Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mix in Las Vegas: What Dining Out is All About

Once in a while, a meal is so complete, so thoroughly enjoyable, so reaffirming in its balance of elegance, creativity, and warmth, that it reminds you exactly what makes dining out such a treat and, in times like these, such an emotional necessity.

I had an experience like that this past February at Mix, the fabulous restaurant at the top of THEhotel, next to the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. For my last night in town (coincidentally my birthday), my wife had flown out to join me for a special dinner. I’d been in Vegas all week hosting the culinary demonstrations at the Catersource and Event Solutions Conference and Trade Show, the largest gathering of its kind in the world, and this meal was to be the capstone on the week.

It also was a chance to reunite with a good friend of ours, Christophe Tassan, who we’d gotten to know in Philadelphia when he worked as the Sommelier and General Manager of the legendary Le Bec-Fin, and who now is the Wine Director at Mix. He’s also one of the single most knowledgeable wine experts I know, blending a deep knowledge and understanding with an infectious enthusiasm that’s impossible not to get swept up in.

So, just to reiterate: I was already in Las Vegas for work, but my wife had flown across the country for a single meal (we found a cheap flight…gotta love Southwest!). If ever there was pressure on a dining experience to be great, this was it: Hours on a cramped airplane, with only a single night out providing the light at the end of that long tunnel, tends to amplify expectations.

Put simply, we were not let down. In fact, quite the opposite happened: This proved to be one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had.

Upon stepping off the elevator at the top of THEhotel, we were greeted by a shimmering sea of whites and creams; a gargantuan chandelier that, despite its size and its composition of 15,000 Murano glass balls made to look like Champagne bubbles, managed to appear almost impossibly light; and the best views in the city.

As for the food, it more than lived up to the surroundings in which it was enjoyed, blending brilliantly defined flavors, a sense of luxury, and just the slightest touch of whimsy. The dishes on the Grand Tasting Menu, regardless of their individual ingredients, all struck perfectly balanced poses that highlighted both richness and a stunning sense of restraint.

The highlights were too numerous to include in their entirety: Kampachi sashimi was the texture of silk and the perfect in situ argument for allowing top-notch ingredients to speak for themselves; seared Thai snapper with a carrot fondant and a tagine jus embodied everything that's great about dishes that pull from numerous cultures to create something new and deeply satisfying; roasted Maine lobster “au curry” with coconut basmati rice utilized its ambrosial perfume as well as it velvety flavors and textures to create a unified, gently aromatic whole; impossibly tender Colorado lamb loin was paired with miniature samosas whose own sense of spice cast the earthiness of the meat into exquisitely sharp relief. The list goes on.

And all of these dishes were made even better by Mr. Tassan’s wine pairings. From the fantastic Herman Story “Tomboy,” a white Rhone-style stunner from Santa Maria, to one of the most complete wines I’ve ever tasted, the Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos St.-Urbain 1996, the procession of glasses demonstrated exactly what has always made Mr. Tassan one of the best in the world: His pure love of wine from all over the planet, and his willingness to experiment with flavor and texture combinations, leading to pairings that surprise, delight, and, indeed, make you think.

That theme carried through to dessert, too, when we were shown to our “dessert table” on the outdoor terrace 43 floors above the Strip. From the rich to the refreshing—the “floating island” was a standout—the selection of sweets, the planes taking off and landing in the distance, the spotlight shining up from the Luxor all brought the meal to a perfect close.

This was, without a doubt, an extraordinary meal, one of the best I've ever had. Indeed, it was an experience worth flying across the country for. Great food, spectacular wine, and being reunited with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time: There’s just nothing better.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Freedman, I just would like to thank you on sharing this emotional experience. Inviting people to start to enjoy a dinner during a flight or even 5 minutes before going to the table is one of the key to happiness and life enjoyment! I wish people reading your comment will find their own key to play with their senses. Enjoy, have fun, have and listen to your emotions. Bon appetit.

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