Saturday, January 15, 2011

Alex (Las Vegas, NV)

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Sat 01/15/2011, 08:00p-12:00a

Alex Exterior

Well this was an unexpected development.

Ever since Alessandro Stratta's eponymous Alex opened its doors at the Wynn five years ago, I'd been yearning to go. However, things--Robuchon and Savoy namely--just kept getting in the way. I would vow that my next trip to Vegas would include Alex, but the restaurant continued to elude me, until now. What drove me here, unfortunately, was Alex's closing. I found out about the shutter on January 6th, and by the next day, had already organized a visit to sample Stratta's French Riviera fare for one last time, on the final night of service no less (the trip was an excuse to hit up the new "é" by José Andrés as well).

About the Chef: Stratta was born in 1964 in Marquette, Wisconsin to an Italian father and French mother, resulting in a blend of cultural traditions that would profoundly shape the future chef's cooking. Stratta traveled extensively as a child, and soon developed an undying interest in cooking. He attended San Francisco's California Culinary Academy, and during this time, worked in pastry at the City's Stanford Court Hotel, under noted Pastry Chef Jim Dodge. After graduating in 1983, Stratta moved to Monaco, where he secured a position at the Hotel de Paris, cooking at Alain Ducasse's famed Le Louis XV. Ducasse served as the Chef's mentor, and much of Stratta's cooking is based on what he learned there. After a two year stint in Monaco, Stratta returned to the States in 1988 to work for Daniel Boulud at the legendary Le Cirque. However, Stratta soon left New York for Scottsdale, Arizona, where he was tapped as opening Chef de Cuisine for Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician. In 1994, Stratta was named one of "America's Ten Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine magazine, and 1998 saw the Chef win a James Beard Award for "Best Chef Southwest."

He left Mary Elaine's in 1998 at the request of Steve Wynn, who wanted Stratta to serve as Executive Chef of Renoir at the Mirage. Renoir opened in July 1999 to considerable acclaim, quickly setting the standard for fine dining in Sin City for years to come. In 2002, Stratta joined the cast of the failed Iron Chef USA (not to be confused with the much more successful Iron Chef America), where he played the role of Iron Chef Italian, the "Italian Scallion." Interestingly, his first and only television appearance consisted of a victory over Aquavit's Marcus Samuelsson. Stratta stayed at Renoir until its closing in 2004, but followed Steve Wynn to Wynn, becoming Executive Chef of the hotel's flagship Alex restaurant in 2005. 2007 brought us Corsa Cucina & Bar (later renamed Stratta), a far more casual dining concept highlighting the Chef's Italian roots. Word is that this restaurant will remain open despite Alex's demise.

Alex Interior
Descend down the grand entry staircase to the main dining room, and you'll be struck by the luxuriousness of the place. Even amid the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Alex remains uncompromisingly sumptuous, undeniably lavish, a jewel box draped in wide swaths of earthy crimson, gilded by scintillating shades of gold and silver. This is the prototypical fancy restaurant, and proudly so.

Alex Tasting Menu Alex Prix Fixe Menu
Executed by Chef de Cuisine Devin Hashimoto and Sous Chef Joseph Leibowitz, Alex's menu is largely French-inspired, with healthy doses of Italian as well for good measure. Desserts, meanwhile, are the charge of Washington native Jenifer Fournier (who also handles the sweet stuff at Stratta). Three-course prix fixe ($110) and tasting menu ($185) options are available and we, of course, went with the latter, replete with an optional $110 wine pairing by Sommelier Paolo Barbieri. Click for larger versions.

Pear Martini The Centurian
Pear Martini [$15.00] | Absolut Pears, Apple Juice, Fresh Lemon Juice, Rock Candy Syrup
The Centurian [$40.00] | Hennessy XO Cognac, Grand Marnier 100, Ginger Ale, Fresh Lemon Juice
A couple of cocktail to commence. Our server recommended the Pear Martini, a rather trite concept, but perfectly executed, showing off a mouth-watering pear sweetness, deftly meshed with the puckering zest of lemon and the weight of vodka. The Centurian, meanwhile, managed to take the title of the most expensive cocktail that I've ever had. It was, in essence, a particularly luxurious Sidecar, with a great interplay of citrus and alcoholic notes, all under overarching flavors of orange--nice.

A quintet of little bites was soon brought before us. They were (clockwise from bottom):
  • A salad of shimeji mushroom, fresh in flavor with a nutty finish;
  • A hearty meatball of tempura'd lobster, served with a tangy yuzu aioli;
  • A delectable warm potato-leek soup with Parmesan crisp, which gave the potage a fantastically cheesy finish and crunchy texture;
  • A wild mushroom arancini--basically an Italian-style rice ball--teeming with the earthy flavor of mushroom; and
  • A play on "cheese and crackers" made with Gruyère: think of a gougère, with a luscious bit of cheesiness paired with a delightfully crisp shell.
Five varieties of bread were on offer tonight: country white, black pepper brioche, cheese and walnut, buckwheat with sundried cherry, and ciabatta (hidden behind).

Butter Poached Kushi Oyster, Tapioca Cream with Spanish Caviar and Fresh Yuzu
1: Butter Poached Kushi Oyster, Tapioca Cream with Spanish Caviar and Fresh Yuzu
Delamotte, Brut, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Champagne, France, MV
Obviously, the first thing that came to mind when this plate was placed in front of me was "Oysters and Pearls," arguably the most iconic dish in Modern American cooking today. In any case, I loved the soft brine of the Kushi here, and how it was faultlessly augmented by the sharp salt of the caviar, while the tapioca, aided by citric overtones of yuzu, tempered and balanced the dish. It was a perfect course, and perhaps the best preparation of cooked oyster that I've ever had, even surpassing Thomas Keller's legendary creation for me.

Roasted Carabinieri Prawn with Cauliflower Custard, Vadouvan Curry and Carrot Ginger Sauce
2: Roasted Carabinieri Prawn with Cauliflower Custard, Vadouvan Curry and Carrot Ginger Sauce
Cecilia, Ansonica, Elba, Italy 2008
Prawn was perhaps a touch overdone, but still demonstrated a snappy, meaty consistency and sweet brine. I was concerned that the vadouvan would be overwhelming, but it was surprisingly restrained here, adding just a touch of curry essence to things. Meanwhile, I also enjoyed the countervailing flavors imparted by the charred bits of cauliflower and broccoli, but the cauliflower custard seemed a bit redundant.

Butter Poached King Crab with Giant Clam, Green Papaya Salad, Caviar Lime and Fresh Yuzu
Butter Poached King Crab with Giant Clam, Green Papaya Salad, Caviar Lime and Fresh Yuzu [$35.00]
I enjoyed the crab alone, and appreciated the citric prick of lime and yuzu, but neither it nor the giant clam were particularly distinctive. The seafood really needed to be the stars of the show here, but they were overshadowed by the other elements on the plate. The dish just didn't come together for me.

Sauté of Sonoma Foie Gras with Sweet Potato Caramelized Onions, Black Truffles and Butternut Squash Saucec
3: Sauté of Sonoma Foie Gras with Sweet Potato Caramelized Onions, Black Truffles and Butternut Squash Sauce
Charles Joguet, les Petites Roches, Chinon, France, 2007
I was dreading this dish. Sweet potato, caramelized onions, butternut squash? This was a recipe for disaster, an accident of sickly sweet foie gras just waiting to happen. I was thus floored when I discovered that I actually enjoyed the dish. The liver arrived beautifully cooked, with a subtle foie flavor and bitter char that did a great job in standing up to the saccharine components on the plate. Loved the crisp "potato chip" as well.

Hawaiian Ruby Snapper with Orange Braised Endive, Roasted Salsify and Citrus Red Wine Sauce
4: Hawaiian Ruby Snapper with Orange Braised Endive, Roasted Salsify and Citrus Red Wine Sauce
Auteur, Sonoma Stage, Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California, 2007
Taken alone, the ruby snapper, or onaga, was superb: mild in savor, tender, with a fantastically crisp skin. However, the orange-scented endive was far too powerful for me, obliterating the delicate nature of the fish. I did, however, like the roasted salsify, with its firm texture and heady flavor.

Filet of Wild Turbot, with Abalone, Hearts of Palm, Cuttlefish, Sea Urchin and Chateau Chalon Sauce
Filet of Wild Turbot, with Abalone, Hearts of Palm, Cuttlefish, Sea Urchin and Chateau Chalon Sauce [$70.00]
Turbot was firm, flavorful, and fabulous, becoming even better when consumed with the ocean-y relish of the abalone and cuttlefish. Kicking things up another notch was the Chateau Chalon-sea urchin sauce, with its sweet, rich, wine-tinged flavor, while the strips of heart of palm served to lighten the dish.

Roasted Squab with Brussels Sprouts, Celery Root Purée, Huckleberries and Herb Vinegar Sauce
5: Roasted Squab with Brussels Sprouts, Celery Root Purée, Huckleberries and Herb Vinegar Sauce
Alban, Patrina, Syrah, Edna Valley, California, 2008
I'm a sucker for squab, and the version here was stupendous. The bird arrived cooked to a delightfully rare consistency, with a wonderfully savory flavor and enchantingly crisp skin. The squab's heft was deftly countered by the celeriac and Brussels sprouts especially, and thankfully, the sweetness of huckleberry was thoughtfully subdued.

Snake River Farms Wagyu Beef with Potato Gnocchi, Aged Parmigiano and Porcinis in Red Wine Sauce
Snake River Farms Wagyu Beef with Potato Gnocchi, Aged Parmigiano and Porcinis in Red Wine Sauce [$70.00]
Sadly, our last savory course of the night was a letdown. The beef simply lacked the richness, the fat, the succulence, the luxuriousness that I expected--I simply don't know how the kitchen managed to make the wagyu so bland, so forgettable, so unimpressive. I did, however, enjoy the hearty gnocchi.

Alex Cheese Menu
At this point, we were asked if we wanted a cheese course, and naturally, the answer was a resounding "yes." Click for a larger version.

Alex's Cheese Cart Cranberry-Apricot Bread, Buckwheat Cherry Cracker
Selection of Domestic and Imported Cheese Candied Walnuts, Membrillo, Fig and Almond Cake, pricot Purée, Honey Gelee
Selection of Domestic and Imported Cheese [$35.00]
Alex's cheese cart was fairly modest, though certainly, I thoroughly enjoyed its contents:
  • Camembert Châtelain, Normandy, France, Pasteurized Cow's Milk - Soft, gooey, luscious, salty, everything that you'd expect from a good Camembert--delish.
  • Pau, Vilassar de Dalt, Catalonia, Spain, Pasteurized Goat's Milk - Mild, semi-soft, a bit nutty, with a great lactic tang, it reminded me of Pau Gasol.
  • Preferes de Montagnes, Franche-Comte, France, Pasteurized Cow's Milk - Gritty, dry, nutty, and particularly good with the honey.
  • Montgomery's Cheddar, North Cadbury, Somerset, England, Raw Cow's Milk - Nutty, sharp, waxy, and classic--perhaps the best cheddar that I've ever had.
  • Taleggio, Lombardia, Italy, Pasteurized Cow's Milk, Washed-Rind - Soft, nutty, herbaceous, and very, very nice.
  • Bayrischer Blauschimmelkas, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Raw Cow's Milk, Blue Cheese - A comparatively mild blue, teeming with lovely mushroom notes. Immensely enjoyable.
Accompanying the fromage were: Apricot Purée, Fig and Almond Cake, Membrillo, Candied Walnuts, Honey Gelee, Cranberry-Apricot Bread, and Buckwheat Cherry Cracker.

Sour Cream Semifreddo with Spiced Cranberry
6: Sour Cream Semifreddo with Spiced Cranberry
Pre-dessert consisted of a citrus semifreddo with cranberries. I really appreciated the richness of the tangy cream, and how that played with the sweet, saccharine, almost floral character of the spiced berry.

Vanilla Butter Poached Apple Cream Puff with Maple Ice Cream
7: Vanilla Butter Poached Apple Cream Puff with Maple Ice Cream
DonnaFugata, Ben Rye, Passito Di Pantelleria, 2007
Think of this as a cream puff-apple tart hybrid and you'll get an idea of what it was like. The cream puff portion, was, as expected, heavenly, and went beautifully with the sugary weight of the maple ice cream. The apple, meanwhile, did a great job in lightening the dish.

'Coffee and Donuts' with Hazelnuts and Espresso Parfait
'Coffee and Donuts' with Hazelnuts and Espresso Parfait [$20.00]
Stratta pays homage to Thomas Keller again here with his interpretation of TK's famed "Coffee and Doughnuts." It wasn't quite as successful as Keller's version, but was quite tasty nonetheless. What struck me the most was the slight saltiness from the donuts.

Brown Butter Madeleines Mignardises
To close out the evening, we were provided a plate of brown butter madeleines and various mignardises: lemon meringue, chocolate-orange brownie, cranberry-almond cake, strawberry and crème fraiche roll, tiramisu.

We were able to enjoy a solid meal at Alex, but there were a couple of misfires that marred the experience. But even despite those missteps, Alex simply lacked the gusto of a Guy Savoy, the whimsy of a Pierre Gagnaire, or the sheer opulence of a Joël Robuchon. Nevertheless, I'm saddened by the restaurant's closure, which represents a blow to fine dining, and to Las Vegas in general. Alex, you'll be missed.

Alex Interior


Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

I had the same experience, where other Vegas restaurants "got in the way" of me dining at Alex. You are so right about its closing being a blow to Vegas fine dining. I really hope that other restaurants can ride out the rough spell. Even though your experience was uneven, I still wish I had gotten the chance to eat there! :)

Monday, February 21, 2011 4:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There seems a general trend away from this kind of more traditional (in the mould of French 2 and 3 star) type place. All over the country they keep closing and being replaced by more casual places (say like a Red Medicine or Fraiche). Even newcomers in the pretty fancy food dept like Bistro LQ are much more causal about service and presentation. Melisse is really the only one left in LA that's even close in terms of format/service/decor to a French 2-3 star. Even a country place in France can have crazy service and elegance. The other year I ate at:

And had a 5 hour lunch in the middle of nowhere -- spectacular BTW.

I'm sad about some of these changes. Although of course food in America keeps on getting better and better. The recession has given a bit of a push, but it's a bigger/longer trend than that, part to some extent of the same trend that has seen hotels that 70 years ago required gentlemen to wear Tuxedos in the lobby now welcome flip flops and T-shirts.

Monday, February 21, 2011 8:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I typically don't like eating cooked oysters because I prefer them raw but that cooked oyster dish looks amazing.

Monday, February 21, 2011 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

How disappointing! I am really surprised that Alex closed.

I wish I had gone there now instead of L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Is Stratta still open?

I wonder how much Michelin not doing their Vegas guidebook has hurt the Vegas restaurant / culinary scene.

Monday, February 21, 2011 5:24:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Sarah: So which other places "got in the way" for you in Vegas?

Andy: Completely agree. I'd perhaps add Patina and Providence to Melisse here in the Southland. I enjoy the likes of RM and Fraiche, but sometimes I do like the pomp and circumstance. Guess I'm a dying breed.

Marian: Yep. Best. Cooked Oyster. Ever.

Michael: It came to me as a surprise as well! Lessons learned: don't wait too long, or it might be too late. Stratta's still open, but the Chef can't be content with just that I imagine. I do wish that Michelin would return to Vegas, and LA especially.

Monday, February 21, 2011 11:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Worlds Best Information said...

Thanks for sharing your Experience..I have still not visited here but in FUTURE if get chance your information will be in my MIND.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 4:18:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I must say however that L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon was a great experience. Once in a lifetime.

People much prefer more casual of a setting now-a-days. In this financial climate, restauranteurs would not dare try to pull off a restaurant such as The French Laundry, Restaurant Daniel, or Joel Robuchon. (They could but in a very, very small space.)

These restaurants are a dying breed. Americans, younger foodies, are too laid back and don't want to go to a place which makes them feel uncomfortable.

That's why I think that places like The Bazzaar, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Hatfield's, and Momofuku thrive. Different clientele. A change in dining clientele.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Jocelyn said...

So sad to hear about Alex. I was in the same boat, other restaurants got in the way. Always grateful for your efforts in covering these new developments.

BTW, are you ready for Next Restaurant? I'm dying of anticipation to score tickets. Season tickets maybe the way to go.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 3:07:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

WBI: Yeah, somehow I don't think that you're gonna be able to come here in the FUTURE.

Michael: I'm in agreement. We are indeed witnessing a change in what constitutes "fine dining" in this country, in which Michelin caliber food is being served in far more casual settings. It's probably a good thing overall; less intimidation allows more people to get interested in food.

Jocelyn: Regarding Next, I've put my name on the mailing list, but have yet to hear anything. It's the most anticipated opening of the year for sure.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 5:49:00 PM  
Blogger bruno said...

before you leave las vegas try Milos restaurant in cosmopoltan Hotel worth the trip best fish and seafood in town good continuation :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 6:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Jai said...

Count me as someone who's also anxiously awaiting the opening of Next and the Aviary!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 2:13:00 AM  
Blogger Right Way to Eat said...

I don't know. I'll be honest, I wasn't quite sure if I ever wanted to visit Alex. It is sad that is closing, but there were always a new place that is going to open in Vegas and the closure rate of Vegas restaurants are very high. Especially for fine dining.

Luckily we did have a small sample at that 5x5 dinner we attended a few years back. It's not bad, but not quite enough to make me rush out to visit the place like I did with Melisse.

Thursday, February 24, 2011 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Bruno: I left Vegas over a month ago; this is just a late post. Sorry!

Jai: I'd expect nothing less from you. Did you get on the mailing list yet?

Mike: Good memory there. I'd totally forgotten about the dish that Stratta prepared at the 5x5 at Providence.

Thursday, February 24, 2011 12:43:00 AM  
Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

Robuchon and Savoy got in the way for me one time each, and Bar Charlie on more than one occasion. I know you were a Bar Charlie fan, too, so I know you get how addictive it was!

Thursday, February 24, 2011 7:26:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Sadly, I only got to go to BC once before it shuttered. I'm still pissed that I never got to try Restaurant Charlie.

Sunday, February 27, 2011 2:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

I ate at Alex a few months before you, and it is astounding how much the menu appears to have changed. Maybe they were going out with a bang, I don't know, but your experience seems to have trumped mine (even with the miscues). I also opted for the larger menu, with wine pairing. While the sommelier was excellent in his explanations, I found a few of the pairings a little confusing. Additionally, we were neither offered cheese, nor supplements. Unfortunately, I didn't keep notes of my dining, but I remember that many of the dishes were good, but only one stood out as excellent. The main protein (a short rib) was tasty, but very safe.

Overall, I'm sad that it's going, but knowing how Mr. Wynn strives to have the best, and also looking forward to seeing what he'll bring in to replace it.

Monday, February 28, 2011 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

man...I wish I knew how to edit posts. In any case, the "and looking forward" should be "am looking forward." Sorry that I needed to post twice.

Monday, February 28, 2011 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Brad, if this meal represents a sort of raised bar, then I'm very concerned about what a regular meal would be like! As for the supplements, we specifically requested to add courses to the menu. And sadly, Alex will not be replaced with another restaurant; rather, it's becoming a private event space.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011 12:39:00 AM  

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