Sage Restaurant, Las Vegas

After you lose a ton of money that you didn’t have in the first place by playing slot machines that clearly hate you…you really just want a delicious meal.
Reading Wandering Eater’s review of Sage, I knew I had to check it out when in Las Vegas. It was brand new, run by an award winning chef, and featured something called foie gras custard…
 I was there faster than you can say “heart attack.”
 The restaurant, located in the Aria hotel, was huge and upscale, done in dark purples and with traditional chandeliers and furniture offset by whimsical carpets and dishware. Formal yet inviting.
 There were many options on the menu, including a la carte and a 4 course option, but…when in Vegas…ONLY a tasting menu will do.
I suggest you start with the WORLD’S BEST BLOODY MARY…I called it that, they call it the 3-Day Mary. They call it that because the Bloody Mary mix marinates for 3 days before you drink it. When you do drink it, it is incredibly rich – almost as if it has beef broth in it, but the richness comes from the marinated vegetables intermingling with organic tomato vodka. It is spicy with horseradish, tangy with pickles, peppery, sweet and pleasantly bitter, perhaps from the pickles’ brine. Our server told us that the head mixologist grows much of the produce himself, and takes massive pride in this drink.  It is a meal in a glass, and I mean that in the best way possible. Oh…and just one will relax you after you realize that you have lost that unspeakable amount of money in the casino.
 Bacon bread.
 That’s right…soft bread studded with tiny bits of crispy, chewy, salty bacon.
Spread with lavender butter and sea salt, it was delicious. The butter is of particular mention, because the judicious use of lavender made it earthy instead of soapy as so much lavender scented food tastes. It was just a hint of the flower that made it interesting and a contrast to the creamy butter, versus an all-encompassing flavor.
 Market Oysters with Piquillo Pepper and Tabasco Sorbet with Aged Tequilla Migonette. A perfect amuse bouche, these briny bivalves were accented by sweet and spicy sorbet that was more liquid than solid – a great texture to compliment the slippery, salty oyster. The mignonette was totally lost here – there was none of the acidic bite of tequila, unfortunately. That would have really brought this to the next level. Regardless of that fact, this was still an excellent start to the meal.     
 Bigeye Tuna Belly with Oro Blanco Grapefruit, Preserved Lemon and Powdered Olive Oil. Sweet, mild tuna  was positively velvety in the mouth, thanks to the heavy fat content. The citrus taste was too mild for my palate, but the tuna was of such high quality that the lack of bitter or acidic flavors did not harm the dish. It did, however, alert me to the fact that seasonings were very sparingly used in this restaurant – not a downside nor an upside. Just a point.
 Foie Gras Custard Brulee with Rhubarb, Toasted Cocoa Nibs and Salted Brioche.
This BLEW my mind. I have previously had foie gras creme brulee at Eleven Madison Park, but that was richer in both texture and taste, tasting solely of  liver. This was more ethereal, with a lighter texture that disappeared on the heat of my tongue, leaving behind the deep, offally taste of the foie gras.
Buried under a sheath of crispy caramelized sugar and bitter cacao nibs, the foie gras custard was simultaneously unbearably rich and astonishingly light – resulting in the perfect dish. I don’t know how I could even eat it all, but I did. Every last shaving of creamy, rich foie gras disappeared into my mouth.
 I may have cleaned out the bowl with my fingers.
Side note – the brioche was some of the best i have had outside of France. Buttery but not greasy, it was light but had layers of wheaty, salty flavor. It was the perfect vehicle for openfaced foie gras sandwiches.
Scallop and Potato Ravioli with Porcini Mushrooms and Shaved Truffles. This was a very good dish, but not great. The scallops were well cooked, but a bit fishy They did not taste off at all, but they were just very…fishy. Now, I don’t mind that, but it could be offputting to others.
The potatoes was crispy and delicious and the mushroom broth was earthy and deep, but the truffles on top did not release their usual intoxicating smell and taste. That fishiness was just too overpowering.
Liberty Farms Duck Breast with Duck Leg Confit and Seville Sour Orange. Now, here was the stuff! Excellently cooked duck, medium rare and tender but with a crispy layer of fat surrounding the pleasantly gamy meat. The confit was deeply flavored, tasting woodsy and primal next to the rareness of the breast – it was a terrine and excellently prepared. The orange provided a bitter counterpart to the mild meat, and made the duck’s sweetness shine. It even pleased one of the members of our party who swore that she didn’t like duck.
48 Hour Beef Belly, Caramelized Onions, Morel Mushrooms and Pickled Ramps. Delicious – the favorite of some of the diners. The beef must have been cooked sous vide, because instead of being cooked all the way through like short ribs, it was medium rare and iron-y, tender enough to cut with a fork. The (lone) morel was funky and umami-licious – a perfect mushroom in any sense of the word. The onions were sweet and those pickled ramps were the best I have had since ABC Kitchen. They were tangy and piquant but not at all abrasive – somewhere between a cocktail onion and a Vidalia. So, so good and the vinegar cut through the richness of the beef.
An intermezzo of pineapple sorbet was tart and sweet – the perfect segue from main course to dessert. The berries served with it were of particular mention -each one was sweet and well rounded in flavor. Nothing ruins a meal like a bad berry.
Unless you remember how much money you lost at the casino.
Blackberry and Chocolate Cremeaux with Chocolate Fudge, Blackberry Mousse and Powdered Chocolate.
This was very good, not to say amazing.  The fudge was smooth and creamy, the mousse was sharp but sugary as well, and the crunchy cookie at the bottom was totally delightful. The only issue was…I just didn’t like the flavors together. The deepness of the chocolate and the assertive taste of the blackberry were just too discordant to me. They seemed to be competing rather than complimenting each other.
Luckily, this post-dessert cup of mint hot chocolate saved the day. Sweet and creamy with the sharp note of mint cutting through the considerable fat content, it was a childhood favorite grown up.My overall opinion of the meal is mixed. It was well prepared food for the price, the service and decor were excellent, and there were certainly some standouts (that foie gras custard still haunts my DREAMS).
But is it a destination restaurant? I would have to say…no. There are so many restaurants in Las Vegas that are wonderful – Guy Savoy, E by Jose Andres and Joel Robuchon (both the Mansion and L’Atelier) all offer more perfected cooking and a more memorable dining experience. If this were in another location, it would absolutely be a destination spot. But, in Las Vegas, this just fell short of the “wow” factor. I didn’t continue thinking about the meal the way that I should have after we were done eating.
BUT…that said…
I would ABSOLUTELY stop in here for a Bloody Mary and a Foie Gras Custard. Those were both delicious and unique enough to warrant a visit on their own.
After all…you might need some way to forget how much you lost in the casino.
Sage (Aria) on Urbanspoon

Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill, Las Vegas

There are the meals that you eat to try new experiences, and there are the meals that you eat to relive old memories. Then there are the meals that you eat to enjoy old experiences, but they so surpass your expectations, they become new experiences.
This is one such meal. 
Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill, started by the original celebrity chef, is located on the casino floor of the MGM Grand hotel, right in the midst of all the action. It isn’t quiet, but it does maintain a sense of elegance and refinement with its colorful but streamlined decor and consistently courteous and competent waitstaff.
I have eaten here many times for a quick bite, and each time, the food is just what I feel like – well seasoned, inventive spins on classic American dishes.
The only difference this time was that the food was exceptional.
Were the soups always as complex, as herby, as perfectly smooth as this tortilla soup? It had a smoky, earthy flavor that was complemented by the comforting taste of chicken and the kick of cilantro. Not at all hot, but definitely full of spices, it was balanced by chunks of creamy avocado. It was soothing, inviting yet interesting to the palate. A definite appetite starter.
Was the Maytag Blue Cheese Potato Chips always so perfectly balanced a dish? Were the chips always so thin, so crispy, unsalted to let the tangy, pungent, funkiness of the blue cheese show through? The cheese sauce was velvety and creamy with gigantic chunks of soft blue cheese, the heat revealing all of it’s umami flavor.
I love these more than I love my family. True story.
Was the Chinois Chicken Salad always so refreshing yet satisfying?
Puck introduced this salad in the 1998’s at his Chinese fusion restaurant, Chinois on Main. This basically revolutionized the modern Chinese Chicken Salad, with its acidic dressing, lightly poached chicken and shredded vegetables, and the salad is just as delicious today as it was then. The chicken was in credibly tender and flavorful, and the dressing was light but flavorful with acid and sweetness. The vegetables were all shredded to equal sizes, which I SWEAR makes a difference in the taste. The wontons were freshly friend and irresistible, and the peanuts (on the side so my peanut-allergic friend could try some), were candied and crunchy. This is the gold standard of Chinese chicken salad.
Was the pizza always so…pretty good for restaurant pizza?
I really don’t’ know the answer to this – I haven’t ever tried the pizza here before. But this had outstanding toppings – tender meatballs, fragrant with basil and garlic, creamy wads of mozzarella stretching out over vibrant, intensely tomato-ey sauce.
  The crust was a bit thicker than I like, but beneath the pillowy top lay some good char. While I wouln’t order pizza here, it isn’t per se bad. It’s just that everything else is so satisfying.
 Say what you like about Puck – that he sold out, that he is never in the kitchen, that he looks like a cheerful kitchen-elf. Say what you want, but the truth is – his restaurants have damn great food, and this one has especially great prices. This is nice enough for a meal celebrating a birthday, but casual enough to sit at the bar and enjoy a quick burger. The staff is knowledgeable about the items but never tries to upsell. The service is prompt and the food really goes beyond expectations.
And every time I go there, the food is better than I remember it.
Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

Although I have been going to Las Vegas since I was (no exaggeration) 9 years old, I have NEVER eaten a meal off the strip. 
I know, I know….I am a tourist in every sense of the word. 
But this trip, thanks urging from a friend, I made myself go to what some call the greatest Thai restaurant in America:
 Lotus of Siam. You will need a cab to get to the strip mall location, filled with other Asian stores and restaurants. You will think, from the surrounding area, that you might be shot while eating there.
You won’t…probably.
The first thing that hit me was the amount of accolades this place has gotten…it even won a 2010 James Beard Foundation Award calling Saipin Chutima the best chef in the Southwest!
It is a huge restaurant, and extremely casual. Jeans and flip flops are welcome. 
And, be aware…the menu is extensive and confusing. We mostly went with Lotus of Siam specialties and Northern Thai food, since it is hard to find that stuff other places. We did try a few old favorites…
 Pork SATAY with Peanut Sauce and Cucumber Salad. This was the first sign that this meal might be a little out of the ordinary. This satay was juicy, heavily seasoned strips of sweet pork, tangy and flavorful with fresh cucumbers and rich peanut sauce. This was a perfectly balanced dish – salty, spicy, bitter with the char marks and sweet with the rice wine vinegar in the cucumbers. This whet my appetite and actually made me hungrier while I ate it…is that even possible?
 MEE KROB-Crispy noodle mixed with sweet and sour sauce,chicken and shrimp. This can best be described as the savory Thai version of Cracker Jacks. Crispy, sweet, sticky, filled with sweet and tender shrimp, juicy marinated chicken, and shards of bright green onion and fresh bean sprouts. Is this authentic? Who knows? But it was as good a version as I have EVER had. This isn’t spicy at all, so it’s a great choice for those of you who are wimps.
 STUFFED CHICKEN WINGS-Chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, deep fried, served with homemade sweet & sour sauce. Also known as Angel Wings, these are one of my favorite Thai dishes and VERY hard to find, because they are so labor intensive. There is a layer of pork and noodles rolled inside the boned chicken leg before it is fried to juicy, crispy perfection. 
It’s like the original Turducken.
 This was unbelievable. The chicken was so juicy, the pork so sweet and the breading impossibly crunchy. The spices inside were complicated, but I know there was some ginger in there, providing a sharp accent to the sweet sauce served alongside. If you like fried chicken, you HAVE to get this.
 Northern Larb – Ground Pork, Northern Thai Spices, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables. I have professed my love of Larb before, but this is unlike any I have ever had. It was not tangy or acidic, nor did it have the peculiar but wonderful tezture of ground rice powder. This was like ground up BBQ-and that is a compliment. The pork was deeply flavorful, and richer than most pork. It tasted as if it had been pit BBQ’d for hours or even days, bringing out earthy and meaty flavors. The spices in it made it zesty, umami-filled and even pleasantly bitter. Eating it with the crunchy cabbage and slightly floral basil made the flavors well rounded and a different taste sensation than anything I have ever eaten. 
 ISSAN SAUSAGE-Grilled sour pork sausage, served with fresh chili, ginger and peanuts.
This was the standout of the meal. Everyone in my party agreed on that – which, in itself, is a major miracle. The sausage was filled with thick chunks of pork, and had this tangy, acidic flavor that made the meat seem light as vegetables. It had a snappy, crunchy casing and the bits of soft rice within the sausage contrasted pleasantly with the tender pork. Eating a bite with some of the chiles on the side gave a whole new taste to it – now it was even more citrusy, deep, and bright, all at once. I ate more than my fair share, and could have eaten even more.  This was the most revelatory meat product I have eaten in I don’t know how long. 
That’s what she said.
KHAO SOI BRAISED SHORT RIB- The Northern Thai egg noodle is served in curry sauce, coconut cream and braised short rib, garnished with sliced red onion, lime and pickled vegetables. This was my second favorite of the night. I have never had something like this before – almost candy sweet in taste, the texture of the velvety sauce mimicked that of the short rib, which was braised into melting submission. The beef tasted like it had some aromatics like star anise and maybe cinnamon it it, and the cut itself had an irony, almost offal-y taste to it. It was a deeply meaty cut, which provided a backbone to the fragrant coconut, tangy lime and bite of the red onion. The noodles were springy, soft but not mushy and absorbed all the flavor of the sauce perfectly. The fried noodles on top provided crunch, and this was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

No, really…a PPERFECT meal. You might notice that I didn’t talk too much about heat here, and that’s because we asked for most of the meal to be mild. My dining partners were all wimps. But, our server noted that we could make the dishes much, MUCH hotter…and noting from the people around me crying and wiping their noses, he wasn’t kidding. There is a Lotus of Siam in NYC now,and thought hte acclaimed chef isn’t in the kitchen, I just might have to check it out. Because for the price, the relaxed atmosphere, and definitely the food…it would be worth it. 
And it’s worth it to say that I have now eaten a world class meal off the strip. 
Tourist, no more.
Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon