Las Vegas & Dinner at Sage at Aria
It’s been nearly a decade when I last went to Vegas. Back then, I was under aged to appreciate or cared about much; Vegas was about half the size and not as glamorous and adult Disney-like. I have stayed at the Wynn as it’s relatively close to the central hub of the Strip (the nickname for the centralized part of Las Vegas Boulevard) and it has and have earned many 5-star Forbes Travel Guide Star awards (formerly Mobil Travel Guide Star awards).
I have eaten a number of restaurants that skew toward the higher end of the price scale, as I’m pretty bored of the NYC fine dining scene. You may see photos of where I ate on my Flickr photostream that will be updated on a regular basis (say, every 2-3 days). I’ll try to update my blog as often as I can.
To start off with a restaurant review, I present you Sage at Aria.
Sage is under the helm of Owner/Chef Shawn McClain and Chef Richard Camarota, a critically acclaimed chef from the Midwest. He broke out into the national scene at Trio in Chicago, left there after seven years to start his own restaurant Spring. He was awarded for February 2002, McClain was named the “Rising Star Chef of the Year” at the inaugural Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence and Spring was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the “Best New Restaurant” of 2001. Then he opened another restaurant Green Zebra in 2004, which focuses on vegetables. In 2006, McClain was honored with the “Best Chef Midwest” award from the James Beard Foundation.
Sage seems like a different animal compared to the haute European and celebrity chefs from New York and other cities imported to Vegas. I had high hopes that this restaurant would break me from my jaded self, as I’m pretty bored with the New York City dining scene.
Sage is gorgeous. High ceilings, spacious and decorated with sleek, dark wooden tables, plush seats and banquettes with large purple projections of Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) on the sections of the restaurant’s walls. The painting’s projections are beautiful but I’m trying to figure out why did Chef McClain specifically chose it. There was a moderately large private dining room in the back for parties greater than 6 people. The acoustics here was great – conversations around the room were soft and muted.
Thank goodness for flexibility for most Vegas restaurants, I ordered the Chef McClain’s Signature Menu (4 courses for $79) while my friend went a la carte.
Bread service started with a good note. Lavender butter with a side of pink Murray River salt served with warm mini baguette and bacon country bread. As unusual as lavender butter with savory bread seems, it works here. The lavender isn’t overwhelming pungent but one can taste the beautiful floral aroma melding with the sweet, creamy butter. The salt enhances the lavender ever so delicately when sprinkled on top. The bacon country bread is wonderfully smoky and sweet.
Our server then presented us with an amuse bouche of avocado mousse, cranberry, and toasted almonds. The delicately sweet, creamy avocado mingled with the bracing tart cranberry, rounded out by the almonds.
My wagyu beef tartare served with buttered baguette slices was perfectly seasoned. Sharp caper aïoli juxtaposed with creamy, fatty wagyu beef was good by itself. But the slow poached egg, pickled mustard seeds, and crispy, bitter chocolate played on the lusciousness of the beef as well as adding the needed texture and contrasting flavors. My friend’s pan of roasted sweetbreads looked like a large pile of bumpy McNuggets but when you bite into them, it’s delightfully creamy and addictive to eat. The slice of thick-cut of bacon gave it some sweet smokiness and the trumpet mushrooms and white polenta gave you some needed fiber. Kidding aside, the mushrooms gave it a wonderful meaty flavor.
My Maine Dayboat scallops were solid. Seared beautifully and served with braised oxtail, wild mushrooms, salted caramel reduction to go along with the inherent sweetness of this mollusk. My friend’s Foie gras ‘brûlée’ stole the show. It’s silky, intensely flavored, über rich that it can almost be dessert. The umami of that premium foie gras was screaming (in a good way) to my palate. The poached rhubarb added some crunch and tartness to the very intense bites of foie. The salted brioche danced between the savory and sweet lines like the foie gras custard. This was mind blowing.
My Iberico pork loin is an adoration of Spanish pork in a Staub cast iron pan. The sweet, smoky slices of pork loin and mortadella accompanied with cannelloni stuffed with confitted pork shoulder, and crisp green asparagus. My friend’s Maine lobster casoncelli was pristine both in execution and the ingredients. The pasta was delicately eggy and had enough structure to contain the chunky lobster and mascarpone filling. The fennel and spinach purée played on the lightness of the dish and it does reflect on the season of spring.
My dinner ended with Warm Carrot Cake filled with roasted coconut sauce and candied ginger with a quenelle of cream cheese ice cream. I tend not to order carrot cake because I find them to be cloying from the cream cheese frosting or the nut studs . But this I would make an exception. The carrot cake is served “naked” (as in without frosting) and it’s filled with barely sweetened coconut sauce to give it a tropical/Asian touch. The cake was truly warm, fluffy and moist. The crunchy, candied walnuts on the side with the quenelle of dense, cream cheese ice cream is a great idea of deconstructed carrot cake.
After paying the check, we each received a parting shot of hot mint chocolate. This hot chocolate was refreshing from the minty kick. The dark hot chocolate wasn’t too sweet and rich that we’re not going need some pillows and blankets to stay there overnight.
Overall, my meal at Sage was wonderful. If you have the inclination of robust flavored food that’s globally inspired, this would a great place for dinner.
For more photos of my meal, please view my slideshow below:
In the Aria Hotel and Casino, Ground Floor
3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109