball filled with liquid vanilla ice cream on a bed of caramel powder.  We were instructed to eat this in one bite.  Mind you, they were the size of golf balls, so we all initially hesitated, not wanting to look silly trying to do this.  But we were among good friends, and happy tipsy friends at that, so we all took the plunge together.  Just like the pinot noir chocolate ball, this heavenly sphere instantly collapsed in our mouths, resulting in a tsunami of rich vanilla decadence.  See this YouTube video of Brian making these opulent orbs.  Avoid the somewhat cheesy music by viewing it on mute.



The decadent feast concluded with colorful origami boxes containing chocolates.  The flowing progression of our meal narrated a beautiful story and each dish allured us with mythical charm.  Like traditional Japanese kaiseki, the aesthetics of each plate demonstrated the esteem and discernment of understated beauty.

The exorbitance of powders, foams, strips, dots and sous vide meats left me yearning for a simple plate of meat and potatoes, but I appreciated Redzikowski’s creative and daring adventure into new culinary frontiers.  Like the restaurant decor,  his food represented a flirtatious blend of sexy modernism and traditional elegance.

Bond Street

9360 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-3134
(310) 601-2255


Click here for more beautiful photos of Chef Redzikowski’s culinary creations.



Random trivia:  Careful where you pop…

Jan 2, 2009 12:31 pm US/Pacific

Popcorn Trail Leads Police To Suspected Thief


A messy thief has been arrested after a trail of popcorn led police directly from a crime scene to the suspect’s living room.

Sacramento police say they responded to an alarm at the Food Stop store in Natomas early in the morning on New Year’s day.  When officers arrived they found that the business had been broken into and several items taken.

That’s also when they noticed a trail of popcorn.  Officers followed the trail of clues to an apartment complex behind the store and to the door of one unit.  When officers knocked, they noticed the popcorn kernels continued inside the apartment.  Officers found the stolen property inside.

Officers arrested Tyree Brown for a theft warrant and possession of stolen property.  He may be charged with burlgary at a later time.

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Michael Mina XIV

Have you driven by the Sunset strip recently and wondered what that huge neatly trimmed XIV plant is for?  It’s Michelin star and James Beard award-winning chef Michael Mina‘s newest restaurant, aptly named for his 14th restaurant.  And yes, it’s another Philippe Starck design collaboration, beautifully done like an old french chateau.  Once you step inside, you are transported to a different world with dramatic chandeliers, regal wooden bookcases, perfectly upholstered leather seats, candelabras and fireplaces.


A romantic fireplace, dining by candlelight, and low light, so low in fact that it was impossible to take photos of the meal.


Juxtaposed against this old world style interior is the modern open kitchen behind sharp stainless steel racks.  The kitchen was buzzing with excitement under the leadership of executive chef Steven Fretz.


XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

XIV’s menu is constructed around a small plates dining concept.  There are numerous choices under appetizers, entrees, cheese and desserts, and one is free to order a la carte or from 3 types of tasting menus.  XIV offers the opportunity to sample many different flavors and aromas through the 8 plate ‘Light Meal’ menu, 11 plate ‘Something More’ menu, or the 14 plate ‘Fourteen from XIV’ menu which is ordered for the table.  In these tasting menus, you also have the choice to have the chef select the dishes, or to choose them yourself.  We of course ordered the 14 dish tasting menu and chose the following dishes which I unfortunately could not photograph:

1) Ice Cold Shellfish trio: kushi oysters with champagne foam and tarragon powder, horseradish panna cotta with sweet shrimp, king crab with dijon mustard sauce.  The fresh kushi oyster had a wonderful brine that was accentuated, not overpowered, by the tarragon and champagne flavors.

2) Spring Garlic Soup with preserved Meyer lemon, parsley and country bread.  The creamy spring garlic soup had a garlicky kick that was green, young and fresh.

3) Tataki of American Wagyu skirt steak with moroccan spiced vegetables.  The beef tataki was not a true seared rare tataki, but rather a slice of cold medium steak albeit very tender and flavorful.  The vegetables were seasoned with a very earthy strong moroccan spice that didn’t  go well with the tataki.  The meat and the vegetables were each doing their own thing, and it was not a successful pairing.

4) Heirloom beets with burrata, wild arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and new olive oil.  Golden yellow, orange and red beets perfectly cooked and simply executed with the simple good flavors of balsamic and olive oil.

5) Foie gras terrine with rhubarb mostarda, saba and flatbread.  My favorite dish of the evening, the most flavorful and rich foie gras with a delicious sweet rhubarb jelly on top.  Since these are all small plates, the foie gras terrine was very small, and it left me begging for more.  One of the best foie gras terrines I have ever had.

6) Jidori chicken with fava beans, La Ratte potatoes, pickled ramps and onion jus.  The chicken was very juicy and succulent, but the dish and the flavors seemed too plain and safe for me.  I expected more surprises and innovative creations from Michael Mina.

7) Liberty duck breast with seared foie gras, leg confit, pineapple, and star anise.  Duck and foie gras are always a fail-proof combination, and they usually go well with a sweet fruit pairing (fig, cherries).  But pineapple? I was excited to try it, but unfortunately they didn’t mesh well.

8 ) Berkshire pork loin with crispy pork belly, pea leaves and salted cashew.  Here’s the thing about using pork belly.  It has become increasingly popular among restaurants all over the world only recently, but the Japanese have been cooking and eating it for centuries.  I have been spoiled by perfectly cooked pork belly in Japanese cuisine, and have never been satisfied with its execution in other types of cuisine.  This dish also fell short, as it wasn’t cooked to melting fatty tenderness.

9) California lamb chop with merguez sausage skewer, chickpea and raita.  This was a delicious dish where all of the components of the dish blended well together.  The smokey spiced merguez sausage with the rich lamb skewers, the red pepper sauce and earthy chickpea puree, paired with the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt raita.  Beautiful.

lamb chop with merguez sausage
lamb chop with merguez sausage

10) Japanese A5 strip loin with potato shallot cake, pinot noir sauce and spinach.  The Japanese A5 is an extremely high grade beef cut, and this dish comes with an extra charge that is worth every dollar.  An incredibly tender, moist, juicy, flavorful and memorable cut of beef with beautiful marbling.  (see random trivia section below for explanation of A5)


11)Abbaye de Belloc cheese with quince, candied mustard seed and sorrel.

12) Selles-sur-Cher cheese with jackfruit, pistachio and mimosa flower.  I ordered this dishing hoping for fresh jackfruit, one of my favorite tropical fruits, but unfortunately it was candied, sweetened, and artificial.





13) Grapefruit sorbet with greek yogurt and kaffir lime meringue.  I was excited to try Pastry chef Jordan Kahn’s desserts, knowing that he has worked at the French Laundry and Per Se, but I was disappointed with both dessert plates.  The folded grapefruit sorbet was too sweet, and the lime meringue tasted artificially flavored.  The yogurt brought nothing better to the dish, and I was done after 2 bites.


14) Vanilla custard with mandarin sorbet, cream soda and nutmeg beignet.  The vanilla custard had an overwhelming fleur d’orange flavor that tasted like household cleaning solution.  The nutmeg beignet, however was warm and delicious.

IMG_454015) We ordered an extra 15th dish: Michael’s caviar parfait on a potato cake with citrus creme fraiche and smoked salmon.  We added this order after our 14 course meal, and were thankful for the decision.  It would have been a shame to end our meal with the 2 disastrous desserts.  The caviar parfait was absolutely wonderful, with all of the flavors of the salty caviar, light and creamy creme fraiche, and rich smoked salmon dancing harmoniously together in my mouth.


Another highlight of the evening was discovering my cousin’s wine in the extensive wine list.  Simon Bize et Fils, Les Fournaux, 1er cru, 2006 was fantastic.  It was a joyous moment to find this rare wine in the restaurant.

XIV had a few dishes that flopped, but the others dazzled and impressed.  Drinks at the beautiful swank marble bar, followed by dinner in the vine covered patio for a tasting menu that includes the A5 steak, foie gras terrine and caviar parfait paired with a bottle of Simon Bize will make for a special evening.

Michael Mina XIV

8117 Sunset Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Random trivia:

So what the hell is an A5 beef?  It’s based on a grading system that grades beef on marbling, color and brightness, firmness and texture, color luster, and quality of fat.  It is reviewed by slicing the animal in between the 6th and 7th rib bone.  

The Beef Marbling score (BMS) is determined by how much intramuscular fat there is. This score can range from 1-12, and a score of 8-12 would get a grade 5 rating ‘Excellent’.

The Beef Color score (BCS) is determined by the comparing the meat flesh to the ‘Color Standards’. There are seven different shades of red with No. 1 being the lightest shade, and No.7 being the darkest. The flesh would have to be comparable to No.3-No.5  to get the top grade 5 rating.

Firmness and Texture are two different measurements within the same category, and in order to get the grade 5 rating, the flesh must be very firm and also have a very fine texture.

Color Luster and Quality of Fat are also different measurements within the same category. The fat is compared to the ‘Color Standards’ fat chart. There are seven different shades of fat, No.1 being pure white, and No. 7 being somewhat pink. Luster and Quality are visually appraised by the reviewer.

So if the Fat resembles No.1-No.4 and has excellent Luster and Quality, it will receive the grade 5 rating. To determine the overall grade of the beef, all the ratings in the aforementioned categories are  plugged into a chart, and the beef can receive 1 of 15 different final scores: A5 being the absolute best and C1 being the worst. Who knew beef was so complicated?