é by José Andrés – Las Vegas, NV
Who is surprised?! I have neglected to blog for a month due to my crazy travel schedule! I have been sitting on this blog for a while, and finally had a few hours to piece it together for y'all. Better late than never, right?
The Las Vegas restaurant scene is a strange bird indeed. With dozens of establishments on every property, each more overpriced than the other, it is tricky to accurately pick out the standouts, especially because all (most) of them LOOK so nice, but what’s coming out of the kitchen doesn’t necessarily match, and as Vegas trends toward more expensive and masses-driven, the culinary scene on the Strip has taken a bit of a nosedive, at least in my experience.
Vegas used to have a host of cutting-edge eateries by celebrity chefs that earned a wealth of Michelin stars back when Michelin rated the metro area. I’ve eaten at a handful of these, such as Julian Serrano’s lakeside eatery at Bellagio, Picasso, and had good experiences, but these places are just getting a little old-fashioned and dated these days. Guy Savoy, Joël Robuchon, Julian Serrano… all huge names, all old white men with the major French-trained chops, and often their namesake restaurants sort of stuck in the era of heavy French tasting menus (doesn’t mean I wouldn’t make a special trip to Robuchon… hit me up sugar daddies!)
I’d been fascinated by é for a long while, especially whilst a frequent guest at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas back in my Los Angeles days (a comped two nights once every 3 weeks… heaven) and occasional diner at Jaleo, José Andrés’ excellent tapas restaurant on the upper dining floor of the casino that hides this culinary gem. I didn’t even realize that é was a thing during my first five or so stays, and once I’d eaten at literally EVERY restaurant in the Cosmo besides it, I managed to dig up info about it when seeking somewhere new.
A primer on José––this man is an absolute rockstar. He is an A-list celebrity chef, to be sure, with establishments all over the world, but his celebrity has never diminished his distinct style. Spanish by lineage, José is known as one of the foremost “avant garde” chefs in the country, despite maintaining a thorough traditional Spanish streak in all of his cuisine. I am a huge fan of his not just for his food, but also his philanthropic efforts, including preparing meals for the victims of recent hurricanes and providing a free lunch in DC to anyone with a federal government ID who was furloughed during Trump’s little shutdown tantrum in January. I’ve eaten at a handful of his restaurants, including the strange and wonderful Bazaar in Beverly Hills, the tapas joint Jaleo at the Cosmo, and Bazaar Meat at the SLS in Las Vegas, still home to the best ribeye I’ve ever had (twice).
This place, however, is José’s true flagship. The dining room is meant to be a representation of the inside of his mind, and you see his finest creations come to life before you and the eight other diners seated at the C-shaped bar overlooking the prep area. The dining experience is similar to what you’d find at numerous other of José’s tasting menu establishments worldwide––about 20 or so small bites as courses, many of which are avant garde and play with your predispositions about food.
I found my way to Jaleo after an ill-fated ten minutes and vanishing $40 at a blackjack table and was led to a table just outside the restaurant’s façade, where I sat and chatted with my fellow diners. One couple was from Houston, the next from San Antonio. Afterward, a couple from Dallas sat down. Whoa! 2, 4, 6, 7 Texans! The streak would sadly be broken by a couple from LA (ugh) but it was still pretty wild to have Texas represent at this place!
We were served a little snack to prepare us for the dinner, which were little crispy branches of liquefied and dehydrated black olive decorated with edible flowers, called “Branches of the Desert.” Appropriate for Las Vegas!
I will apologize that my memory of the components of many of these dishes is pretty far gone at this point, and the printed menu they provided was often not helpful! But, I shall do my best!
We were seated at the bar and introduced to the kitchen staff. The guy in charge of the kitchen was realllll cute; the som, meanwhile, had sort of Spanish daddy vibes with his pointy moustache.
The first set of amuse bouche courses were little single-bite wonders presented in the expectedly creative ways, many having to do with nature. The first was a spherified white sangria, called “Morning Dew” and presented on a large leaf. The second was a “Beet Rose,” a combo of manchego cheese and beet in a beautiful rose-shaped mold atop a walnut-based cracker. Next, presented in a bed of stones, was a “stone” of Iberico ham, rosemary, and soft Spanish cheese (drool), deftly colored white so you didn’t accidentally eat the real black rocks. Finally, a “Spanish pizza” was presented, with foamy dollops of San Simon cheese, black truffle, herbs, and dehydrated tomato.
Our moustachioed som presented us with a fabulous 2009 cava, Spain’s great contribution to sparkling wine, from the family estate of Huguet in Penedés, in the foothills of Catalonia. Crisp and delicious, but with surprising depth I’d yet to experience as a cava noob, owing to its ten-year age.
Next was one of my favorite courses of the night––resembling Wonder bread and meant to evoke a PB&J, it was two slices of tender, slightly crispy, and fluffy meringue enclosing strawberries, foie gras, and black truffle slices. So decadent and magnificent, and really played with our “emotion” surrounding being presented with something that resembled such an icon of American food. For the next course, we were provided a version of traditional Spanish preparation of Iberico ham, which is some of the finest charcuterie in the world, and a staple of Spanish cuisine. It is traditionally served with “pan con tomate,” a bread that is brushed with crushed tomatoes. At é, however, he gives you a new take––the ham sits atop a hollow “air bread” with tomato inside, and a gorgeous, magnificently fatty piece of Iberico sits atop for a single bite of Spanish goodness. Absolutely ridiculously good.
Uni uni uni!! How excited I was to see the uni unveiled in the prep area before us. The woman next to me, a sea urchin virgin, was concerned, but I assured her that she was about to experience one of the finest delicacies in all the land. Here we have an uni-infused rice cracker laden with a thin, luscious layer of Iberico lardo (literally just pork fat… drool) and a quivering piece of sea urchin. This was fabulous, and I loved the presentation over the seaweed spilling out of a bizarre jellyfish bowl. The crispy cracker was a shade too crispy, however, and shattered in my neighbor’s mouth, sending a priceless piece of Hokkaido uni tumbling to the floor (cue dramatic music). She was presented with a second bite, which she promptly gave to me, and I promptly inhaled, while still internally weeping for the fallen roe.
I really appreciated the pairing with these two courses––a sherry from Emilio Lustau, “Fino del Puerto Almacenista ‘G. Obregón’” from Jerez, near Cadiz on Spain’s southwest coast. I admit I don’t know much about sherry, and have a really hard time keeping up with these loooooong Spanish wine names, but Lustau is king, and the sherry was nice and surprisingly light but with the appropriate nutty heft on the back end.
All I have for this next course is something called “Vermut” (“vermouth”) covered in foam, or “air” as José prefers to call it, as well as a riserva red vermouth from Yzaguirre. My memory may fail me, but I’m sure it was tasty as hell!
Next was one of the cooler (literally and figuratively) little courses of the night, strategically placed as a palate cleanser for the larger courses––a red sangria frozen with liquid N2O (one of José’s favorite things) into little icy balls that resembled Dippin’ Dots and served in a half of a wine bottle. So awesome and so tasty!
Heftier courses followed. The first was a soup of chilled chickpeas served with liquefied chickpea spheres that looked like whole chickpeas (bizaare af) and some basil and tomato oil and jamón. This was alright, but nothing notable within the overall context of the meal. The albariño that was served with it, from Do Ferreiro, was exceptional, with a salinity reflective of the vineyards’ proximity to the ocean and a lovely light body and acidity that foiled the creamy chickpea.
Oh man… I saw what was next with sommelier Don Quixote over there, and I could not have been more excited. Before him was a bottle of López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, a white made from the viura grape in Rioja. I first discovered this wine by accident when I moved to LA and decided to expand my wine shelves on account of being in California, where wine is easy to get, and not Utah, where wine is more expensive and regulated. I tasted a bottle of Heredia and was blown away; this one was from their lower-end vineyard, Gravonia, but still viura, and from 2005. I immediately tried to buy another bottle from K&L, but was laughed out of the store––apparently Heredia only releases these wines once every two years, and they age them for at LEAST ten years in the bottle before releasing them… holy smokes! This makes these wines nearly impossible to find. Since then, I have found literally three bottles EVER of their viura, one a Gravonia and two a Tondonia (their higher-end vineyard for viura), and only after either searching high and low or stumbling upon one. I have converted friends and family the world over with this wine… it is THAT good. And here’s the kicker––the Gravonia runs about $20, and the Tondonia about $40. WHAT THE HELL! (PS: they also have stellar, cheap tempranillos).
The 2005 Tondonia was to be served with two magnificently rich courses. The first was a Dungeness crab, meat extracted and then served in its carapace, and finished with a crab broth and breadcrumbs. Not sure there’s much more to say… this was simple, sweet, rich, and absolutely exquisite. God I love crab.
The next was the true intended pairing of the rich, nutty, oxidized, and full-bodied but acid-driven Heredia––“Foie Royal.” You guessed it: foie gras, served with black truffle, peach slices, almond milk, and croutons. Yowza.
The big guns were coming out next: a fish entrée and a meat entrée. Platija (fluke or flounder) was served with squid ink as well as a daikon purée and some manner of spherified faux caviar. Following, a take on a Catalan specialty, “Fricandó” was a wagyu beef cheek with gorgeous chanterelle mushrooms and liquid potato gnocchi (yet another spherification… come on, guys). These dishes were good, but certainly less interesting than the small bites that preceded. A J. Palacios Moncerbal, a wine that was new to me, accompanied the flounder, while a stunning 2006 Unico tempranillo paired beautifully with the beef.
Time to close things out! We started the ending (lol) of the meal with a cotton candy “empanada,” where foie gras mousse and corn nuts were encased in a cotton candy shell. Salty and sweet, and wonderfully crunchy from the corn nuts. Yum! Several takes on Spanish specialties followed, including a take on menjar blanc (almond cake), intxaursaltsa (walnut pudding) with strawberries and “faux” edible walnut shells, and a “Catalan egg” (Catalan cream with a candied egg yolk and citrus). They paired this with a lovely Spanish Moscatel, and also threw in a hot rum before moving on to the final bites.
The final bites included a cherry “bomb,” consisting of a chocolate covered molten cherry with a vanilla bean stem, and a nougat tart. The last three mignardises I can’t recall, but they were all served with José’s gin and tonic, a really spectacular permutation of the classic drink, laced with the botanicals highlighted in the gin. Enough booze, do you think?
The last bite was a mint chocolate bar garnished by field of mint with some chocolate-covered leaves between. Really wild.
José Andrés is a disciple of Ferran Adrià, the chef who really started the “molecular gastronomy” movement back in the 90s. This stuff, as fun as it can be, has fallen quite out of style in recent years, though still popularized by the sorcery of some restaurants like Alinea in Chicago. This showmanship might be passé these days, but I have to say that I works rather well at é. The setting, in the midst of the showy and completely over-the-top Cosmopolitan casino in Las Vegas, practically begs for such sorcery, and while I eventually was like "Ok kids enough with the alginate baths," it made sense in the context of the over-the-top meal and setting, and I enjoyed the stop and was glad I got to finally dine here.
Since I have been traveling, I have a few more updates coming in the next week. Stay tuned!