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Mix, 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 food at Mix good?

Dinner started off at our table on the balcony overlooking the Vegas strip with a little morsel, a Parmesan 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 the tangy crunchy dried lemon sliver perched atop this mess was superb. This was followed by Bluefin Tuna Tartare with Melba Toast and Guacamole 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 also got 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 it anyway.

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 contrast.

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 Strawberry Salad, 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 freshly baked. Delicious!

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 write 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 names in lights stop cooking maybe that's an ok outcome.

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.


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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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