May. 16th, 2011

Sage in Aria Las Vegas: Fine Dining in CityCenter

Photo Courtesy of ARIA Resort & Casino
Just when you thought the Las Vegas strip couldnít get any more luxurious; any flashier; any more high-end, ARIA Resort & Casino pops up and blows us all away. This jaw-droppingly gorgeous hotel and casino ó and the brand new CityCenter it calls home ó boasts some of the best shopping, gambling and spas in the area.

But, move over New York City, because what Las Vegas is becoming the new Mecca for is fine dining; so it is no wonder why ARIA has made sure to offer guests unrivaled restaurant options, and one in particular has left quite an impression on me...and my taste buds: Sage.

Sage is located a few feet from the bustling casino floor, but you would never realize the proximity to the cacophony once inside the restaurant walls. While obviously a fine dining establishment, the dťcor had a way of making us feel like we just stepped into someoneís home; we noticed guests were enjoying colorful cocktails and small plates as we were guided into the expansive dining room. As large as the dining area is, it still maintains an intimate feel, even more so as we were sat at a private table for two.

We were greeted warmly by the general manager who welcomed us and asked about our wine preference. Instead of having to make the difficult decision, we opted to be at the mercy of the chef for the evening. The GM knowingly nodded and told us to sit back, relax and they would set up a tasting menu to be complemented by the perfect pairings (this was a man after my own heart).

We began with an amuse bouche of one perfectly plump, chilled oyster with piquillo pepper, Tabasco sorbet and aged-tequila mignonette. Iím a wimp when it comes to spicy food, but the heat was pleasant and revealed itself well after the oyster was gone. My guest and I agreed that we couldíve had a dozen more but since we didnít know where the chef would take us next, we had to be content with just the one.

We then enjoyed a Pacific Yellowtail Crudo with shaved trumpet mushrooms, black summer truffle and toasted pine nuts, which was another light and fresh way to ease into the meal. But what came next I could never have anticipated: The Foie Gras Custard Brulee. The brulee came with rhubarb, toasted cocoa nibs and salted brioche for a bread and butter effect. It also came with a surprising pairing, Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer.

This brew is said to have originated from an ancient recipe found in King Midas' tomb, as the general manager was eager to tell us. Iím not even sure I can do this dish, and pairing for that matter, justice, but Iíll give it a shot. The creamy foie gras spread effortless onto the soft brioche, which reminded me of a soft pretzel with the coarse bits of salt on top.

It was absolutely harmonious with the bitter rhubarb, sweet crust of the brulee and The Dogfish Head. The beerís hints of honey, saffron and grapes brought all the flavors together with one sip. Taboo as it may be, I actually asked for more brioche so I could polish it all off. It was confirmed by our server, Jason, just how special this dish really is when he came over, looked at us with delight and simply said, "Life changing." He was right.

Even though I had developed an unhealthy attachment to the foie gras, it was time to move on. Next came the Maine Lobster Casoncelli with glazed spring onions, spinach puree and mascarpone, followed by Liberty Farms Duck with shaved root vegetable salad, duck leg terrine and cardamom infused honey, both paired with delicate red wines; and it didnít stop there.

The Iberico Pork Loin came next and as if to challenge our stomachs even more, a seventh course of Snake River Farms New York Strip was put in front of us. The new and amazing combination of flavors from the meat and wines kept us going ó and itís a good thing since we hadnít even reached dessert yet.

A palate-cleansing raspberry sorbet wrapped up an amazing meal. It had just the right amount of tartness to keep our taste buds awake after all the hard work they had done in the previous courses. We ended this nine course tasting with Cr?me Fraiche Panna Cotta alongside fresh, ripe blueberries, strawberry soup and black pepper meringues. It was a beautiful plate and still light enough to enjoy after savoring the numerous courses that came before it.

All-in-all, each dish was an ideal representation of fine dining in Las Vegas and of Chefs Shawn McClain and Richard Camarota's talents. Their emphasis on farm-to-table produce and seasonal ingredients means each dish will vary from time to time, keeping me anxiously awaiting what next season will bring.
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