uhockey reviews Day 1 Las Vegas: Comme Ca, Bouchon Bakery, Sage
First of all - thanks to all for the recommendations, Chowhound continues to be the best resource I've yet found to optimize my experiences in the cities I visit. Having enjoyed 24 meals plus a few snacks over the course of 9 days in Las Vegas and Los Angeles the reviews will be slow in coming.
As usual, text will be posted here at Chowhound and full pictures will be available in the blog.
Thanks again, it was a truly memorable trip and hopefully my thoughts will help guide others to similarly great experiences.
Bouchon Bakery - Full text as below, pictures in blog:
…I’m no stranger to Bouchon or its sister Bakery – I’ve been to each of them at least once and to the Vegas location multiple times on each previous trip. Like my previous stays in Vegas this vacation would be no different – except this time the offerings featured a holiday appropriate theme. Visiting the bakery four times during out five days in Vegas many repeats were ordered and all remained as excellent as prior – the Carrot Cake cookie, the Nutter Butter, the Red Velvet Cupcake, the Pistachio Macaron, and the Pain au Chocolate to name a few. Focusing my own ordering on new items and holiday themed selections I managed to sample six new items during the various visits.
Beginning first with the croissant of the month, December featured Dutch Apple. While I personally feel that “croissant” is a bit of a misnomer for such a dense pastry, the dough was unmistakably the same – the difference was the presentation. Essentially a hemi-sected butter croissant topped with cinnamon roasted apples and buttery strudel topping the flavor was that of apple crisp in a warm and portable form.
Moving on to the holiday items, my first would be the Christmas Tree TKO. For those unfamiliar with Keller’s famous take on the Oreo, the recipe is out there and the cookie is divine. This time cut into the shape of a Christmas tree and filled with a mint chocolate cream I personally fancy the original more so as I find mint to be overpowering. On the contrary, however, my mother loved this cookie and ended up with two in her luggage in addition to the two she ate while in Vegas.
Another holiday special featured a frosted shortbread snowflake. At a cost of $4.50 the palm-sized cookie likely weighed in at nearly 8 ounces and if I had to guess the cost was almost entirely based on the full stick of butter included. Dense and crisp, the cookie quite literally melted in the mouth leaving behind a sweet buttery memory. Not for the faint of heart (or high in cholesterol) a single cookie was almost “too much,” but thankfully there was a group of four to split the pair we ordered.
The gingerbread man (and accompanying woman) were a bit of a letdown in my personal opinion. Lightly frosted and quite thin the cookies were hefty in cinnamon and sweetness, but rather lacking in the characteristic gingerbread flavor.
A fan of all things mint and equally of macarons, the Peppermint Macaron was a no-brainer for my mother. For those unfamiliar with Bouchon’s style of Macaron, they are approximately the size of an adult male palm and when fresh they are every bit on par with the best I’ve tasted in the United States. A shining example, the peppermint variation featured the characteristic crackling shell which gave way to the soft and supple cookie within. Filled with a cocoa accented peppermint ganache I know some folks contest that Bouchon’s macarons are too sweet and while I’ll fully admit this was the sweetest I’ve tasted, the flavor was akin to a York Peppermint Patty in cookie form – it was delicious.
The final selection of our visits to Bouchon Bakery would be the Chocolate Bouche de Noel. Served as a 1.5 inch thick slice of the “log” and garnished with meringue mushrooms and cocoa covered almond stones, the chocolate Génoise was rolled and frosted with chocolate buttercream and lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar snow. Dense and filling I was glad I ordered coffee with the cake while my companions contested this was the sort of dish best enjoyed with milk.
Rarely one to revisit the same spot multiple times at all let alone on the same visit I will continue to frequent Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery whenever I have the chance – like when I visited the Beverly Hills location on December 22nd and the Vegas location for Christmas brunch.
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Red Velvet Cafe
7875 W Sahara Ave Ste 103, Las Vegas, NV 89117
Bouchon at The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd South, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Sage - Full text as below, pictures in the blog:
While I cannot be certain of it I'm willing to wager that when Aria was conceptualizing their restaurant collection it was not Shawn McClain that they expected to steal the spotlight - a Beard Award winner in his own right, McClain's fame has largely been limited to the windy city and Sage would be matched up against culinary giants such as Masa, Serrano, Mina, and Vongerichten. Flash forward one year, thousands of diners, multiple awards, and myriad local and national publications naming Sage "best new restaurant" - obviously the midwest has been hiding a secret. With Spring soon to close (rumor has it McClain will be expanding his Vegas foothold) and Green Zebra and Custom House still functioning at a very high level I felt somewhat untrue to my roots choosing Sage as my first McClain experience, but at the same time I'd heard the meal was one that shouldn't be missed.
Having done my research and scouted the menus I called in advance to find out if a tailored tasting menu could be arranged - not a problem at all I was informed by assistant general manager Elaine Hartline. Wanting to experience as great a variety as possible during my visit I suggested nine courses and was quoted a price of $130 plus tax and gratuity - a veritable bargain by Vegas fine dining standards. Arriving early for my 7pm reservation I located Sage easily upon exiting Crystals and wandered the Aria property, perhaps my favorite in Vegas, before checking in at the hostess stand where I was greeted by two lovely young ladies and subsequently by Elaine herself, with a copy of the tailored menu printed out and presented to me on arrival to the table.
Having already walked past the expansive bar and through the well adorned lounge I must say that the dining room at Sage is amongst the most dramatic in Vegas. High ceilings, excellent spacing, minimalist art on the walls, plenty of dark tones and piano finish, plus ample lighting at each seat without being too bright between tables - the word "sexy" comes to mind immediately. With ambient forgettable music playing overhead the location and setting does not hide the fact that you are in Vegas, but at the same time you feel miles away from a "casino restaurant." Not as secluded as Savoy, Robuchon, Twist, or Alex, but a different experience entirely - Sage feels accessible, a place where a drink and appetizers, a course or two a la carte, or a tasting menu are equally valued and nice jeans and a button down shirt look just as appropriate as the Tom Ford suit you could buy next door.
Greeted promptly by the captain of my service team, a friendly yet somewhat smug fellow named Jason, I was offered a drink which I declined after a day that had begun at 4:30am Eastern time - water was ordered as my sole beverage and remained greater than 3/4 full by the exemplary ancillary staff throughout the meal. Affirming that there were no dietary restrictions the next person I would meet was the bread man who also kept me quite full throughout the meal. With two options including bacon brioche and a crunchy salted baguette the breads both featured a nice crumb and were nicely complimented house-whipped Midwestern cows butter and Murray River sea salt.
Starting the meal, the amuse of the night would prove a subtle opening volley on an otherwise heavy menu. Described as Dungeness crab salad with Picholine Olive and Sutsuma Orange the crab itself was sweet and flavorful - accented only mildly by a light vinaigrette. With the olives lending their characteristic bitter flavor and the orange proving an ample foil, the serving size was also quite impressive for an amuse.
Beginning the menu proper (I'd told the chefs to send out my courses in whatever order they felt ideal) my first course would be perhaps Sage's most famous dish - the Foie Gras Creme Brulee with Blood Orange, Gran Marnier Glaze, Cocoa Nibs, and Salted Brioche. Cracking the crisp crust and taking a bite the custard was ethereal - light yet harboring the very essence of liver with notes of egg, orange, and cocoa largely detectable on the palate more so than the tongue. Eating slowly each bite was as good as the last and pairing the custard with the crunchy and buttery brioche was every bit on par with the best torchon I've ever had - at The French Laundry - and if possible Sage's version was even lighter and more flavorful.
Already abuzz with anticipation of what could follow such an incredible opening act my second course would prove equally competent. Titled Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with Smoked Ricotta Cream Sauce, Truffle Puree, and Parsnips the pasta was absolutely flawless - pillows of potato accented air that dissolved on the tongue. Utilizing crispy parsnips and fresh spinach for textural variation while liberally topping the plate with fresh shaved truffles and a pleasantly subtle cream sauce with hits of parsley and chive the entirety of the amalgam tasted something akin to a baked potato with the aroma of truffles.
For my third course I received the only dish that did not wow me in every regard. Described as Main Lobster Agnolotti with Lemon Olive Oil, Mascarpone, Haricots Verts, and Mustard I was hesitant the moment I heard the word mustard and while the flavor was understated, it still overwhelmed the sweet and understated lobster. Again using incredibly fresh vegetables, this time haricot verts, to add texture to the creamy pasta I will note that the Agnolotti themselves were exquisite, but as usual I simply find mustard too pungent a spice for ingredients as pleasantly nuanced as mascarpone and lobster.
As good as the foie gras and gnocchi were, my favorite savory of the meal would turn out to be the fourth course - Slow-poached Organic Farm Egg, Smoked Potato, Shaved Winter Truffle, Toasted Country Bread. Always one to favor egg dishes, everything from the presentation to the flavor of this course was immaculate. Served in a bowl at least 1 foot in diameter with a creamy foam of creme fraiche topped with shaved truffles as the only visual stimulus on arrival, the smell of the dish was that of truffle and smokiness. Plunging my spoon deep and piercing the creamy egg I mixed slowly while enjoying the aroma before taking a bite - smooth potato gratin, creamy egg, the mild tang of the creme fraiche, and the aroma of truffle rising to the palate. Again eating slowly and using the bread to soak up every last drop there is no doubt that this dish falls on my year's top ten flavors.
Moving on to heavier courses, dish five featured Roasted Sweetbreads with glazed pork belly, creamy white polenta, crispy spinach, and trumpet mushrooms. Served still sizzling in the roasting pan this dish would prove to be the smallest serving of the night - thankfully so considering how rich it all was. With a base of white polenta made with cream and mascarpone the next layer featured crispy spinach leafs and atop this was a fricasse of two pan seared and creamy sweetbreads, two chunks of pork belly, and a handful of fibrous mushrooms. Cheese, pork belly, sweetbreads - really, the flavors had no chance to fail - but what made the dish truly lovely were the mushrooms and crispy spinach which served to balance the hefty proteins.
My sixth plate would prove to be another stunner - and the best duck I've yet to experience in Las Vegas. Titled Grimaud Farms Duck, Celery Root Puree, Confit Leg, Heirloom Apples and also featuring crispy Fried Kale and Black Mission Figs the duck itself was meaty without being gamey and fatty without being overly so. With crispy skin the three one ounce slices of duck were perched atop an unctuous and salty confit of leg while the plate was topped with a reduction of fig and balsamic. Sitting at the base of the plate, a pave of celery root topped with apples and figs - bitter and sweet, multi-textured, and seamlessly melding with the duck forms above.
My final savory found me getting full - something that doesn't often happen with a simple 9-courses, but I'm rather certain Sage was serving me "full portions," despite the low price and extended menu. Arriving hot and smelling of sweetness and smoke, Iberico Pork Loin with Brussels Sprouts, Crispy Confit Shoulder, and Smoked Dates was nicely done and surprisingly light for a pork dish. Featuring two thin slices of loin crusted with brown sugar the pork itself was easily cut with the edge of a fork and its succulent flavor was well met by the vegetal components of Brussels Sprout Leafs and the smoky cut dates. Tucked beneath the loin, the "crispy confit shoulder" was actually something like an egg roll made with phyllo dough and porchetta with a puree of dates mixed in.
Impressed and full I can honestly say that Sage was the first time in a while that two desserts seemed like perhaps "too much," but with a pastry kitchen like that at Sage I would have been a fool to cut myself off. Taking a small break while I enjoyed a French press of Avanti coffee, I chatted with my server a bit and was once again visited by Ms. Hartline who wanted to make sure everything was going well. Asked if I was ready to proceed with desserts, I agreed.
Arriving first, Winter Spice Cake Doughnut Holes with Malted Milkshake and Fresh Cranberry Sauce featured half a dozen golf-ball sized doughnuts piping hot and coated in cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. "Made for dipping" according to my server, the paired sauce was more cranberry puree than sauce and much sweeter than any traditional cranberry sauce I've ever tasted. Intensely sweet, the doughnut and sauce combination was nicely balanced by the creamy and mild vanilla tones of the milkshake.
Following the doughnuts, a much more dense dessert, but the obvious "must order" for myself. Indeed served as a full portion as I'd seen others receive this dish a la carte, Warm Brioche Bread Pudding with Roasted Pecans, Myer's Rum Sauce, and Brown Butter Ice Cream was absolutely the best non-chocolate bread pudding I've ever tasted. Soaked through yet delicately crisp on the exterior the buttery brioche was spongy without being wet or heavy. Topped with a thick and boozy sauce and then with a quenelle of rich and buttery ice cream the dish found contrast in temperature while crunchy pecans proved a crunchy foil to the otherwise soft and intensely sweet dish.
Completely and utterly satisfied, my final taste of Sage would be delivered with the modest tab - a small glass of Orange Caramel Infused Hot Chocolate. Tasty and rich I do wonder whether this dish pays homage to the time McClain spent at Trio (and its disciple TRU) where Tramonto and Gand are known to complete meals with a similar citrus infused cocoa.
Settling the tab with a sizable tip I collected my menu and made my way for the doors. Despite being nearly 10:15pm, the restaurant remained at least 1/2 full while the lounge area and bar were seated at approximately 75% capacity. Bid farewell by my server and breadman, bartenders and Ms. Hartline everything about the visit felt very friendly and inviting, much like the cuisine. The first dinner in a truly over-the-top week of eating, I still look back fondly on my experience at Sage. Call it Midwestern sensibility if you like, but there is simply something to be said for the elegant yet accessible nature of what McClain and team are doing at Sage - the space, service, and prices are nothing like the top tier of Vegas dining - but the experience and food every bit as impressive.
)3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Brilliant review uhockey (so glad that you were able to post this before your heavy work schedule). Based on your review, I'm definitely adding Sage to my list of restaurants when I return to LV in April. I may even ask for a personalized tasting menu that includes most of your dishes.
I guess I'll add a slightly different perspective from a meal we had there last week:
Pictures at http://insert-food.blogspot.com/2010/...
I try to keep text to a minimum because I write far too much at work every day :
)I guess my biggest disappointment was the duck, which was overcooked in my case (compared to uhockey's splendid-looking picture)
Amuse - "Salad" of apple, tangerine and chevre
To start, we were presented a delightful amuse of apple, tangerine and goat cheese. Deceivingly simple, the sweet crunch of the apple was perfectly-balanced with the acidity of the tangerine and creaminess of the chevre. This bite effectively encompassed sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
Wagyu beef tartare
Crushed caper aioli, slow-poached egg, pickled mustard seeds, crispy chocolate
The crispy chocolate really took this dish above and beyond a run-of-the-mill tartare. It acted in concert with the egg yolk to enhance the beefy flavour of the tartare, and also provided an essential delicate crunch to each bite.
Pacific yellowtail crudo
Shaved trumpet mushrooms, black winter truffles, toasted pine nuts
This dish had a lot of potential - the combination of seafood with the earthiness of truffles and pine nuts was an unexpected and brilliant combination. However, I found that the fish and truffles were both sliced far too thick, muddying the flavours.
Slow-poached farm egg
Shaved black winter truffles, smoked potato puree, toasted country bread
This plate was tied for favourite dish of the evening with the roasted sweetbreads (below). The heady aroma of truffles wafted forth as soon as it was set on the table, bathing us in its decadence. Really, this is a combination that cannot fail. The country bread was perfect for dipping into the creamy yolk. The only thing that marred the experience was the graininess of the potato puree - it detracted significantly from the silky sensation of the other components.
Roasted sweetbreads and glazed bacon
Creamy white polenta, trumpet mushrooms, spinach
Sweetbreads and bacon - 'nuff said. The polenta and spinach were an excellent foil to the richness of the proteins, while the mushrooms (meaty in their own right) served to bridge the flavours of the other components.
Grimaud Farms duck breast
Celery root puree, duck leg confit, heirloom apples
The most disappointing dish of the evening, especially after I'd heard many good things written about it by others. The breast was overcooked, the skin chewy. I take full blame for not sending it back to the kitchen, but certain factors that cannot be mentioned here prevented me doing so. The confit leg was also a letdown, being somewhat stringy and lacking the mouthfeel one would usually expect. A real shame, because the other components were excellent and I can imagine that this could have been a real stunner.
Warm honeycrisp apple cheesecake
Hazelnut crust, apple butter, sour cream gelato
At our server's suggestion, we ended with the honeycrisp apple cheesecake. I can't think of a better way to evoke the Midwest in a dessert. The cake was sweet, but not overly so, and it played well with the slightly-tart sour cream gelato. The apple butter, in moderation, also provided a depth of caramel notes that worked well with everything else. The only weakness here was the actual hazelnut crust, which was slightly soggy.
This meal didn't really change my opinion of Chef McClain's cuisine. Once again, a perfectly good meal (with a few missteps), but nothing that was truly exceptional. Perhaps others will resonate more with his food, but it seems that we are just on ever-so-slightly different wavelengths. That being said, dinner was very reasonably priced ($230 after tax/tip, including 4 drinks), and I'm not sure one would be able to find a better deal on the Strip. I would definitely recommend this place if you've never tried Shawn McClain's food, as it is his best showing yet.
Too bad the duck fell flat - it is my favorite in Vegas (even better than Robuchon or Twist, and about 1/2 the price.)
Glad we agree on the egg and the sweetbreads, though for sweetbreads I'd recommend L'Atelier or Guy Savoy.....good lord they were excellent. You should've got the Foie.
We shared the sweetbreads, but she wouldn't have wanted to have any foie gras :)
But you raise a good point - I've never bothered looking up the nutritional info for either:
A quick search says (for 2 oz of each):
Foie gras - 250 calories, 24 g fat (7 saturated), 210 mg cholesterol, negligible carbs, 6 g protein
Sweetbreads (thymus) - 180 calories, 14 g fat (5 saturated), 166 mg cholesterol, negligible carbs, 12 g protein
So I guess sweetbreads are marginally better for you, although we tend to eat them in larger quantities, so it's a wash!
Comme Ca - Full text as below, pictures in the blog:
…the new kids on the block, but not really, is probably the best way to describe the collection of restaurants at Vegas’ newest property – the Cosmopolitan. Sheik, swank, dazzling, and quite frankly over-the-top I have to say the property is impressive and actually downright sexy – it somehow feels “softer” than other Vegas resorts. Obviously taking a cue from the rest of Vegas (save for WynnCore,) The Cosmo outsourced its dining operations to a number of well known chefs and aside from a Conant and Andres most of them opted to port over a previous concept to the luxurious confines instead of creating something new. With 8 days of eating planned across Las Vegas and Los Angeles it seemed only fitting that my first meal of the visit would be at David Meyers’ LA import Comme Ca.
Trained by Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud (as well as at Les Crayères,) Meyers is perhaps the least well known of the star chefs at The Cosmopolitan with all of his previous efforts located in Southern California – first Sona, later Comme Ca, and recently Pizzeria Ortica – but unlike the others his resume includes a Michelin Star. Arriving early for my noon lunch reservation I fully anticipated some kinks in a 2-day old restaurant…what I didn’t expect was to find Meyers working the kitchen, the room, and even the bar. I also didn’t expect to find a room quite so modern.
Arriving early I was greeted pleasantly and led swiftly to a two-top near the floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the rainy strip. Simple and clean on the interior with a fantastic looking patio adorned with red lamps for outdoor dining the feel of Comme Ca was not exactly “French Bistro” but “French Vegas Bistro” – clearly a stylistic choice befitting Meyers and a move I personally enjoyed since Pinot, Bouchon, and even Mon Ami Gabi seem to try to hide the fact that they are indeed located in Las Vegas.
Provided a menu, wine, and cocktail list I browsed for a bit before my server, a humble and helpful gent named Robert (originally from just up the road in Sandusky Ohio) greeted me, answered a few questions (soup du jour, no substitutions on the lunch prix fixe, and not all the charcuterie was in stock yet,) and took my order. Sitting back and listening to the soft French-pop over the speakers it was a matter of moments before my first taste of Comme Ca would arrive – a hot and buttery soft baguette with a texture almost like an Amish pretzel – a nice start and in my opinion superior to Bouchon’s famed epi in all ways except the ice-cold butter (which was largely unnecessary given the buttery flavor of the bread.)
For my first proper dish I opted for the $15 selection of charcuterie in addition to the $28 three course prix fixe. With the pork rillets unavailable I opted for the pate, head cheese, and chicken liver mousse. Served along with lettuce, toasted baguette, cornichons, and mustard the portions were ample and each selection was nicely prepared though I actually found the chicken liver somewhat less flavorful than I’d have hoped while the head cheese was flawless and sliced thinly enough to melt on the tongue leaving behind nothing but a bold and smoky sapor.
For the proper first course of my lunch I would receive the soup du jour – butternut squash bisque with lardons, toasted pumpkin seeds, and crème fraiche. A larger bowl than I’d have expected for a prix fixe the “bisque” was more ”veloute” with its creamy yet vegetal finish and a slight tang from the crème fraiche. With intermittent flares of crunch and salinity from the lardons and seeds the dish was nicely prepared with hints of nutmeg and pepper occasionally shining through and again, the portion was unexpectedly sizable.
With the place slowly filling to approximately half capacity the service remained excellent throughout – water never dropped below half full and I was checked in on frequently. With approximately 15 minutes passing between soup and main course my next dish to arrive would be one of my standards – the Croque Madame. Served with a frisee salad topped with mild vinaigrette the Croque itself featured two slices of country bread – buttered and pan toasted inside and out – enveloping two thin-cut pieces of ham and gruyere with a second layer of gruyere melted and toasted atop the sandwich. Crowning the composition with a lightly salted sunny side egg and served piping hot this was a very competent Croque with excellent ingredients and the ham/egg/cheese/bread amalgam still remains my favorite sandwich ever since I was a boy and Denny’s Moons over My-Hammy was the standard bearer.
Sitting for approximately 15 minutes between my Croque and dessert I enjoyed three cups of Illy Regular blend while listening to the French-Pop overhead and watching the motion on the strip. Sated but certainly not stuffed prior to dessert I was pleasantly surprised when my profiteroles arrived – three portions of choux pastry approximately one and a half times the size of a golf ball topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and wisps of spun sugar. Topped tableside with thick Valhrona chocolate fudge I was further surprised when I plunged my spoon into the pile only to discover the pastries themselves were stuffed with a mellow pastry cream. A full portion as part of a prix fixe the choice was certainly a gluttonous choice at lunch but every bit worth the calories.
Finishing the meal and paying the modest tab (about 35-40% less than a similar 4-course at Bouchon) I made my way to the door where I was stopped by Chef Meyers and a man who introduced himself as the Dining Room Manager who asked how everything had been - while I regrettably forgot to ask for a signed menu despite the opportunity, both the men were pleasantly conversant and seemed quite interested in what I (and multiple diners before me) thought of the food, room, and service. Impressed that such a new restaurant was executing so well I told them exactly that and both seemed pleased and thanked me for coming in – a nice gesture to end an excellent lunch. Whether Comme Ca will remain as impressive once Meyers returns to Los Angeles remains to be seen, but for now I wholeheartedly recommend a visit, whether for a full meal or just drinks, appetizers, and excellent service in a beautiful space.