Beyond the buffets and chain eateries and boozy bacchanals, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire is a restaurant that demonstrates how much Las Vegas dining has evolved. In the past dozen years, the world's top chefs have made their indelible mark on the city. Among them are more than a few Frenchmen: Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, and since 2009, Gagnaire, with his enthralling restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
In its elegant contradictions, Twist shows why France's most noted toques love Las Vegas. On the one hand, the food of Vegas is so particular that it feels French in an offhand way. On the other hand, Gagnaire insists that Twist's dishes "possess eccentricity." What better place to flaunt eccentricity than Las Vegas? The restaurant lives up to its name, upending every expectation, gracefully, deliciously. Order the "zezette broth," and you don't just get broth; you get a mushroom and coconut soup infused with an abundance of fragrant herbs, plump vegetable gnocchi, and chicken chiffonade floating within. With it comes a cod cake tangy with Kaffir lime, and bavaroise flavored like ratatouille atop a ruby-colored bloody mary sorbet.
There seems no outward reason for this hodgepodge. The dishes are beautifully presented in a mosaic, but don't seem to go together. Then you taste, and the alchemy of so many textures, so many varying temperatures, so many flavors of herb and acid and sea and earth, is out of this world—and so precisely of this world that it seems to express the very essence of the food. You feel shaken awake. Your taste buds perk up. And so does your mood. Gagnaire understands Las Vegas; he's having fun here.
"Twist," he says, "means to turn things around, to unscrew them, to liberate, to have a different approach to traditional or normal dishes. I respect tradition, but with my own rules." Would that we could all play by our own rules in Vegas.
Pictured: Clockwise from top left: Muscavado sugar tuile with hojicha tea-flavored sugar-glass "opaline," citron-flavored royal icing, and matcha green tea powder atop an orange-saffron syrup; A granite of green apple and lime topped with a cinnamon-dusted confit of apples and apple-flavored "opaline"; Creme brulee ice cream atop caramelized pineapple soaked in creme de cassis; A chocolate biscuit cake soaked in grappa, topped with ginger sorbet and served in a pool of banana coulis