KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Loose Your Senses at Sensi
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Friday, December 16, 2005
Loose Your Senses at Sensi
Back in Paris already, you ask?

Not Paris, France but Paris, Las Vegas passing the faux Eiffel Tower en route to Danny Ocean's favorite vault...the Bellagio! I'm sure the Ocean's Eleven (and now 12) gang would have held off on filming had they known that the 2005 Rising Star Chef could indulge them in the cuisine of the Bellagio's latest culinary endeavor. Sensi, opened almost one year ago to date in the new Bellagio spa tower, is a gastronomical delight of the senses (sensi in Italian) and is, in a word, remarkable.

Chef Martin Heierling, former Executive Chef of Bellagio Events and before that Lespinasse in New York City, was handed the reigns to the newest space chez Bellagio and created the concept, hired the architects and artists, stone craftsmen and pottery artists. The results are spectacular. Involved in every aspect of the restaurant, Chef Martin created a dining experience that takes the diner into the heat of the kitchen by strategically placing the kitchen in the center of the restaurant surrounded by glass walls. Every table has a front row view of the grill, the prep area, the sea food station, the pasta station, the tandoori station and the chef's station all which showcase the skill, energy, and sheer focus of the chefs. When you walk in, the beguiling aromas from the open bread kithen and brick oven grab you by the lapels and refuse to let go.

Mason jars line the glass walls and are filled with every imaginable spice, herb, preserve and pickle.

Row upon row of glass mason jars filled with every imaginable spice and herb, preserves and pickles, as well as glass refridgerated units that allow each diner an unprecedented peek into the kitchen. All cooks are miked to communicate with the Chef who fires off orders as they roll in and shouts for dishes and garnishes as the order comes together. Like Mehta with The Three Tenors, the Chef with his sparkling blue eyes, contagious laugh and light-up-the-Strip smile guides everyone with lightning precision and laser focus ensuring that every dish arrives in unison. "Hip, fun, vibrant" were his guiding tenants and indeed, as the Chef claims, "the place rocks"!

A view of the glass wall of refridgerated units from one of two chef's tables.

From the water fountains to the menu paper to the granite to the wood from Japan for the tables, every aspect was painstakingly poured over if not created by the Chef. Don't ask him how much the granite cost. He'll roll his eyes as it would put most restaurants out of business before they opened. All the plates are hand made, no two are the same, each designed for that specific dish. The beet-arugula salad with chive oil is served on a rectangular plate with vibrant green drizzles on it, teasing the diner into trying to lick up the last drop. I know I did! Bon appetit!

Home made bread from their bread kitchen and wood burning bread-pizza oven

Spicy Pepper Naan and Herb Naan with three dipping sauces

Crispy fried shrimp rolled in rice flakes with creamy ginger mayonaisse and Kaffir lime oil and live Santa Barbara prawns fresh from the tank in tempura with a soy lemongrass dipping sauce

Roasted beet and arugula salad with Winesap apples, toasted pine nuts, Maytag blue cheese, chive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. note the plates!

Potato gnocchi with roasted wild trumpet mushrooms in a chicken jus with a horseradish foam and a seared scallop topped with a roasted chippolini onion then a braised duck raviolini in a barolo sauce..... that I could have bathed in!

....topped with a mound of shaved white truffles!

Pear soup! It took every ounce of energy not to pick this up and gulp it down but so as to not embarass my dining companion (the Chef's wife!), I delicately savored every spoonful. Nashi pear with lemon zest, star anise, vanilla, cinnamon, with a drop of lime juice to give it a kick, accented with Kaffir lime oil and a cinnamon stick.

Crispy Thai Red Snapper with a julien of carrots, sugar snap peas and bean sprouts with a green curry foam

Braised beef short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes and a black pepper jus. These melt in your mouth and the rub make your tongue do the tango. The beef takes 3 days to make and is aged on the bone. Rubbed in a home made spice melange then marinated in a tomato base puree of Worcestershire sauce, ginger, garlic, tamarind, brown sugar and hot mango pickle over night, the beef is braised for 5 hours and served steaming from the tandoori pot.

A quad of chocolate to round out the evening with white chocolate "milk", dark chocolate tart with fresh raspberry jam and a dollop of creme fraiche, chocolate mousse with dark chocolate mint ganache and clementine segments and a tiny chocolate souffle.

Chef Martin Heierling with the final button-popping dessert whimsically presented in a cross between an igloo and a Who from Whoville ice hat. Sorbet of passion fruit-mango, raspberry and coconut scooped on a bed of diced mango.

In compliance with full and fair disclosure, I was an assistant at the James Beard House when the Bellagio came to NYC and am friends with the Chef and his wife. That being said, it was still one of the best meals I've ever had in one of the most exciting settings imaginable. So the next time you are in Las Vegas, don't lose your money, but go ahead and lose your senses.....


Chef Martin Heierling
3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702 693 8800


Anonymous louise calvin said...

What a great review Laura. Can't wait to go there to try the yummy sounding food. Your descriptions were great!!

12/17/2005 11:58 AM

Blogger Sam said...

It's good to see the pictures, Laura, - especially the one of all the jars, after just hearing you describe it all to me in person.

12/17/2005 3:31 PM

Blogger cucina testa rossa said...

Thanks Louise! It was so good, i feel like my mere words fall far short of communicating the spirit and creativity as well as passion and flavors of the food. Worth a flight there just for dinner!

Hi Sam! Thank you, I hope I did it justice. Did you catch the ice sculpture? :-)

12/17/2005 8:40 PM

Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

Although words are not one of the five senses I can hear your excitement.

I worked in a kitchen with a "windowed"walkin and it was quite an experience! But it is really a fantastic idea, especially if you love the intricate details usually hidden from sight for a reason...

12/20/2005 8:23 PM

Anonymous gerald said...

Those dishes look awesome I can't wait to go next time I'm in Vegas.

12/27/2005 10:57 AM

Blogger cucina testa rossa said...

hi shuna - indeed, no 10 second rule after dropping a steak on the floor here ;-) i was exciting and I am so glad I could convey that though I still feel that my words fell far short of what it deserved.

gerald - a must do before you are off to cooking school! looking forward to reading about your adventures!

1/03/2006 3:35 PM


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