There are a couple of throwback aspects to Red Sage, the upscale restaurant that sits inside the huge Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino. The menu is heavy on beef, seafood, and hearty side dishes like mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, giving the place the feel of an old-fashioned Las Vegas steakhouse. More unusual, the restaurant is situated fairly close to a big casino f loor where smoking is allowed. Though the resort does what it can to neutralize the smell — with ventilation and air freshener — it’s noticeable throughout the main lobby and inside the restaurant.
Red Sage’s interior is spacious and pleasant, with two main rooms full of sturdy, widely spaced tables and padded upholstered chairs. There’s a private walled-off dining area, and you can also order from a smaller menu at a wide bar that flanks the restaurant. An open kitchen is positioned at an angle on one side, giving you a view of cooks, flames, and the bustle of a busy workspace. In addition to the familiar steakhouse-style offerings, the menu also includes salads, appetizers, and small plates. The small-plate portions are generous, and you could easily build a meal from these alone.
On my first visit, we started with two cocktails, a margarita and a Manhattan, which both came up short. The margarita’s citrus base was too sweet, and it was served “up” — shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass, a bad idea for a drink that needs to stay cold. The Manhattan was served up, too — they’re supposed to be — but it was a bit watery.
The two appetizers we tried were both very good. The salad of beets and cheese is a nice mix of baby greens, red onion, carrots, cherry tomatoes, sprouts, balsamic-vinegar dressing, and a tidy stack of sliced beets layered with a mild goat cheese. Another hit was a small plate called pork belly — a red chile-spiced posole stew with a dark gumbo-like broth; bits of onion, radish, and tomato; and a generous chunk of braised fatty pork at the center.
The small-plate portions are generous, and you could easily build a meal from these alone.
I tried the tenderloin of beef — an excellent piece of meat that was seasoned with salt and pepper and seared mediumrare — and three sides: mashed potatoes, chile-cheese grits, and asparagus. The potatoes and grits were both creamy and good, but the asparagus had picked up an unpleasant oily taste. The only other fail that night was the Chilean sea bass, which was rubbery and overly fishy. We ended things on a more positive note with a slice of flourless chocolate torte that had a rich, deep flavor.
Red Sage has a big wine list and also offers an ample beer selection that mixes big brands with a few craft options served in bottles or on tap. During a visit on a busy Saturday night, we ordered two draft beers. I tried an ale from Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company, a good choice for anyone who likes beer that’s only mildly hoppy.
The appetizers we tried were, as before, plentiful. The garden flatbread — a cracker-crust oval topped with goat cheese, onions, mushrooms, and chopped kale — was about the size of a small pizza. It was a little dry, and the kale, which was raw, didn’t add much in the way of taste. The crab cakes had a nice brown crust but were mushy inside — the ratio of filler to crab meat definitely favors the house.
The pan- seared scallops were a disappointment. They were rubbery, served on a bed of too-sweet creamed corn, and accompanied by steamed and sautéed broccoli that was past its prime. I tried the pasta carbonara; Red Sage uses bucatini, a thick-gauge noodle that’s pretty heavy. The creamy sauce — with Parmesan, jalapeño bacon, and green chile — was tasty but spicy, which some will find jarring in a traditional Italian dish. For dessert we tried the ice-cream sundae, which was really more of a banana split. It was OK, but one of the key ingredients, vanilla ice cream, was bland.
In sum, this is an up-and- down sort of restaurant. If the smoke isn’t a deal-breaker and you’re willing to experiment, you’re likely to find food worth going back for.