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Executive Chef Shawn McClain

Executive Chef Shawn McClain

TravelsinTaste.com recently sat down with Executive Chef Shawn McClain while we dined at Sage in Aria at CityCenter in Las Vegas. The chef/owner of Spring and Green Zebra restaurants in Chicago, he's known for traditional, refined and sensible cuisine that's elevated with innovative concepts. We were anxious to talk with the chef about those innovative concepts, including his inspiration for and the secrets behind them. Because he received the "Best Chef Midwest" award from the James Beard Foundation, and has opened three entirely different restaurants in Chicago (Spring is New American fare with a focus on seafood, Green Zebra puts vegetables front and center, and Custom House is a modern twist on the classic steakhouse), we were anxious to try Chef McClain's New American menu at Sage.

And that's exactly what we did. Before our food arrived, however, we explored the restaurant, which is simply beautiful with its high ceilings and subdued lighting -- almost as if each table has its own private dining experience. Inspired, we asked Chef McClain how he achieved such a phenomenal experience.

"It is incredibly rare, and that is probably one of my first impressions when the dining room started to come together," he told us. "The ideas for the dining room were kind of set in place by the time I became a partner with MGM, and the design of the restaurant was in the hands of a French designer. Originally, back three or four years ago -- when the restaurant started -- it was going to be a bistro; the idea was a modern take on a bistro that's got some tradition to it, and yet you feel like you're up to date. That's what he started with. I was just blown away by the spatial things that came out, ultimately. It's funny; coming from New York, you talk about a polar opposite to real estate, and how every square foot of a restaurant is calculated in dollars, which requires knowing the fine balance. We've all been to restaurants where we're sitting on top of people; sometimes they work, and sometimes they really don't. Kudos to the design team. I think it's brilliant, how the columns divide certain tables, and how it's spaced so that we've got the walkway around the center column, which creates separation. And then there's the back dining room and the bar in front, which are really separate experiences from the main dining room."

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