Monday, February 25, 2013

Sage at the Aria Hotel - Las Vegas (NV)

Sage Advice

Ok, maybe making an 8pm reservation at Sage wasn’t the smartest idea since we’d been drinking margaritas by the pool all day and were feeling a bit woozy, but this was Vegas and we needed to wake up – nothing like a four-course tasting menu to get you perky!!

Fabrics and draperies thicker than the coat on my tongue padded Sage’s salon, running parallel to a backlit bar whose quiet cosmopolitan glow worked its way down to the entrance of a shockingly dark dining room with heavy woods and a bluish-purple light filtering across the floor.

We were led to a carved out niche that gave us total privacy, but my chair was skinnier than Kate Moss and this model didn’t have any arms. An enormous raised base at the bottom of the table forced us to either rest our feet on top or keep one leg to either side of the giant mound, and neither were optimal choices. I hated to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this hump put me in a slump (literally) and made my body feel heavy before any food touched my lips (sometimes little details are big ones).



MARKET OYSTERS: Piquillo Pepper and Tabasco Sorbet, Aged Tequila Mignonette
I got so distracted by the idea of Tabasco sorbet that I ignored the shaved pear and Brussels sprouts salad with bacon-mustard vinaigrette and foie gras brulee – damn! But even though I didn’t order the brulee, I still got burned. The thick, semi-frozen liquid that Sage was calling sorbet created what looked like a bloody crime scene atop the oyster. It was clearly death by suffocation as the delicate oyster was smothered by a thick blanket of red, plasma-like fluid that hadn’t set properly and didn’t resemble the icy palate cleanser in any way.

WAGYU BEEF TARTAR: Crushed Caper Aioli, Slow Poached Egg/Crispy Chocolate
After a few bites of the tartar, Bubba said, “This reminds me of raw hamburger meat.” I really couldn’t disagree. The knife cuts were clunky and chunky, so when the large cubes of beef were mixed with the richness of egg yolk, it became of wet ball of meaty goo that sat like a lead balloon in our stomachs = Wag-goo.


MAINE DAYBOAT SCALLOPS: Braised Oxtail, Wild Mushrooms, Salted Caramel Reduction
Bubba adored his scallops and I wish I could have followed suit because they looked like the best thing to hit the table so far. But to me, scallops were like a hot guy that I just couldn’t stand – I wished I could like them, but there was no chemistry. That didn’t mean I wasn’t coveting their caramelized edges poised atop shredded oxtail and mingling between broccoli’s crunch and an earthy balance of mushrooms. The salted caramel reduction brought out the scallops’ inherent sweetness with a dose of salt that kept it savory.

GRILLED SPANISH OCTOPUS: Smoked Potato Puree, Romesco, Marcona Almond (no pic available)
They’d gotten a hold on the octopus as far as its tender texture, but the overwhelming abundance of smoke from the potato puree blurred the rest of the dish and blinded my taste-buds from identifying any flavor (other than sour grapes) after the first bite. Sour grapes + octopus = sourpuss.


AUSTRALIAN WAGYU SIRLOIN: La Ratte Potato Puree, Red Onion Jam, Confit Baby Radish (SUPPLEMENT $15)
I went with the Wagyu, hoping I’d have better luck with this than with the tartar, and apparently, all that meat needed was a little heat because this raised the steak to a whole new level. Pureed potatoes sat puffed up like starchy whipped cream and completed this picture-perfect “meat and potatoes” portrait, even if it wasn’t that original.

48 HOUR BEEF BELLY: Caraway Spiced Heirloom Squash, Roasted Quince

48 hour beef belly? More like 48 hour fatback. This was layered like lasagna with sheets of glistening fat and cross-stitched with cellulite. There was no specific part to cut off because it was all infected. Talk about a whole different animal (literally) than my precious pork belly…this could take some time to get used to, and 48 hours clearly wasn’t enough.


GIANDUJA PAVE: Olive Oil Ice Cream, Hazelnut Crunch, Basil Jam
This won “Best in Show” for the entire meal and could have been entered into an edible art exhibit. Every accent looked as if it had naturally fallen there like finding a piece of sea glass in the sand or a washed up piece of driftwood while walking along the beach. Instead, it was a walk along a chocolate beam where I collected bites of hazelnut crunchies, scooped up dabs of basil jam and took a dip in olive oil ice cream, all cataloged in my mind's scrapbook as some of Vegas’ most precious, local specimens.

PISTACHIO TART: Sautéed Strawberries, Honeyed Mascarpone, Strawberry-Black Pepper Gelato
This was another inspired idea that fell short when it came to execution. Promises of peppery gelato – poppycock! There was nothing peppery about this ice cream, which made me all the saltier. The heavy discus of pistachio also fell short (and hard) with a dry, dense quality whose taste wasn't worth the weight...or the wait. Check please!

My Sage advice: Well, it looked like the house won again. I'd recommend dropping into Sage for a drink at the bar and possibly dessert, but the only tables worth hitting here, were the betting tables.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fig Tree Cafe (Hillcrest) - San Diego, Ca

A Tree grows in Hillcrest
I guess MLK really liked his eggs because whenever his designated day rolled around, everyone celebrated by going out to breakfast. Well, that’s how it seemed when Tiff and I spotted a Disneyland-like line outside of Snooze before hearing there was an hour wait. Since we’d just dumped all of our change into the meter, we needed a close by contender to make up for our nickel-less knickers and rounding the corner, there was Fig Tree.

Tree huggers: A metal railing lassoed sidewalk tables, but missed us as we ducked into Fig Tree's narrow corridor comprised of exposed brick on the right, and stocked, wooden wine shelves stretching to the ceiling on the left, leaking enough space between bottles to peek in the dining room. And it was packed. Luckily, we spotted a couple of open seats at the bar that gave us an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the kitchen and an aerial view of the dining room’s marriage of metal and Mother Nature.

There was a raw element to Fig Tree, especially the back wall of brushed concrete showcasing a super-sized, steel square of industrial art, whose hole-punched front displayed a flourishing tree when lit up at night (almost like a new age Light-Brite). Exposed, Edison-style light bulbs and coarse, thick rope wound around overhead lights brought a little tangled chaos to the clean edge. I felt like I was in the nest of a very stylish bird.


Meatloaf Hash: three eggs any style + spinach + diced meatloaf + pesto + house potatoes

We were tempted to try some “man candy” (thick bacon + brown sugar + paprika), but decided to hit a heartier note with the meatloaf hash. I wouldn’t necessarily say the potatoes were crispy, though they were well-seasoned and added some needed texture, but it was the pesto finish that gave this hash a more potent high than THC, keeping the beef incredibly moist, while adding some herbaceous depth. A few loose leaves of spinach let me pretend this was healthy, but all I really had my eye on were the eggs.

I have to admit that I’m a total egg snob and rarely order them out because I’m always disappointed, but these over easy eggs were like angels’ eyeballs…and I couldn’t wait to poke them out. The whites were at that almost never achieved point of completely cooked, but still buttery without brown edges and the yolks could have won a marathon with the way they ran. Loaded on a piece of sourdough, I’m talking serious egg ecstasy (it probably helped that Fig Tree bought their eggs fresh from Ramona).

Flatbread: mozzarella + braised short ribs + rosemary potatoes + horseradish crème fraiche

As hard as I am on eggs, I’m even a worse critic of crust - I’m talking Judge Judy level of scrutiny here. Fig Tree called this flatbread, but to me, it tasted like some serious east coast style, pizza crust*. Its thin profile was barely puffed from the pizza oven, but the heat had formed a simple sturdiness and the rare ability to hold its shape – no front nose-flops here!

Besides holding its shape (and my attention), the crust stayed solid under the bulk of meat and potatoes. The short rib was aptly named because it fell a little short in the flavor department and its thin slices were overshadowed by the sizzling “carb on carb” action taking place between the crust and rosemary potatoes. Though, the horseradish crème fraiche worked its sensory magic of heating the tongue, yet cooling in the same instant and spicing up the somewhat timid short rib.

*They also offer pizza, but the crust looked a bit thicker.

Strange fruit: I was happy with our choices, but for some reason I couldn’t see myself choosing Fig Tree when planning an “eating outing” – can’t really say why. We hit high points and not necessarily any lows, but I was left with the feeling that it was just “ok”. Fig Tree reminded me of a likeable booty call. I’d remember them fondly when they were brought up, even if I had no plans on seeing them again soon. But if I was in the area and feeling a little hungry, I’d definitely hit them up…because I had to admit, they had some tasty junk in the Fig Tree trunk.