Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sage - 12/18/2009

3730 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV‎ 89109
(877) 230-2742

With a number of well regarded chefs setting up shop in Aria, Kevin and I decided to try a couple other restaurants in the hotel. Of course Bar Masa was a no brainer but where to go the next night? I was curious about Jean Georges Steakhouse but Kevin reminded me of our lackluster experience at his other steakhouse Prime. Kevin's choice was Chef Shawn McClain's Sage, serving up contemporary American cuisine.

The restaurant can be found near the lobby next to Aria's other premier restaurants: Julian Serrano and Bar Masa. The restaurant's facade is a narrow gate divided by two soaring columns. Immediately past the entrance is the restaurant's wine storage which leads into a bar area whose garish colors and decor evoked images of a 1930 speakeasy. A narrow hall at the end of the bar leads to the main dining area which is similarly bedecked.

Though the restaurant had a cocktail list it wasn't much use as the bar was missing ingredients for most of the drinks.

Cucumber Gimlet
I decided to go with my old standby which is basically anything with cucumber, in this case the classic gimlet. A well-balanced preparation, though it could have used a bit more kick.

Ginger Cosmopolitan
Kevin asked to be surprised and got a ginger cosmo that tasted exactly like a ginger ale.

Bacon Brioche
The restaurant only had one type of bread, a bacon brioche. The brioche was well done combining a hard crust with a warm fluffy interior and the bacon added a delicious smoky savory element. The bread came with whipped butter and salt. The butter was a welcome addition but the bacon precluded the need for salt.

Though a tasting menu is supposed to be in the works at sage, it wasn't ready yet so we decided to create our own by ordering courses off the menu that caught our fancy. Though the restaurant boasts a fairly large wine list, Sage also offers a wide variety of beers and we thought it might be fun to switch things up with a beer pairing instead.

Amuse: Artichoke, Bacon, and Date Salad - Grape Foam
I am normally not a fan of artichoke, but this wasn't bad, with a dense crunch and distinct herbaceousness that balanced well against the sapor of the bacon and sweetness of the date and grape foam.

Chimay "Cinq Cents" Trappist Ale, Belgium
This was my first experience with Chimay's White Label, a Tripel style beer, which means the brewers use three times the malt of a standard Trappist ale. Our sommelier selected the beer for its hoppy character which would pair well with the upcoming courses. In addition to the pronounced bitter finish, the beer had complex aromas of spice, yeast, and fruit

Vancouver Island Kusshi Oysters - Piquillo Pepper and Tobasco Sorbet/Aged-Tequila Mignonette
e were actually served Kumamoto Oysters from British Columbia, with the switch to the Kusshi's being made in the near future. The fresh oysters were topped with a smoky-sweet piquillo pepper sauce enriched with a peppery bite from the Tobasco. I would have expected a woody note and some alcoholic heat from the tequila mignonette, but found it to be surprisingly mild when compared to the natural oyster liquor.

Black and Blue Tuna - Charred Bluefin Tuna/Black Olive Vinaigrette/Crispy Anchovy/Confit Artichokes
The first course was a play on the classic Niçoise salad. Typically, I find the olive component of a Niçoise salad too oppressive but here it made the dish, adding a light touch of herbal tones. The fish itself was seared nicely, adding an apparent savoriness to the tuna's characteristic mild flavor. Rounding out the salad was a salty attack from the crispy fried anchovies and a viscous body from the quail egg yolk.

Smoked Columbia River Sturgeon - Honey Crisp Apple/Smoked Bacon/Fromage Blanc
I typically assume smoked fish is going to have a light raw feel, think smoked salmon but this sturgeon possessed a surprisingly dense mouth feel coupled with a distinctive hammy sapor enhanced by the addition of crispy bacon. My companion felt the cheese made the dish but I thought it only increased the weighty feel of the fish. Instead, the apple and celery proved much more effective relief, adding a textural sharpness as well as an herbaceous flavor profile to counter the meatiness of the Sturgeon.

Pacific Yellowtail Crudo - Shaved Trumpet Mushrooms/Black Winter Truffles/Toasted Pine Nuts
I've had yellowtail crudo before but it is typically paired with a citrus accompaniment, this is the first time I have had something as heavy as mushrooms. The two went together quite well as the mushrooms were surprisingly similar in texture and flavor to the fish. The espuma was startlingly reminiscent of rice pudding and I wonder if that was intentional, a sort of play on the rice that comes with nigiri.

Dogfish Head Midas Touch, Delaware
Our next beer was a craft brew supposedly based on a 2000 year old recipe found in the tomb of King Midas himself. The beer is brewed with a combination of muscat grapes, barley, honey, and saffron resulting in a sweetness and intensity reminiscent of a dessert wine, a very creative pairing with the upcoming foie gras.

Wagyu Beef Tartare - Crushed Caper Aioli/Slow-Poached Egg/Pickled Mustard Seeds/Crispy Chocolate
Something about steak tartare appeals to the carnivore in me, I love my steaks rare and steak tartare takes that one step further. Aside from the chocolate, the other accouterments were quite traditional though presented in a slightly different way. Given the steak was Wagyu beef, I was expecting a stronger beef flavor out of this course, but the meat was fairly mild, adding a pleasing roughness to the palate but fairly little in terms of flavor. Instead it was the tang of the mustard seed that dominated; along with bitterness from the salad and chocolate which made for an austere flavor profile.

Foie Gras Custard 'Brûlée' - Moro Blood Orange/Toasted Cocoa Nibs/Salted Brioche
I am not sure what to think of this dish, on one hand I wanted the foie gras to be more apparent, on the other this was a damn satisfying dish though definitely more appropriate as a dessert. The custard had a eggy sweetness tinged with the luxurious essence of foie gras which was especially noticeable when eating one of the foie slivers on top of the custard. In general, the crystallized layer on top added to the sweetness making it overpowering at times but I quite enjoyed the interplay of the sweetness with the blood orange and cocoa nibs which helped to balance things.

Dogfish Head Raison d'Etre, Delaware
Continuing with Dogfish Head Brewery, here we have a Raison d'Etre "Reason for Being," a Belgian-style dark ale. The beer smelled immediately and strongly of raisin, brown sugar, and malt with the red fruit and sweetness also present on the palate, resulting in a port-like character. A bit heavy but quite fitting to the upcoming courses which included pork belly, steak, and sweetbreads.

Escargot and Pork Belly Agnolotti - Smoked Bacon/Black Garlic/Parsley Sauce/Lemon Oil
I'm always intrigued by escargot served in ways other than drenched in butter and garlic and pairing it with pork belly was certainly a new experience for me. The belly was fried giving it a drier texture but preserving the unctuous flavor of the fat. The escargot was seasoned with garlic but not so overwhelmingly that the natural flavor of the snail didn't come through. A very direct and enjoyable course.

Charred Baby Octopus Caponata - Rosa Bianca/Eggplant/Golden Raisins/Rocket Lettuce
One of the weaker courses of the night for me. The octopus lived up to the charred billing, with a dull meaty chewiness and bitter twist on the natural flavor of the octopus. The Caponata didn't help matters much, the cooked vegetables adding a cloying solidity that made eating this course sort of like swallowing a lead brick.

Grilled Rib-Eye Cap Steak - Roasted Beets/Pistachio Salsa Verde/Sage Honey/10-year Balsamic
After eight complex courses a well cooked steak can still make my mouth water. The rib-eye cap is one of the most heavily marbled cuts of beef and possessed of a full-bodied beefiness that reminds me why I love steak. The beautifully crafted beef was enjoyable on its own or paired with the accompanying vegetables.

Roasted Sweetbreads - Glazed Bacon/Creamy White Polenta/Marinated Chanterelles
The sweetbreads visually reminded me and my companion of popcorn chicken though the texture and flavor were something else entirely. The morsels had a soft even consistency and were imbued with the quintessence of organ meat. The rich bacon and musky chanterelles provided a lovely flavor profile while the polenta acted like a binder; offering little flavor on its own but providing body, making it possible to take a substantial bite without having the palate overwhelmed.

Duvel, Belgium
The beer paired with our main course was the Belgian classic Duvel. A much more restrained beer without the overt sweetness or fruit of many of our earlier pairings, but still displaying a multifaceted blend of light citrus, yeast, spice, and sweetness. Despite the complexity I actually believe the beer was chosen for its effervescence which forms a thick creamy head.

il Birrifico di Como Malthus Baluba, Italy
Our last beer was an exceedingly generous gift from the sommelier's private stash called Malthus Baluba. He mentioned the beer was brewed with fruit and vegetables. When poured, the beer gave off powerful notes of toffee, fruit, and spice. On the palate the beer is surprisingly tart on the midpalate, perhaps the result of the vegetables making their presence felt.

Slow-Poached Organic Farm Egg - Smoked Potato/Shaved Black Winter Truffles/Toasted Country Bread
Slow poached eggs have fast been becoming a favorite of mine. The enveloping texture of runny yolk absorbs whatever flavor it comes in contact with (in this case truffles) and spreads it an even layer across the tongue. The egg itself turned out to be no different but the potato proved to be disruptive. I agree something was needed to provide a bit of substance but the potato ended up imparting gritty texture to the dish.

Grilled Pacific Cobia - Butter Clam Chowder/Heirloom Marble Potatoes/Shaved Iberico Ham
We selected our final savory course from the entrees, a fish called Cobia. This was my first experience with Cobia which is also known as Black Kingfish, Black Salmon, and Ling. The fish had the solidest meat of any whitefish I have had in recent memory. The density kept the fish from absorbing any flavor in its lower layers making the Iberico ham a crucial component to provide salinity. The hearty chowder was also a welcome addition providing its own brand of savoriness to the fish.

European Union - Reserva Spanis Brandy/Chocolate Stout Ale/Framboise Lambic
Another gift from the bar, we were asked to try their beer based cocktail, which turned out quite similar in principle to the Baluba. The aromas of chocolate and raspberry gave the impression that this would be a very sweet cocktail but it turned out to be quite dry with an alcoholic punch from the brandy.

Roasted Winter Pear Tarte Tatin - Red Wine Caramel/Blue Cheese Ice Cream
This might be more correctly dubbed a cheese course as it is clearly the dominant flavor. The sugary cooked fruit does a good job of taking off some of the intensity but clearly the cheese still dominates. Both my companion and I agreed this tasted extremely Ludo's Fourme d' Ambert Tourte which also featured blue cheese and pear.

Warm Almond Financier Cake - Moro Blood Orange Marmalade/Licorice-Fennel Ice Cream
There are two origins for how the cake got the name Financier, one has to do with the shape of the mold which resembles a gold bar, the other posits that the cakes first became popular in Paris' financial district. Financiers are light teacakes that usually contain almond and are served with fruit and accompanied by ice cream, making Sage's example a textbook preparation. On its own the cake is quite boring which the kitchen remedies by pairing it with two aggressive accompaniments. An interesting choice however I felt the tart marmalade was often at odds with the herbaceous ice cream.

Canelles de Bordeaux - Winter Spices/Aged-Rum Sabayon/White Chocolate Sorbet
This was my first experience with Canelles, and I was surprised at the textural interplay between the crisp exterior and soft spongy center. The use of winter spice gave the dessert a pleasing gravity totally appropriate to end the meal.

Citrus Hot Chocolate
This is apparently a signature at Chef McClain's flagship Spring. Initially it was difficult to detect the citrus component but there was a slight hint of orange rind on the finish. A simple and enjoyable finish to the meal

Near the end of the meal Chef McClain came out to see if we enjoyed the meal. Like many celebrity chefs who have opened Vegas outposts, Chef McClain has restaurants outside of the city. With three restaurants (soon to be two) in Chicago I expected him to follow the example of his peers and return to the Windy City as soon as possible. However Chef McClain is taking a different tack, rather than return to his more established restaurants, he has leased a plase in Vegas for six months, giving him ample time to get operations at Sage in order. I applaud his commitment, which is a pleasant contrast to other chefs who seem to treat their Vegas establishments as unwanted stepchildren.

It is ironic to note that the restaurants description on Aria bills it as having "an emphasis on simple, clean flavors" when both my companion and I found ourselves comparing the complexity of the food to that of Twist's. Certainly the flavor combination are more understandable than what we had at Twist but there is still the sensation that the palate is bombarded with all elements from all the basic tastes simultaneously. One theme I did note, is the kitchen's affinity for pork, particularly bacon which was featured in 5 dishes including the bread and the amuse. I suspect the kitchen will be tweaking the menu over the near future and it will be interesting to see if they strip away some of the complexity in favor of approachability.

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