Wednesday, November 23, 2011

é by Jose Andres - Avant Garde-ism in Brash Las Vegas

Stairway to... Jose?
Jose Andres, a name not quite as well known outside of the US as Mario Batali or Thomas Keller, but within, he's been on the scene a long time, getting people to stop and look (and taste) avant garde Spanish. He's an elBulli alum (almost everyone doing avant garde is nowadays, no?) but that's about all I knew. When I told people I was going to Vegas, gourmet traveller kindly sent me a very detailed email of everywhere they went and heard about on a similar trip (SF > Big Sur > Vegas). One that caught my eye was é by José Andrés. Many people in the US know him by his other restaurant, the super-experimental Minibar in D.C.

Spanish "clavel"
é is an 8-seat restaurant, if you can call it that, off a back/side exit of Jaleo, Andrés's casual and extremely popular Spanish eatery in The Cosmopolitan hotel (which, by the way, takes ostentatious bling to a whole new level). It's a long, crescent shaped bar, surrounding a prep space where 2 chefs assemble almost all your dishes before your eyes.

Caramelised pork rinds (served with the "clavel")
Any messy cooking is done behind a swinging door, which looks like it's also Jaleo's kitchen, and at the front, it's all tweezers, liquid nitrogen and espumas.

I emailed exactly one calendar month ahead and heard back within a couple of days with timing options, then signed a confirmation form with my credit card number (as a guarantee, nothing charged) within a week or so. On the night, we arrived at the entrance of Jaleo, the hostesses passed me on to e staff and we were asked to take a look at the wine list and were told about the beverage options (a la carte wine list, wine pairing or non-alcoholic beverage pairing). I just chose a bottle of Cava as the wine pairing would have pushed us into the $400 per head mark, which was more than I could stomach, given I had no intention to gamble and T hadn't reaped winnings at the Craps tables...

Apple "brazo de gitano"
Before going in, we sat in the lounge just outside Jaleo (we had the option to wait at Jaleo's bar, but it was way too noisy) and were told we were the first party to arrive, and that the "show" would start once everyone else got there. We crossed our fingers and hoped no-one would be late, as we were already doing the late "show", 8.30pm, and we knew it wasn't going to be a zippy dinner. Luckily we were led through Jaleo to the glass doors of é pretty much on time. Sitting on bar stools isn't exactly the most comfortable way to enjoy a 23-course meal, but in a sort-of literal metaphor, the "show" did keep us on our toes.

Nitro Almond Cup
The unbelievable number of pictures here will tell you how many courses we had (twenty-three) and they're also in order. (But I missed the first one - the slushy gin & tonic). You'd be here for the next 48 hours (and I'd be here for the next 72) if I tried to tell you about every single one, so I'm going to talk about some highlights and the meal in general.

Crispy chicken skin in Escabeche
Take the apple "brazo di gitano", for instance. I'm not sure how the roll part is made. It's like a very fine apple meringue, with blue cheese cream piped inside and a thin line of hazelnut sauce on the top. The combination sounds quite unlikely, but it worked. You bite into the apple first - it's uber delicate, light, slightly crisp outside and like air inside. You're prepped with a fresh, slightly tart mouthful of nothing - nothing texturally substantial anyway - just flavour, then a pang of blue cheese, which is only a hit because of the initial priming, it's not overwhelming after a while, and then, as you close your mouth properly, the concentrated nutella-like hazelnut sauce, that finishes with a slight resonance of sweet nuttiness. It's like  the ripe fruits and nuts that go with blue cheese were broken down into single elements then pieced together and rediscovered in completely different ingredients. Plus a bit more tartness, perhaps.

Jose "taco"
A "taco" because you're meant to roll the jamon up with the caviar inside, and eat it together. So. Very. Marbled. The fragrance of those fats - whoah. The last time I had that was way too long ago, when we bought jamon from Brindisa in Borough Market. Back then, at something like 15 pounds per 100g, we thought it was expensive. Now, they don't even sell that quality at their Borough market stall.

Look familiar? This is Andrés's version of the elBulli spherified olive, only it's like a black olive. Cute twist. Taste-wise it was almost exactly the same as what I tried at the Ferran Adria talk in HK.

Bocata de "calamares"
A sea-burger. That's what I'd call it. The essence of the ocean already in the sea urchin, with the junky richness of mayonnaise (or something similar - a creamy emulsification), a bit of crunchy freshness (cucumber), all in a supple brioche. It's only called calamari because that's the usual filling in Spain.

One of our chefs was super camera-savvy. Because I'm an idiot with Alzheimer's tendencies, I forgot her name, but she smiled every time I pointed the camera at her. And she was working all the time. Amazing! Hahaha

Cava sangria
In a small jelly - the fizz remains. Cute.

Artichoke "puree" with vanilla

Lobster with citrus and jasmine
This had some great, classic "seafood & citrus" flavours, except my a small part of my lobster didn't seem fresh enough. The Cantonese term for this is 霉, I don't know the equivalent in English. It's like when you leave seafood sitting in a pool of half-melted ice for too long, then let it sit a little too close to heat that's not enough to cook it, but probably higher than room temp, and the texture of the flesh becomes like chalk that's hydrated just enough to make it a hard paste, and it tastes a bit bitter. Anyway, I tried T's and it was excellent. A small slip up on my dish then, I guess.

Chickpea stew with Iberico ham
The stew, I felt, was basically an emulsion of Iberico fat and maybe stock or liquid from the chickpeas. It was smokey, intense, cream-like. The chickpeas were spherified, like, of course.

Turbot with bone marrow
A great dish, again in an unexpected combination. The fish could not have been cooked better; funnily enough they also serve the strip of small bones - the "frilly" bits at the base of the fin, which have tiny bits of meat (collagen-y, slippery, tender) in between the bones, which as T tells me, they're instructed to discard at culinary school. It's fiddly to eat, but I just usually put the whole strip in my mouth and expel the bones all at once! The marrow was probably coated lightly with flour before being fried (and roasted?). It gave a richness to the fish, in a more integrated surf and turf of sorts.

Rosemary wild mushrooms in papillote

Secreto of Iberico, before carving
Secreto of Iberico pork with squid
Surprisingly, the "main" course was the only thing that didn't really work for me. The meat was heavily marbled, bursting with juices and oils but all this was strangely devoid of any taste whatsoever. This made the parsley "air" on it seem overpowering. The squid, simply grilled, was good though. Especially the crunchy ends.

Orange pith puree La Serena
A creme brulee-esque custard with vanilla beans piped out of a small cigar-thick metal straw, in an light, icy orange syrup sort of sauce.

Pan con chocolate
I really liked this dish - a small pool of olive oil at the base, a long squeeze of whipped cream up the side of the bowl, superb smelling chocolate (is it freeze-dried? I don't know anymore), topped with a thin toast/biscotti type of biscuit with largish grains of sea salt over the top. Not too sweet, savoury elements, soft and crunchy, a green fruitness from olive oil, a lightness so you feel you can almost breathe the dish in... It's a dessert you can still eat after having had 20 courses (or something like that). Actually the chocolate part reminds me of the chocolate inhaler I wrote about a while back.

The bowl...
Samll quibble: It's not a very good photo, but the bowl was chipped. If I had a super Asian mentality, and I was a gambler in Vegas, I would not want a chipped bowl (it's bad luck). I do have a super Asian mentality, in some ways, but I'm not a gambler, and I still don't like chipped bowls. Especially not when I'm melting my credit card in your establishment (see: Asian). Anyway, it's not a good look, particularly when presentation is so important and the bowl is so large and nice and chic and dramatic and all.

"Arroz con leche"
Rice pudding, in mini cones, to be eaten in three bites - each bite was slightly different. it started vanilla-like, and the end was lemony.

25 second bicocho
Called so because the cake took 25 secs to cook in a microwave. It was then piped with pastry cream inside and also dotted with it out and dusted with edible pearlescent powder.

"Air" chocolates

Fizzy paper

We spent a lot here. No question. The meal itself was over US$200, and with a bottle of Cava shared between the two of us, plus tax and tip, it went north of $300. But I do think it was worth it. For now anyway. It's the first time I've had a meal that did equally well in both flashy, food-science-y techniques and real, honest flavours. I'm going to Noma tomorrow (well, today HK time) and Noma will actually probably cost less, or about the same, so I'll keep you posted...

é by Jose Andres
back of Jaleo
3/F The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Reserve up to one month ahead by emailing: reserve (at)

View e_ting in Las Vegas in a larger map

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, I wouldn't have even thought of there being a restaurant of this calibre (i.e. not just expensive good but good good) in LV.

    I can't say I'll ever go to LV, but if I do, this will probably be the reason.

    Loving reading through your mega foodie trip. Interesting how two trips to the same continent (mine and bikes, yours and mega meals) can be so different.

    Still, both our credit cards are "melted" :)