River Cree Resort and Casino
Whitemud Dr. and Winterburn Rd, Edmonton, AB
Alberta is known for many things, principally among them are oil, mountains, and beef. However, while I see the economic impacts of oil, and can visually measure the mountains, I often fail to comprehend the “Alberta advantage” when it comes to beef. In a province that has the reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world, I have always had difficulty finding a great steak, outside of buying one at a butcher shop and BBQ’ing it at home. Many restaurants tout their AAA Alberta beef, other restaurants shamefully import USDA Beef to serve to unsuspecting customers. In general, most of the beef is good. But it is not the world-class beef that I have always expected in a province that has plentiful room, feed, and fresh water.
I will try and avoid a diatribe, but I would like to point out that when you are determining the quality of the beef, the grade isn’t everything – it only refers to marbling. Breed, how the cow was raised, what it fed on, exercise, how it was slaughtered, how it was butchered, and how it was aged all have a significant impact on the end product. Unfortunately, very few places serve hormone free, naturally raised, grass fed, dry-aged beef. In general, most restaurants in Alberta don’t. Too costly. Sage isn’t one of them either. So to compare apples to apples, we need to compare standard steaks. Wet aged. Typically grain-finished. Where the only significant variation is in the marbling. This is where Sage excels.
Sage is located on the Enoch reserve on the western edge of Edmonton. Located inside the River Cree Casino, turn right from the main entrance. If you turn left, you end up walking 4/5’s of the way around – it’s a big circle after all! It immediately stands out against the backdrop of slot machines, tables, and smoke. Yes, smoke. While the rest of Alberta is smoke-free, apparently civic laws don’t apply on the reserve. Thankfully, smoking is not allowed in the restaurant, but some wafts of smoke do drift into the restaurant. If you are sensitive to smoke, aim for a table as far away from the entrance as possible. However, this is really the only detriment to an otherwise classy and modern design.
On my first trip to Sage, I was very impressed with their available starters and salads. Solid winners, and classic steakhouse dishes with a twist, their menu has constantly changed- unfortunately in many cases for the worse. My favorite appetizers are gone. But what’s left is still solid, if you need that much food.
I’ll typically start with a salad instead – easier on the system before you put down 16oz of beef. On this day, it was an endive and frisee salad, with walnuts. Perfectly dressed, crisp greens, this was an excellent salad. Most of their salads are.
But let’s get serious here – it’s about the meat. Their catch phrase is “Steak. Seafood. Fresh.” For me, when you’re in Alberta, you’re really here for one thing. Can you see the ocean? No. I guess that leaves steak. Canadian Prime beef – also known as AAAA. Canadian Prime is the top 0.7% of all beef in terms of marbling. Compared to USDA’s 2%, not many cuts make a Prime rating. I have to acknowledge that they also offer USDA dry-aged beef, Wagyu beef from Washington State, and Alberta AAA. Prime only comes in Strip and Ribeye. It would be a waste in tenderloin (which is AAA). It’s better if you order the Canadian Prime. It’s local.
Perfectly cooked, Canada Prime striploin. Medium-rare really is medium-rare – warm, and red throughout. Rare is too cold – the fat still hasnt “melted” into the meat. You want pink? Order medium. You want it cooked through? Go buy a piece of cardboard and save your money. This steak is loaded with flavour – great marbling through out ensures a nice even flavour. It tastes better than your average Alberta steak. You really can taste the difference.
While everything is essentially ala carte, their side dishes are excellent as well. Typical steakhouse style, truffled mac and cheese, rich mashed potatos, asparagus, and mushrooms populate the menu. They are decent value – and it’s worth getting one or two to share. Just note that butter is the primary ingredient in most of them.
Aside from the steak, what really stands out for me is the service. I’ve had professional, consistent service there every time. Never too intrusive, but around enough that all my needs are met. In my latest visit, I was there for a special occasion. I had requested a chocolate-based dessert brought out as a surprise when i made my reservation. They followed my instructions to a tee. More impressively, the dessert was not even on the menu – they had made it special. And it was excellent.
Excellent service. Good steaks. Sounds like a winner yes? Well, I wish they had a better aging program. And that they served exclusively Canadian beef. And the smoke is annoying – i won’t argue that. But like so many things these days, it’s about compromises. And in this case, the pro’s outweigh the cons. If you’re going out to eat a steak, this is the best location to do it in the Edmonton area. If you’re looking for the best Alberta has to offer, come on over for a BBQ. Im taking reservations starting at 7pm 🙂