Sage Sings Loudest at Aria
Most people come to Vegas to gamble, to party and to sin.
Truth be told, I don’t gamble and I can party much harder and sin far worse in my hometown of Los Angeles than I can in Vegas.
My sin in Vegas is gluttony. Add to that worshipping at the temple of Michelin, whose bright stars cast a long shadow over Vegas, and idolizing the three French gods of cuisine who have set up outposts here (Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire), I’d say I have my fair share of penance to pay.
So it’s surprising, then, that the best meal of my recent trip was neither Michelin starred nor devised in France.
It was at Sage, Shawn McClain’s contemporary American ode to the farm-to-table/artisanal/sustainable/seasonal ethos.
Now, let me be clear, those terms hold no particular draw for me. I’m just as happy for my produce to be exotic, my fish to be endangered, and my truffles to be out of season. And, come on, this is Vegas, a neon outpost in the desert, a place where money trumps ideology and possibly the least sustainable city in America. After Rick Moonen’s recent droning on about sustainable seafood in Vegas on Top Chef Masters, I was just about ready to slap him and his ilk across the face with a Chilean sea bass.
No, what brought me to Sage was that, after the buzz had quietened and the dust had settled on the new CityCenter’s more talked about restaurants — Gagnaire’s first US outpost Twist and Bar Masa/Shaboo’s $500 hot pot — Sage emerged as the most interesting new restaurant in Vegas.
Not that Shawn McClain doesn’t come with accolades. Esquire magazine’s “Chef of the Year”, James Beard winner for “Best Chef Midwest” but it’s safe to say he’s not a household name outside of Chicago.
The restaurant space itself is everything you’d expect in Vegas from the newest Dubai-funded casino on the Strip. Opulent, expansive, classy and swathed in plum and gold. This is not a restaurant you wander into from the casino floor.
This is a destination.
And the service there was impeccable. Probably the best I’ve received in ANY restaurant. Ever. Friendly without being intrusive, knowledgeable without being pretentious, and generous. Complementary champagne when we sat down, complementary sauternes with our foie gras custard brulée because our server insisted it would complement it perfectly (which it did), a complementary appetizer because one item we ordered was not available, and complementary hot chocolate espressos with our dessert. Sure we told them one of our guests was celebrating a birthday, sure the DSLR gave me away as a blogger, sure I know the hot chocolate is standard, but the service was still above and beyond.
Unlike many other Vegas fine dining restaurants, Sage does not offer a tasting menu. So we built our own from the appetizer menu.
Amuse Bouche | Cured Salmon / Radish / Puree
Vancouver Island Kusshi Oysters | Piquillo Pepper and Tobasco Sorbet / Aged-Tequila Mignonette
I love kusshis by themselves but the piquillo pepper and tobasco sorbet was stunning. A perfect cold and hot complement to the briny oyster. With a nod to Mexico, the mignonette sauce was made with aged tequila rather than vinegar.
Heirloom Beet Salad | Duck Prosciutto / Point Reyes Blue Cheese / Roasted Walnuts / Celery Vinaigrette
Here’s where I eat my words for saying I don’t care about salads in general and farm-to-table, seasonal vegetables more specifically. Because this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Simple in its preparation, the beets were soft and flavorful, the vinaigrette perfectly balanced, the blue cheese creamy, and all sitting atop slivers of duck prosciutto.
Foie Gras Custard Brulée | Bing Cherries / Toasted Cocoa Nibs / Salted Brioche
If the beet salad was one of my favorite dishes of the night, then this was without doubt my favorite and one of the best mouthfuls of food I’ve enjoyed in ’10. I love foie gras, I love creme brulée, and I can honestly think of nothing better than combining the two. Except perhaps shaving a torchon of foie gras onto it and serving it with a sweet and salty salted brioche. Absolutely craveable and made all the better by the complementary glasses of sauternes that our server insisted we pair it with.
Crescenza Cheese Mezzaluna | Grilled Mushrooms / Braised Black Kale / Parsley Emulsion
Essentially a creamy cheese filled pasta shaped like a half moon (hence the name), this dish was sent to our table by the kitchen to apologize for one of the dishes we’d ordered no longer being available. Of the two pasta dishes we tried, this was the stronger although nothing extraordinary. Still, the pasta was pillowy and well made, the mushrooms adding a nice, meaty texture to the dish.
Roasted Sweetbreads | Glazed Bacon / Creamy White Polenta / Marinated Chanterelles
I’m a big fan of sweetbreads. It’s one of those dishes that, if it’s on the menu, I’ll almost always order it. The breading on the sweetbreads here was less crispy than I would have liked although the polenta it sat on was very good, having soaked up all the juices of the sweetbreads and bacon. Bacon is one of those things I’m really getting over although, thick cut like this and glazed, it was a welcome addition to the dish.
Maine Lobster Ravioli | Lemon-Olive Oil Puree / Baby Spring Peas / Mascarpone / Fresh Mint
This dish was a disappointment. The sauce overpowered the taste of the delicate lobster to the point that I wouldn’t have known I was eating lobster if I hadn’t read it on the menu. Overall, oversalted and rather leaden.
Although we were full from dinner, I had asked the restaurant to add a “Happy Birthday” to the dessert plating for one of our guests so we ordered a dessert to share, Sage’s modern take on s’mores. Disappointingly the dessert came out without the requested birthday wish but it was still remarkably beautiful and satisfying at the same time. Did it remind me of childhood s’mores? I don’t know. I didn’t grow up here. But the bruléed marshmallow was suitably sweet and sticky and the gingerbread crisp a great savory counterpoint.
To finish the meal, the kitchen sent out cups of hot chocolate infused with citrus. A fun and whimsical way to end the meal and the citrus finish was a nice touch to the chocolate.
So there you have it. Yes, there were a couple of missed steps but whether it was the gorgeous space, the opulent and classy ambiance, the wonderful service or the company of great friends, this meal transcended its faults and was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Possibly the meal of the year so far and definitely the dish of the year for the foie gras custard brulée.
For me, Sage is the best bet at CityCenter.
And, as I said, I don’t like to gamble.Sage Aria Resort and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109