Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Las Vegas

Rick Moonen dishes on the X Train menu and his hopes for an L.A. restaurant

Moonen
Rick Moonen, a finalist on “Top Chef Masters” and owner of RM Seafood in Vegas, will be conducting the X Train's food and beverage program. Moonen anticipates the train will have its maiden voyage from L.A. to Vegas on New Years Eve 2011, but he's already brainstorming ideas for the menu.

“We're going to have a sit-down sushi bar car. We want the food to be so good that people get on early. We might do something like a dim sum cart of some sort because it's immediate,” Moonen says. “It won't necessarily be fine dining. I don't think we'll open up with something that fancy.” In Moonen's classic childlike fashion, he wants to name the dining car Chew Chew.

But that's not the only project in the works. Moonen has been scoping space for a future restaurant in Los Angeles, including downtown's Union Station. It's still very much in the ideas stage, but he seems  enthused about bringing his sustainable-seafood-focused concept to L.A.

To read more about Moonen's upcoming endeavors, head to ThisIsBrandX.com.

-- Krista Simmons

Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons

Photo: MGM Resorts International

When in Vegas, cook: A tasting menu at Twist

Twist Chef Pierre Gagnaire alights on Las Vegas this week during Bon Appetit's "Vegas Uncork'd" event, where chefs such as Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck and others lead demos, tastings and gala dinners (yes, Alain Ducasse will be cooking at a "beachside" bar-b-q at Mandalay Bay).

The event has the consequence of putting a lot of otherwise out-of-town chefs in their Vegas kitchens -- for at least some of the time. Gagnaire, for one, will be preparing a special tasting menu for guests at his restaurant Twist in the Mandarin Oriental. Through Sunday only, Gagnaire presents “Homage to the American Product,” a tasting menu inspired by domestic purveyors and farms such as spices from Le Sanctuaire, Andante Dairy’s cheeses and Four Story Hill Farms’ duck. $285 per person. For reservations, call (888) 881-9367 or e-mail molas-twist@mohg.com.

Photo of Twist by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

See the menu after the jump.

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Jose Andres heads to Vegas to open Jaleo ... and a Chexican restaurant

Jose2

Jose Andres joins the list of chefs set to open restaurants at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The Deutsche Bank-owned hotel on the Strip is expected to finish construction in December (likely the last major casino-resort to open there for a few years).

Andres' ThinkFoodGroup plans to open the fourth outpost of his Spanish tapas bar Jaleo, as well as a restaurant that will feature his take on Chinese and Mexican cuisine. No details on the Chexican restaurant yet.

In March Cosmopolitan announced a lineup of planned restaurants that include modern brasserie Comme Ca by Los Angeles chef David Myers; New York City restaurateurs Bruce and Eric Bromberg's Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill; Scarpetta and a new casual wine bar by Scott Conant; Estiatorio Milos from Costas Spiliadis; and steakhouse STK from the One Group. Cosmopolitan Chief Executive John Unwin recently told the Associated Press that there would be 13 restaurants in the hotel-casino.

Myers of L.A. says that the Vegas Comme Ca will, fittingly, look onto the Paris hotel and will be designed by Adam D. Tihany (who has designed restaurants such as Per Se and Daniel in New York).

Andres, besides being chef-partner in several Washington, D.C.-area restaurants including Jaleo and Minibar, opened the Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles in 2008.

-- Betty Hallock

Photo: Jose Andres. Credit: Joshua Reynolds / For the Los Angeles Times

The best tastes of CityCenter in Las Vegas

Vegas600
How many high-end restaurants can Vegas support, particularly in this economy? Easily a dozen more just opened in the new $11-billion CityCenter complex on the Strip, and a number of them definitely have enough wow factor to pull in the hungry tourists.

Admittedly, the planning for CityCenter began long before the slump. Still, here comes Michelin three-star Paris chef Pierre Gagnaire joining his illustrious (and extravagantly starred) colleagues Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy in a gambler's paradise. 

Ten years ago, the idea of such world-renowned chefs deigning to grace Vegas with their cooking seemed preposterous. Today, though, Gagnaire's debut at the Mandarin Oriental with his first American restaurant seems almost ho-hum.

Yet I can't help but think that this new group of restaurants from Masa Takayama (Masa in New York), Shawn McClain (Spring in Chicago) and Julian Serrano (Picasso in Vegas' Bellagio), among others, may be the last such extravagant wave of restaurants for quite a while. 

They're sophisticated and glam, reflecting the thrilling architecture of the complex designed by some of the world's most lauded architects. But what a disappointment inside the Aria casino: Instead of taking the opportunity to redefine the genre, MGM Mirage has gone with the same old, same old and scribbled over the space inside with busy ornamentation as if the beautiful plain spaces made the bosses nervous.

Here then, for your dining explorations, is my pick of the CityCenter crop.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Vegas, baby: The quickie guide to CityCenter restaurants at Aria, Vdara, the Mandarin Oriental and Crystals

Citycenter
 
Just how big is Las Vegas' $8.5-billion CityCenter? It's 18 million square feet of hotel rooms, residences, casino (singular -- there's just one), stores, cafes, bars, restaurants and ice sculptures on 67 acres. Sound crazy? Well, it sort of is. To figure out what to eat where, here's a brief guide, broken down by resort -- Vdara, Aria and the Mandarin Oriental -- plus the retail complex Crystals.

VDARA

The Vdara resort is easy to navigate. You have basically two options: one for eating, Silk Road, and one for drinking, Bar Vdara, both located in the main lobby. For drinks, Bar Vdara has plenty of plush couches and is open even in the morning -- you know, for espresso. The nearby restaurant Silk Road is where chef Martin Heierling's menu cuts a wide swath across the eastern Mediterranean to points east. Think kofte and sashimi. The vibe is Jetsons-go-to-Asia. (The design-minded might want to hop on the CityCenter tram that connects Vdara with the Bellagio and check out Heierling's sister restaurant Sensi, designed by Japan's Super Potato. Not new but love it.)

ARIA

The César Pelli-designed casino and hotel is the CityCenter's centerpiece, opened just last week; restaurants are located on the casino level (ground floor) and the promenade level (second floor). Let's start with the casino level. Newcomers-to-Vegas Masa Takayama (of Masa in New York) and Shawn McClain (of Spring, Green Zebra and Custom House in Chicago) have opened Bar Masa and Sage, respectively, right next to each other off the main lobby. (Takayama also is expected to open Shaboo this week, the $500-a-person shabu-shabu restaurant located inside Bar Masa.) Julian Serrano's namesake tapas restaurant is a croqueta's throw from both. 

Wading deeper into the casino: Union Restaurant & Lounge is what's billed as "an edgy American dim sum style concept"; you take it from there. Next to the baccarat tables, you'll find Chinese restaurant Blossom and Thai restaurant Lemongrass. Skybox Sports Bar & Grill is, of course, next to the Sports & Race Book. Luckily for me, Jean Philippe Patisserie, serving pastries and gelato, is right next to the craps tables (a raspberry macaron can do a lot to assuage the effects of a bad shooter). The only 24-hour restaurant I could find was Cafe Vettro, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of Vdara's valet. 

Wait, there's more:

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Masa Takayama brings Bar Masa and Shaboo to Las Vegas

Masa

When asked why open a restaurant in Las Vegas, Masayoshi Takayama says, "Why not?" To the chef lauded for producing refined Japanese dishes of subtle genius in a Shinto-like space (it screams Vegas, doesn't it?), touché.

Michelin three-star chef Takayama -- who opened Ginza Sushi-ko in L.A. in the '80s, transplanted his temple of sushi from a mid-Wilshire strip mall to a second-floor aerie off Rodeo Drive (where Urasawa is now) in the '90s and moved to New York to open Masa and Bar Masa in 2004 -- is set to debut his first Vegas venture on Dec. 17: another Bar Masa and Shaboo, a shabu-shabu restaurant.

He joins fellow three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire of Paris (who has opened Twist, his first restaurant in the U.S.) as well as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Michael Mina, in the $8.5-billion CityCenter on the Vegas Strip.  

"It's a new, gigantic building where I get to create my idea, my style," Takayama says. "It's more than the food. Very different from Ginza Sushi-ko style." It's also very different from Bar Masa in New York; the Las Vegas outpost -- inside the Aria Resort & Casino -- is about three times the size, decorated in high Strip style with 15-foot doors of teak and copper, curved red leather banquettes and arched ceilings.

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'Top Chef': All aboard the Finale Express

K7nxt2nc Give Padma a few weeks off and she comes back with a baby bump, an odd haircut and an awkward "Matrix"-style wardrobe. She and her new look joined Michael Chiarello (finalist on "Top Chef Masters") and the rest of the gang for the Season 6 finals in Napa Valley.

The quickfire challenge was to cook on board the Napa Valley Wine Train using the region's most famous ingredient, grapes.

Transitioning from the sprawling kitchens of Vegas to the compact galleys of the train proved a challenge, especially for Kevin, who battled with some motion sickness. No one's dishes were completely derailed by the challenge, however; only small details separate the contestants at this point.  Mike edged out the others to win a 3G Prius with his creative version of dolmas and kebab (grapes and scallops skewered on top of a stuffed grape leaf). 

The chefs then headed off to prep for the elimination challenge: cooking at the Rutherford Hill crush party. The challenge was to make two dishes for 150 people, one vegetarian and one meat. The ingredients had to come from within 50 miles of the region. Kevin's ideas about simple, sustainable comfort food were most suited to the philosophy of wine country, but in the end it was Bryan's ravioli and short ribs that garnered the win.

The judges agreed that Jen's dish was "very duckie," since, after all, she used an entire duck to make it. They also raved about her foie gras vinaigrette. Despite their enthusiasm (and the fact that they were not pleased about Mike's undercooked 63 degree egg), Jen got sent home.

It appeared it was her uneven temperament that earned her the boot. The judges saw her fret, stew and stumble toward the end of the competition. She even forgot to manage her coals to fire the duck. I guess she doesn't have that harmonious balance of confidence and composure they feel a "Top Chef" needs.

Who do you think does have what it takes to be "Top Chef"?

-- Krista Simmons

Photo: Pinot noir grapes Credit: Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times

Top Chef: Where do you go from here?

Top_chef_535x270 There comes a point at which a viewer has to wonder, "Could this possibly get any better?" Last night, the chefs were presented with the Bocuse d'Or challenge, inspired by the most prestigious culinary competition in the world. One of the esteemed guest judges was none other than America's most influential chef, Thomas Keller, who sat alongside Jerome Bocuse, who is now the head of the organization. Top Chef has also had the legendary Joel Robuchon, the record holder of the most Michelin stars, as a judge this season, along with slew of other world-class chefs and culinary moguls.

They've also cast the ultimate rivalry: two brothers pitted against each other, one who has a Michelin star and has opened what some say is the one of the most influential restaurants in Los Angeles this year (Michael), and the other who served as executive chef at the three-star Michelin Charlie Palmer for nine years and now owns his own restaurant. What are you going to do for season 7? Cast a divorced couple? (I nominate Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton. Now that would be good television!)

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Top Chef 'Strip Around the World': Hot or not?

Bedpadma The "Top Chef" cheftestants were given a breakfast-in-bed room service quick-fire challenge. For the elimination, they were to take inspiration from various hotels along the Strip to create a single dish for 175 people. A look at what sizzled, and what fizzled.

What's hot: 
  • Michael V's spicy buffalo wings with cool blue cheese disc, which were inspired by New York, New York and the FDNY. I've got my fingers crossed that he puts that on the menu at the Langham Hotel & Spa in Pasadena; though the dining room is a bit too fru-fru to watch a football game in, those wings looked like the ultimate game-time grub.
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'Top Chef': Pablo Picasso versus Norman Rockwell

Jrkwdsnc This week on Bravo's "Top Chef," yet another admirer made reference to Michael Voltaggio being similar to Picasso. True, he's innovative, but it's Kevin Gillespie's Rockwellian classic American culinary art (and a down-home personality to match) that may win judges over.

Michael V.'s unabashed confidence works to his advantage in the kitchen, but it doesn't do much for endearing him to an audience. Mike Isabella suffered the same last night, boasting that at his restaurant, "20 of the 60 dishes were vegetarian," so he had nothing to worry about. Wrong.

Drio7fgy Where Michael's cooking can be complicated and highly conceptual, Kevin's is sensible and personal, each dish relating to family history (his grandmother's big breakfasts inspired this week's TV-dinner quickfire dish) or personal experience (he's no vegetarian but has abstained from meat during Lent, which inspired the entree prepared for Natalie Portman's veggie dinner party). He seemed more excited that his grandmother might someday be able to purchase one of his "Sopranos"-inspired "Top Chef" TV dinners than the quickfire win itself.

The mushrooms, smoked kale, candied garlic and turnip puree he made for Portman evoked Rockwell's bucolic portraits of classic Americana. In an era when people are struggling, maybe even a starlet is searching for the comfort, simplicity and nostalgia that Kevin delivers.

-- Krista Simmons

Photos: Top: "Weeping Woman" by Pablo Picasso courtesy of Tate Gallery, London. Bottom: "Freedom From Want" by Norman Rockwell courtesy of Curtis Publishing Co.

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.