Las Vegas, Nevada, Tasted on June 12, 2006 —
I've never eaten at an Alain Ducasse restaurant. And frankly, even
after eating at Mix I'm not sure I have. The brand extension that's
rampant among celebrity chefs is at its most extreme in Las Vegas.
Here's how it works. Casino owners pay chefs with notoriety to lend
their name and overall creative direction to restaurants in their
respective hotels. There are certainly times when the chef actually
moves to Las Vegas and cooks every night in the restaurant that
bears their name. But this is essentially the exception. By the time
chefs warrant payouts by Las Vegas casinos they are running
restaurant empires with multiple locations. Not being able to be in
multiple places at once means by definition that the chefs that are
big enough aren't cooking every night at their own restaurants. So
the best case really is that the chef actually hires the people who
run the kitchen, trains them, oversees the menu, and then visits for
quality control for a few weeks spread out throughout the year.
However, in the worst case the chef takes a check, signs off on the
menu, visits maybe once or twice, and is essentially done. The truth
for most is probably somewhere in between.
Chefs who sign these deals will claim with some legitimacy that even
when they're cooking in the kitchen they have help, and scaling that
help across geographies is just an extension of that. And sure
enough there are chefs who have folks working for them for years now
who they can truly trust to carry out their culinary missions
without day-to-day supervision. But I'll claim that this is an
unbelievably difficult challenge. And this leads us to Mix. Despite
the details presented in
The Seasoning of a
Chef, I don't really have any way of knowing where on the
spectrum this particular celebrity chef Vegas presence lies. But I'm
going to hazard a wild guess that Ducasse wasn't cooking at Mix the
night we were there. I'm happy to be proven wrong, but I'd speculate
that he doesn't visit the restaurant more than three times a year
(and my guess is that this is extremely generous). In the end I
suppose none of this shit matters. There are lots of people who can
cook. The reason to eat at a restaurant is not because a celebrity
(chef or otherwise) has lent their name to the business. The reason
is because the food is good. Manufactured experience aside, is the
Dinner started off at
table on the
balcony overlooking the
Vegas strip with a little morsel, a
Sable. Kind of neat. Almondy. Dessert cookie-ish. But savory.
Starts you salivating. A
basket of bread soon followed. These included, Olive, Bacon, Fleur de
Sel Crostini, and Country Bread.
All good. The
butter and peanut butter
(peanut flavored butter, not like regular peanut butter) were good.
The peanut version was buttery and cute. No jelly. Debbie liked the variety
of bread. Between the cookie and the butter the cuteness factor was
high but despite that we were off to a good start.
Next up was the
Shrimp Cocktail with Horseradish and Tomato Syrup.
Hmmm.... this was essentially shrimp with ketchup and cream cheese. Not good. But
crunchy dried lemon sliver perched atop this mess was superb. This was
Bluefin Tuna Tartare with Melba Toast and
Condiment. The tuna was fine. Even good. It's always a battle when
this is on the menu. Raw tuna is like some mandatory item no matter what
kind of restaurant you're at. And 99% of the time it's mostly
boring. But raw tuna (at high quality) is so good, that I always debate
whether to order it. Steve
loves it, so the matter was settled.
Soup was next.
Chicken-Coconut Thai Soup with Crispy Rice Cracker.
The broth was fresh and thin (in a good way), complex but subtle. It reminded me of
Thailand... literally of the country. That's a good sign. The
Lobster Caesar Salad
had big chunks of lobster. Flavorful if not special. Next was the
Spicy Crab Salad with Tomato Gelee.
The tomato gelee was nice and tart but the dish kind of random.
Pasta followed the crab,
Artisanal Pasta with Sauteed Spring Vegetables
to be exact. Basically pasta primavera. Restrained. Hearty. Nice. We
Elbow Pasta with Ham and Gruyere Cheese.
Hmmm... I guess the best word to describe this was lame.
Kira admitted that while it
didn't have huge flavor, she liked
I thought the
Forked Crushed Potato
had a nice clean potato flavor with a healthy dose of buttteriness (is
that a word). It tasted hearty and good to me. Debbie didn't
like it. The
Tender Potato Gnocchi with Fresh Morel and Asparagus
were excellent with savory thick yummy flavors.
Last we got the
Seared Duck Foie Gras with Spicy Jus Kumquat and Exotic
Fruit Marmalade. Debbie didn't think the foie was cooked to a crispy enough outer
consistency. Kira didn't like it either. I agreed there could have been
more contrasting texture, however I found the portions generous and the
flavor nice too. Salty, bold, and interesting. The fruit was a nice
Up to this point I think the consensus on our meal was
that it was mixed at best (I swear no pun intended). If it had some
coherence but needed to tune up its execution that would be one thing.
If it had fantastic execution without a soul that would also be
reasonable (if not preferable). But the truth is that overall the dishes
were hit or miss. And in that case we typically don't even both writing
about the meal on this site.
I admit that I'm not a big dessert guy, and it's nearly
impossible for dessert to change my opinion of a meal. This meal was an
exception. We ordered three desserts to share.
Warm Chocolate Fondant with Almond Ice Cream,
Vanilla Napoleon with Mascarpone Sorbet and
Roasted Pineapple with Macadamia and Brown Butter Ice
Cream. The chocolate was a perfectly executed mini-melty chocolate
cake dessert experience. Much like the ubiquitous chopped raw tuna
appetizer, the melty chocolate cake is a staple of predictable
restaurants everywhere. That said, there's nothing wrong with
predictable if you nail the execution, and here they did just that. The
napoleon with the mascarpone sorbet was absolutely delicious. Ice cream
made with creamy, and only lightly sweet non-tradition flavors really
makes me happy. There's such an ethereal sweetness about them. And as
good as those two desserts were, the pineapple blew them both
away. The caramelized pineapple with its sticky browned sweetness and
slight grilled essence always makes me incredibly happy. Making brown
butter the basis for the ice cream captured everything I love about the
mascarpone sorbet but emphasized the buttery qualities of the roasted
pineapple that it complemented. The tangy dried pineapple chip helped to
accent the dish. Absolutely delicious.
We were swooning from dessert when freshly baked
Madelines came with some
Nutella for dipping (I can't remember if the kitchen did something
to the Nutella to make it their own, but I know the nutella was straight
out of the jar as I saw stacks of them on the way to our table). And
when I say the madelines were freshly baked, I mean
I have to admit that Mix was on the bubble until dessert
arrived and then the beauty of those final sweet dishes blotted out any
negativity we'd felt to some of the earlier dishes. To be fair, the
savory portion of our meal did have some highlights, and the lowlights
were certainly not offensive. They were just nothing to
home blog about. I guess if you want a really stellar
experience the recommendation is, get your dinner somewhere else, and
then come to Mix for dessert.
As for what role our erstwhile celebrity chef played in
our meal, like I said above, my wild-ass guess is, not much. That said,
the information I'd really like to have is the name of the pastry chef
the night we were there. Because that's a person I would follow from
restaurant to restaurant. I wonder when they'll get their name up in
lights. Given how the restaurant industry works, probably never. And
since most chefs with their
in lights stop cooking maybe that's an ok outcome.