Alessandro Stratta, aka "Alex" is one of the chefs who defines what Las Vegas cuisine is all about. Stratta first came to Las Vegas in 1998, likely making him the longest tenured chef cooking in residence in that city. He started in Las Vegas at the restaurant "Renoir" at the Mirage Hotel when that was run by Steve Wynn. Continuing their long association, Stratta followed Wynn to the Wynn Hotel and restaurant Alex in 2005 when the hotel first opened. Prior to Las Vegas, the Wisconsin-born Stratta learned his craft from some of the best including Alain Ducasse in Monaco at the restaurant Louis XV, before moving to NYC and cooking under Daniel Boulud at Le Cirque. His first job as Executive chef came at Mary Elaine's restaurant at The Phoenician in 1989.
When stepping into the dining room of Alex, one makes a grand entrance down a flight of stairs that opens into the impressively ornate, warm, wood and crystal filled space. The tables are well spaced and the seats quite comfortable. A small ottoman was brought for my camera bag.
I was at Alex for the food, certainly, but I was also there to spend time with two of my best friends from H.S. who live on the west coast and flew into Las Vegas that day so we could hang out together that night. My friends enjoy food and dining, but are not quite into it in the same way that I am.
Alex is not inexpensive, but then few restaurants with the details and space that Alex provides are. In addition to the physical space and objects, Alex focuses on luxe ingredients such as foie gras, Nantucket scallops, Brittany lobster, langoustines, Wagyu beef, etc. as one generally expects at a restaurant of this caliber. My friends and I, having show reservations down the road, opted for the three course menu instead of the deluxe tasting menu.
We were started with several amuses, all of which I recall as being rather tasty and a good start to the meal. The fact that I can not specifically recall what they were even with photos tells me that as good as they were, they weren't truly extraordinary. The wine we had, Ambullneo Vineyards 2005 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills from Santa Maria, California, suggested by the sommelier, was delicious. It also represented reasonable value for that wine list.
Amongst the three of us we had a variety of courses, however, I will only describe and comment on mine. My first course, which I left to the discretion of
the chef, was Nantucket Bay
Scallops with Roasted Lettuce, Crispy onions, oven-dried Tomatoes and
Iberian Ham. The flavors were assertive and the combination truly tasty as one might expect. Unfortunately for me, I found the dish to be a bit salty in spots. Now, I generally like and appreciate salt. It wasn't salty to the degree that the dish was ruined or even bad. It was just salty to the extent that I found the dish unbalanced. My other and perhaps more significant criticism of the dish was that, as tasty and beautiful as it was, the significance of the fact that the dish featured Nantucket scallops was essentially lost. The supporting ingredients overshadowed the special attributes of the scallops. The scallops could have been more ordinary ones and the dish would not have suffered much.
My main course was Sous Vide Duck
Breast with Orange Butter Braised Cabbage, Pate on Brioche and 5 Spice
Duck Jus’. The duck was cooked to the perfect temperature as one would expect from meat cooked sous vide and the flavors meshed extremely well. The overall enjoyment of the dish was blemished, however, by the fact that I had a hard time cutting through the duck with the steak knife provided. The cut of meat on my plate had sinews that made it difficult to cut. It wasn't very tender.
I selected the Malted Chocolate and Banana Napoléon for my dessert. Once again, balance or lack thereof came into play. I simply found this dessert to be too sweet for my preference.
I am being extremely critical. The food was beautifully plated and quite tasty. There were no clunkers. It is just that there were flaws, none of which were substantial enough to complain about or send back to the kitchen. Many of my points are admittedly very subjective such as the saltiness of the scallops and the sweetness of the dessert. Both of these elements may have seemed ideal to other palates. I was surprised though that the cut of duck was as tough as it was. Despite my criticisms, the point is not that the food was somehow bad or of inferior quality. I have no doubt that the quality of the ingredients was top notch. Touring the kitchen as our meal concluded, it was apparent that the staff was quite disciplined and skilled. The point is that at a restaurant at the price point of Alex, there is no room for a sense of imperfection, even if subjective.
I was clearly not overwhelmed by Alex and ultimately found the value of that particular meal lacking to me. However, the kitchen is not completely at fault. At least some of the blame falls on me, the diner. I have long insisted that dining is a team sport. The kitchen and the front of the house staff must do their parts for a meal to be a success, but then the diner must as well. The diner must have an attitude and approach in sync with that of the restaurant. Any disconnect and the meal is not likely to succeed no matter how good the food may be for any given style. I cannot say why I had a disconnect with the food at Alex that evening. To some extent it was the food and the restaurant. To some extent it was me and the context of my visit. To a significant extent it was a sense of how the evening's minor imperfections played against the meal's significant cost. The bottom line is that I did have that disconnect and when a meal for three costs as much as this one did along with that disconnect, one is left not fully satisfied. The meal was opulent on many levels. Opulence can, at times, be uplifting. I was left, however, with a feeling of ennui and a sense of decadence.
For more photos, please see the album.