CityCenter had many factors working against it when it opened two years ago. There was controversy. There was backlash before all of its glorious glass-covered buildings were complete, a phenomenon absent from Las Vegas Boulevard since haters first doubted Steve Wynn’s Mirage. CityCenter has been hard to define in the context of Vegas, but early negativity clouded one of the project’s most obvious assets: its incredible, game-changing restaurant collection, one of the Strip’s all-time best.
And then, just one year in, the Cosmopolitan opened next door, with style and hype to spare. Cosmo stole the show, restaurant-wise, leaving CityCenter to its quiet, silver self. And that’s too bad, because while whatever is new and exciting will always be in the Vegas spotlight, there are so many other spots—restaurants in particular—that are simply too worthy to be ignored. The restaurants of Aria, Crystals and Mandarin Oriental are fantastic, overall, and a few are unmissable.
- Aria, 877-230-2742
- Monday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
Then there is Sage, easily one of the best restaurants in the city, certainly the best experience in Aria and the one thing you will hate yourself for missing if you never visit CityCenter. Conceptualized by San Diego native chef Shawn McClain, Sage offers highly sophisticated, contemporary American food with an eye on sustainable, farm-fresh ingredients. It’s a right-now, big-city restaurant in our shiny little desert town, but don’t let the serious-food surroundings intimidate you.
Check in at the supremely cool, amber-and-purple lounge for a boutique beer or cocktail and browse the menu. The snacks available here—oysters, Wagyu tartare, a ridiculously delicious slow-poached egg over smoked potatoes and shaved summer truffles—should spark your return for dinner. You are not a Vegas foodie if you haven’t eaten here.
The dining room has high ceilings and more purple, a temple of awesomeness, kinda like a bordello fortress. The tasting menus change more often than the seasons, but with an early evening (5-7 p.m.) menu at $49 and a full four courses at $79, Sage stays accessible. October treats included a golden pear and Brussels sprout salad with bacon mustard vinaigrette and 48-hour braised beef belly in a fig glaze. The melting-butter earthy richness of the latter dish was almost overwhelming. Almost.
The one signature dish at Sage that has received a decent amount of attention is the foie gras custard brûlée, which sounds far too sweet but is actually light and delicate, a savory cloud with a crisp top and a bit of brandy smoothing it over. The salted brioche served with it is almost as good as the bacon baguette that you might be lucky enough to eat from the rotating daily bread basket.
Heirloom beets roasted in duck fat with Jamón Ibérico and toasted pecans. Sweet corn tortelloni with lobster mushrooms, chard and pancetta. Dayboat scallops with rapini and a salted caramel reduction. (That last one is my favorite, an unbelievable blend of sweet, briny and bitter.) You just aren’t going to find this food all over the place, which is why Sage is so significant. If you’ve ignored the restaurants of Aria, if CityCenter has left you cold, let this experience re-introduce and warm you back up. You won’t be disappointed.