Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's a bit late, but here's my report on my second dinner at Sage, last Friday, December 18. I freely admit my bias, but I'm not the only one who had a great dinner there that night. Here's another review from a more objective source.

Sage, and ARIA, were a little busier on Friday. I had a little more trouble finding a parking space, although it might not have been quite so hard if only alternative fuel vehicles had been parked in the alternative fuel vehicle parking. So it goes.

I arrived early for my reservation, so I took some time to explore the casino a little more thoroughly. I went upstairs to look at the buffet and the shops. The buffet looked okay, but I didn't get a chance to check out the prices or menu. They were accessible via a touch-screen, and somebody else was playing with it. I also found some sort of upscale clothing store upstairs, an ice-cream parlor, and the arcade.

Overall, I thought the upper level was kind of dull compared to the downstairs. The color scheme was more whites, beige, and creams, and reminded me of a shopping mall. The arcade was particularly brightly lit, and the machines were evenly spaced out along the wall. It looked more like a video game museum than an arcade.

On my way to the restaurant, I stopped to look at the menu for Cafe Centro, which appears to be the hotel cafe. The prices looked pretty high for what appears to be standard coffee shop food. $15 for a burger? Entrees starting at $25? If I'm going to pay that amount of money, I might as well just pay a little more and go to Sage.

Which I did. This evening, I started with the Beef Tartare, based on yet another recommendation from Lura. It tasted very nice, with the chocolate stout enhancing it nicely. What I really liked was the slow poached egg. I had never had anything quite like it before. It looked like an egg yolk over easy or medium, but it was thick and creamy, not runny at all. I realize that I must sound like the complete rube describing it like that, but I really wasn't expecting it to be quite so, well, spreadable.

This evening, instead of selecting my own wine, I put myself in the hands of a sommelier. And he recommended I accompany the beef tartare with the same Syrah I had enjoyed the previous evening. So maybe I'm learning something about this stuff after all.

For my entree, I had the Roasted Day Boat Scallops. Like the veal cheeks the night before, they were so tender, it was almost like eating scallop-flavored butter or jello or something. Some of the scallops had some grit, but since we experienced the same thing at Chez Panisse, I'm thinking that's just what happens with scallops.

The braised oxtail and wild mushrooms served with the scallops were very rich and flavorful, and helped keep the dish from tasting too fishy. Obviously, with a seafood dish, you expect it's going to taste like fish. However, this dish avoided the blandness of the scallops we had in Berkeley, while not going down the easy path of just adding spices. Nor did the flavors of the oxtail and mushrooms overwhelm the scallops. It was a great balance, and I really enjoyed it.

The sommelier recommended a Joseph Drouhin Mersault to go with the scallops. I'm not a particularly big fan of white wines. Too often, they either taste too dry or too fruity for my taste. This one--I say, at risk of sounding like Goldilocks--tasted just right.

Then came the most important part: dessert. This time around, I opted for the Roasted Winter Pear Tarte Tatin and the Warm Sugared Beignets. (The menu calls them Warm "Sugared" Beignets, but they really are sugared, so I'm not sure why the quotes. Trying to court favor with the illiterate, perhaps?)

The pear tarte was something I had sampled in its development phase at home. We had also had a similar dish at Chez Panisse. Lura's was better than Chez Panisse: more pears, and a stronger flavor. To be honest, I think I preferred the one she made at home to the one in the restaurant. The earlier version had a softer crust, which I actually like a little better. I'm kind of a spaz, and if I'm trying to cut through a harder crust with my fork, I end up knocking all the fruit and stuff off. But that's me. It was still great.

The tarte is served with blue cheese ice cream, which sounded kind of gross at first. Actually having it in the restaurant, with the dessert it was intended to be served with, was a revelation. The two together matched perfectly.

The beignets resulted in a bit of confusion. They were served in a warm apple sauce, and came accompanied with a small cup of jasmine tea cider. I had forgotten that, and my server just described the jasmine tea as a sauce for the beignets. So they were already sitting in the one sauce, and I thought I was supposed to dip them in this other sauce. Too confusing, but not my fault, and not Lura's either.

Of course, they tasted great. However, because they were all piled up in a bowl on top of the apple sauce, the ones on the bottom ended up pretty soaked and soggy. In a perfect world, I would have liked the beignets to be served separate from the sauce (or sauces, as far as I knew). That way, I could mix them or dip them or whatever as evenly as I wanted.

Still, how many James Beard awards have I won? What do I know?

This evening, the restaurant was kind enough to pay for my wine. Unexpected, and very much appreciated.

It'll probably be a month or so before I go back to Sage. I just can't afford to eat like that all the time. But I will definitely be going back, and not just because Lura works there. It's good, straightforward food that I can understand and appreciate, with enough twists to keep things interesting.

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