Executive chef Shawn McClain's restaurant, Sage, has taken the strip to a new level of seasonal dining. This year, McClain is drawing on new sources for a harvest menu to end all harvest menus.
The charred baby octopus caponata is a consistent favorite at Sage.
Although born in San Diego, Shawn McClain, the executive chef at Sage, declares, “I’m a Midwestern guy.” He did his culinary training in Chicago and honed his skills there at Trio, Spring, Custom House, and Green Zebra, gathering awards along the way. So it should come as no surprise that he welcomes the changing season and the task of thoughtfully deciding how to utilize the harvest’s bounty. “Fall is just one of those awesome seasons.... Psychologically, it’s one of the best seasons to move into,” he says. “And there are so many great foods that go along with that.”
Richer, more savory favors make their way onto the menu as fall settles in. Beef belly, short ribs, and veal cheeks are on offer, but it’s the Snake River Ranch wagyu-beef rib cap—the fatty, full-favored outer cap of the rib eye—that no one should miss. Sitting atop celery root and apple accented with nutty brown butter, garnished with earthy black truffles, and finished with a red wine reduction with a hint of aromatic nutmeg, the dish is a veritable homage to harvest season. “We would like to showcase pristine and amazing ingredients in somewhat fabulous ways,” explains McClain. He utilizes as many cooking techniques as possible, treating ingredients in unexpected ways, and turning what could be a ho-hum, ubiquitous farm-to-table experience into a series of gustatory delights. With these outcomes, it is no surprise that McClain was touting (and vehemently committed to) “seasonality” and “sustainability” long before those buzzwords became fashionable. Some dishes contain ingredients that undergo no fewer than three techniques each to maximize favor and texture. Meaty wild-caught Columbia River sturgeon is cured, smoked, and then briefly cooked sous vide to lend more texture to the fish, which is accompanied with buckwheat tuiles, early-fall potatoes, fennel and horseradish, and crowned with caviar.
Much like the seasons, Sage’s menu is constantly evolving, with dishes rotating off the menu to highlight only those ingredients at their peak. “Our menu is really driven by products,” explains McClain. “Dishes will have targets on them and be subbed out when an ingredient is no longer available.” A riff on a classic Italian dish highlights the bitter winter greens kale and rapini, unexpectedly adds eggplant (it’s a nice bridge between the seasons, McClain notes), and lends some heat with peppers before quite literally fattening up with some house-made sausage tossed with cavatelli and cheese. “Only a few [meals] always remain, including the crowd-pleasing grilled Spanish octopus, which is tweaked to keep with the season—Bloomsdale spinach gives way to Lacinato kale, and pumpkin seeds replace Marcona almonds in the romesco sauce. Adding potatoes and heirloom apples lends serious seasonal fair.
While paying the utmost respect to the tenets of farm- to-table, “we want to stay progressive and inventive” explains McClain. Mission accomplished. Aria Las Vegas, 877-230-2742