review: impresario of sauce…

Alex at the Wynn
Alex at the Wynn
Las Vegas, Nevada

I have a friend who works in the kitchen at Alex at the Wynn.

He had been begging me to visit for quite some time.

Truth be told, I wasn’t really hot on Alex before I went. The food seemed pro forma in the reading. I mean, what am I to do with one more Franco-neo-Italian meal?

But the spring menu looked quite good (bastilla!).

Sadly, the restaurant went through its annual closure just before my trip to Las Vegas. With it went the spring menu. In came the summer menu, debuting just two days before my arrival. It didn’t look nearly as exciting (to me) as the spring menu did.

But I’ll tell you, you wouldn’t know that they were still working out the kinks in the new summer menu based on the meal I had.

Alex Bread Basket
Alex at the Wynn
Las Vegas, Nevada

It was – with the exception of a soggy, greasy “crispy potato cake” – flawless from top to bottom. Okay, maybe the petits fours were garishly large and unwieldy. And, perhaps, the buckwheat-raisin rolls were a bit dry (why didn’t I just choose the black peppercorn brioche?). But I really couldn’t complain about much more.

I know that my friend gave the kitchen notice about me (simply as his friend and nothing more) – he told me so when we met for brunch the next day. And so, a few extra amuses and plates showed up.

Alex
Alex at the Wynn
Las Vegas, Nevada

This was my first look inside of a Las Vegas “showroom” restaurant. From what I’ve seen of Las Vegas restaurant interiors, I can’t say I care much for Las Vegas restaurant aesthetics: you really could do trading spaces for another and you’d never know the difference. By and large, they all look alike to me.

But Alex does have a particular “look” to it, which, whether or not I liked it (I’m not sure that I did or didn’t), at least it was unique. It’s all about dark-wood, plush velvet, lofty, semi-antique with a lattice-motif. Actually, I’d say that I loved the room, save the carpet, which was overgrown with too many floral patterns.

Alex at The Wynn
Alex at the Wynn
Las Vegas, Nevada

I ordered the restaurant’s Tasting Menu ($185), which was formally seven courses, including a pre-dessert, plus amuses bouches and petits fours. I ended up with nine courses, including a pre-dessert, plus two flights of amuses bouches, a supplemented cheese course, and petits fours.

It was a lot of food. Too much, really. My friend assured me that I was only getting tasting portions. But judging by the “tasting portions” served to the deuce next to me, my portion sizes seemed generous.

Here is my menu.  CLICK HERE to see all of the photos from this meal, or on the hyperlinked course titles for the individual photos.

First Amuses Bouche
Ahi Tuna Tartare
Fig and Goat Cheese on Flatbread
Chilled Carrot Soup
Lobster Tempura

Second Amuses Bouche
Smoked Trout & Cannoli
Torchon of Foie Gras
Rabbit Rillette
Gruyere “Cheesy Cracker

1st Course
Tomato and Octopus Carpaccio
Parsley puree, brioche croutons, and osetra caviar.

2nd Course
Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Sweet corn custard, chanterelle mushrooms and coral butter.

3rd Course
Olive Oil Poached Kanpachi
Wax beans, roasted purple artichokes, and black olive oil.

4th Course (Extra)
Dover Sole with Almond Puree
Almond puree, fresh black truffles, crispy potato cake, and lobster red wine.

5th Course
Veal Sweetbread Vol-au-Vont

tenley syrah, 2007

6th Course (Extra)
Squab Breast and Confit Leg
Seared foie gras, turnips, corn puree, and Cape gooseberry.

7th Course
Japanese Wagyu Strip Loin

Black truffle pommes Dauphine, roasted wild mushrooms, and sauce Bordelaise.

Cheese Course
[Supplemented ($20)]
Selles-sur-Cher
Menuet
La Serena
Bergkase
Strathdon Blue

Intermezzo
Coconut Tapioca with Tropical Fruit

Dessert
Toasted Vanilla Custard
Maple-poached peaches and creme fraiche ice cream.

Petits Fours
Brown Butter Cakes
Strawberry Cigar
Coconut and Chocolate Teardrop
Bananas Foster Muffin
Vacherin

Warm Brown Butter Madeleines

Straddling France and Italy, the food at Alex is classically European.  At its best, it comforts with its hearty simplicity and impresses with its precision.

3rd Course: Olive Oil Poached Kanpachi
Olive Oil Poached Kanpachi
Alex at the Wynn

The quality of the food and workmanship invested is undeniably first-rate. All of the proteins were cooked properly, vegetables met minimal manipulation, and ingredients were top shelf. The plating was colorful and clean.  And, above all, the sauces were amazing.

The kitchen here is an incredible sauce-making machine. Every one I encountered was rich, complex, and of clear and clean flavor. Nothing congealed from sitting out too long, nothing was over/under-seasoned, and the textural weight and consistency of the sauces were unimpeachable. (My friend later informed me that they only cook with Fiji water.)

5th Course: Squab Breast and Confit Leg
Breast and Confit Leg
Alex at the Wynn

Alex’s menu did a wonderful job of celebrating the season. Nearly every course reveled in summer.

But as seasonally appropriate as many of the ingredients were, I found quite a few of the dishes too heavy for summer (especially one where the outside temperature pushes 107F). The “Sweetbreads Vol-au-Vent,” for example – a rich and saucy tumble of braised sweetbreads in a puff pastry cup ringed by warmed cherries –  begged for a blistery winter day, as did the squab course, which featured the breast and a confit leg sided by a lobelette of seared foie gras.

5th Course: Veal Sweetbread Vol-au-Vont
Sweetbread Vol-au-Vont
Alex at the Wynn

Thick on cream and thin on corn, the flan-like dome of sweet corn custard that hogged the focus in the “Butter Poached Maine Lobster” was superfluous.  This otherwise lovely festival of lobster, corn, and chanterelles would have been entirely successful, and much lighter, without it.

From start to finish, my favorite plates tended to be the most simple and straightforward ones.  Of the eight amuses bouches, the ahi tuna tartare – minced so finely that it melted away with no effort – and the fig (ripe and sweet) with a fluffy goat cheese mousseline on a crisp flatbread cracker stood out.

7th Course: Japanese Wagyu Strip Loin
Japanese Wagyu Strip Loin
Alex at the Wynn

The relatively undressed “Japanese Wagyu Strip Loin” was a flawless dish.  The execution masterfully highlighted the Wagyu (A5-11) beef’s unparalleled texture, flavor, and marbling.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a pleasing piece of beef in my life. This was the pinnacle of the meal.

The accompanying pommes Dauphine, interleaved with meaty fingers of maitake mushrooms, were exquisite. They looked like burnished fingerlings but were, in fact, piped tubes of souffle-light potato mousseline (pan-basting with lots of butter).

4th Course: Dover Sole with Almond Puree
Dover Sole with Almond Puree
Alex at the Wynn

Despite the unfortunately flaccid “crispy” potato cake, the “Dover Sole with Almond Puree” dish was stunning. The delicate fish, formed into a cigar cylinder, harbored a layer of pungent Australian black truffles. The baton was coated with bread crumbs and pan-basted with butter until the outside was golden and crispy.

As good as the fish was, this dish wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable without the underlying sauces. The creamed leeks and lobster red wine was a wonderful coupling. But what made it all a great combination was the gripping texture of the almond puree, which helped “glue” all of the flavors and textures together. It was an absolutely brilliant composition.

tensley syrah, 2007
tensley syrah, 2007
Alex at the Wynn

The first course, “Tomato and Octopus Carpaccio,” was the only dish I didn’t care for.  The tomato and caviar could have been one thought. The octopus and caviar, another. Together, I found it confusing, and not entirely easy to eat.

For the heartier courses, I asked to taste two of their wines by the glass and chose the tenley syrah, 2007 between them. I like juicy, jammy, “chewy” red wines, and this one was very good.  While I normally operate on a “drink what you like, eat what you like” basis, in retrospect, this wine was far too aggressive and spicy for what I was eating.

8th Course: Cheese Course
Cheese Course
Alex at the Wynn

I supplemented a cheese course – a rather uncharacteristically trusting move on my part given that the selection was plated in the kitchen, and the server was unable to provide me the names of the cheeses up front.

Thankfully, the selection was quite varied, running the full gamut of goat/sheep/cow and each representing a different country – strangely, not Italy, and not too common.  The candied walnuts were dangerously habit-forming.  (At the time, they were in the process of enlarging their selection and installing a cheese cart; it should be use by now.)

10th Course: Toasted Vanilla Custard
Toasted Vanilla Custard
Alex at the Wynn

Coconut tapioca must be the new sorbet of pre-desserts. I don’t know how many variations I’ve seen. The one served at Alex was very good, if not incredibly rich and sweet. It was more of a coconut custard pudding.

The dessert, a “Toasted Vanilla Custard,” was a strange creature. It wasn’t the type of “custard” I was expecting. This was more like a cross-between brioche and spongecake. The crumb was very fine, fluffy, soft, buttery, and riddled with large air pockets. It made an excellent sponge for the rich and creamy creme fraiche ice cream and syrupy mix of diced peaches.

9th Course: Intermezzo
Intermezzo
Alex at the Wynn

The sugar work “satellite” on top had unfortunately softened due to humidity. It was not unlike net mesh fabric.

Service was generally very good – although I have no idea why the delicious, but over-sized petits fours were dropped off without explanation or enumeration.  But it felt stretched: that the restaurant was running on a skeleton crew was palpable (it’s the economy, stupid).

For the larger parties, I noticed that there was not simultaneous service – quite a few instances, I saw one server presenting plates to four and six tops alone. Though the dining room was only a quarter full (if that), the few members of the staff on the floor didn’t have a moment’s rest.

Petits Fours
Brown Butter Madeleines
Alex at the Wynn

Nonetheless, the staff was polished, attentive, and very knowledgeable.  From the captain down to the back waiter, everyone seemed to know the menu forwards and backwards.  In this respect, it bested all of the other restaurants I visited in Las Vegas on this trip.

If the service can be this good on a shoe-string budget, I can only imagine how good it would be with a fully-outfitted staff.

After my dinner, I was taken on a mini tour of the restaurant before being invited into the kitchen.  There are two private dining rooms off the main floor, the “Chef’s Table” ($2,000 minimum for party up to 8, I think), and the wine storage (where my server showed me a $17,500 bottle of Madeira from the 1780s).

Petits Fours: Brown Butter Madeleines
Brown Butter Madeleines
Alex at the Wynn

Chef Stratta was in the kitchen (he’s much, much smaller and shorter than I had imagined) as was Chef de Cuisine Devin Hashimoto (he’s much, much larger and taller than I had expected).

On the way out, I was given a small box of house-made micro (“mini” does not convey their tininess) lemon macarons. They were extraordinarily light and flaky.

Alex is undoubtedly a top-notch operation. The restaurant won’t necessarily take you on a heart-pounding thrill ride.  But it is very dependable. From the execution and the quality of the food to the service, it’s certainly deserving of its reputation and acclaim.

Alex
The Wynn
Las Vegas, Nevada
702.248.3463

** Michelin

~ by ulterior epicure on September 26, 2009.

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