Chef Daniel Cox is bringing new local and luxurious dishes to the menu at The Grill at Sage Lodge, just recognized as a 2021 Travelers' Choice Best of the Best award winner for Top 25 Hotels in the United States.
On this night as a storm was brewing in Paradise Valley, my husband and I made our way from Billings to Sage Lodge, embracing the unpredictable Big Sky weather. Emigrant Peak remained hidden as we dashed through the light rain and wind from the car to the entrance of The Grill. As guests of the lodge, masked and suited General Manager Justin Robbins pushed open the front door to greet us for the reopening of the sleek, destination steak restaurant.
Inside, conversation filled the room, echoing from the high ceilings. Massive timbers, stone and metal accouterments evoked “industrial farmhouse.” Western-styled leather stools lining the bar were filled with patrons sipping cocktails and taking in the distant view of the Yellowstone River below through the wall of massive windows. Colorful bottles of spirits lining a metal rack seemed to float suspended above the bar.
As we walked toward the room’s centerpiece, an Argentine wood-fired grill, flames flashed as Executive Chef Daniel Cox stepped into the room, seemingly timed for his entrance.
Cox inauspiciously joined Sage Lodge in March of last year, right before the COVID shutdown. He brought 13 years of experience from working in Seattle with stints at Cafe Flora, Lola, Cuoco, and Cantina Lena to being head chef at Benaroya Hall. He took his own culinary skills to Food Network’s "Beat Bobby Flay," cooking steak frites. While receiving his formal training from Le Cordon Bleu in Seattle, his love of food came at an early age with memories of his grandmother’s Sunday dinners, and creating, as a child, cookbooks with his mother.
I spied the sugar skull with tropical flower tattoos on his arm as he reached to shake my husband’s hand. Having grown up close to the border in Escondido, north of San Diego, the spirit and cuisine of Mexico remain with him.
“The biggest food influence for me is Mexican food. Soul food is different for everyone, but it is what strikes me as comfort food,” Cox said.
As our server Michele Frierson brought us the menus, Bill Baskin of the culinary arts program at Gallatin College at Montana State University came to the table. Of course, we asked what he and his wife Kim enjoyed.
Without hesitation, Baskin said, “The trout pastrami terrine was the most technical dish I have had in a while and it was perfectly executed. In other words, the dish was complicated and involved many steps.”
On the menu, under “Contemporary Steak,” offerings include some of the most luxurious cuts of beef. A5 Wagyu Beef from Kumamoto, Japan, considered the finest beef in the world, makes for the most expensive choice. From local producers there is Certified Prime Angus Beef, aged for a minimum of 36 days, and Montana Wagyu from Kalispell. Grass-fed and finished beef comes from Big Timber’s Cowgirl Meat Company. The steaks are cooked to order, and grilled on open flame. Ours were tender and buttery.
“We get awesome product. I think the beef that we are getting at Sage Lodge is the best I have seen ever in my life,” Cox said.
My husband ordered the “Certified Prime Angus Beef Filet Mignon” while I opted for the “Western Montana Wagyu Chuck Eye.” To accompany our steaks, we chose the “Wild Morel Mushrooms, Grilled Asparagus and Roasted Sweet Potatoes.” To start, we went with the “Trout Pastrami Terrine” and “The Grill Salad.”
The showstopper came right after our drinks arrived at the table. On a wood board, a mortar and pestle with a pair of tweezers sat amongst sprinklings of herbs and dried peppers alongside two small bowls of roasted garlic and salt, and bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Right in front of us, we found our inner “mad scientist,” concocting our own dipping sauce drizzled on a generous square of focaccia baked by On the Rise in Bozeman.
Unique touches include a “Flavored and Infused Butter” menu, served with the steak, and a small hand-lettered placard labeling the cut on the plate.
Cox wants to showcase local producers and growers. He shared, “I am trying to support any small producer, to give them a platform as large as the Sage Lodge.”
Stella Fong, author of 'Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food' hosts 'Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region' for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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