AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN
Food and Drink
Sago Modern Mexican
Modern, Mexican, refreshingly different
By Dale Rice
Photography by Larry Kolvoord
Mexican cuisine offers an immense amount of room for putting
new twists on an old staple, but few restaurants in Central
Texas take chances with south-of-the-border cuisine. Most
stick with the classics.
That's why I'm thrilled that Sago Modern Mexican has entered
the local dining scene. This new restaurant in The Triangle
residential and commercial development in North Central
Austin spins Mexican cuisine in many directions, and each
dish I tasted was a success.
The forces behind Sago are Chase Jones and Shawn Selby,
who operated Portabla on West Sixth Street. Jones and Selby
sold that business in August and put their energy into the
"We have a modern take on regional Mexican classics,"
A great example of that inventive approach is Sago's version
of a chile relleno. Instead of a stuffed pepper that has been
battered and fried, this one follows the "deconstruction"
trend that is popular with many cutting-edge chefs.
Here, the fried element is a made-from-scratch corn tortilla
that serves as the base for a roasted pepper that has been
split and stuffed with a robustly flavored mix of chicken,
onions, tomato, asadero cheese and chipotle-guajillo sauce.
The pepper ($10.95) is accompanied by beans (a choice of charro
or black) and cilantro-honey rice that is unlike any rice
I've had in a Mexican restaurant.
That rice also plays on the plate of cheese enchiladas ($9.95),
which are made with corn tortillas and filled with a blend
of three cheeses: mozzarella, asadero and cheddar. The enchiladas
are topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce that packs a zesty
punch. That tomatillo sauce is made with chile de arbol,
Jones says, with a goal to "kick up the cheese enchilada,
which sometimes can be boring." Amen.
That's where the sweetened rice comes in. "We're
more aggressive with seasoning than most places," Jones
says. "You get a sweet, clean taste from the rice,
which balances the heat. It's the balancing act with our
rice that we wanted to pull off."
The beginning of the meal at Sago brought two delicious,
well-seasoned dishes. The ceviche ($6.95 for the small, $8.95
for the large), a combination of citrus-marinated tilapia,
jicama, avocado, jalapeno, onion, cilantro and mango, was
more of a slaw version of the classic fish item. The mini
pork gorditas ($5.95) featured a half-dozen golden corn empanadas
filled with pork shoulder, cheese and onion.
Dessert wrapped up with more appealing twists on traditional
fare. The plate of small sopapillas ($2.50) was dusted with
cinnamon and drizzled with agave nectar in place of the usual
honey. The "Mexican cheesecake" ($5.95) was much
more akin to rice pudding than a traditional cheesecake.
The crust, made with Mexican cookies and chopped pecans,
held a filling made with cream cheese and rice that had been
cooked with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon that Jones says is
designed to "play off the traditional Mexican rice pudding."
It was served with a caramel sauce that had a deep flavor,
the result of adding espresso and Kailua to it. It all made
for a great dessert; the only change it needs is in the name.
Service at Sago, which features a contemporary, brightly
colored interior and a lovely patio for outdoor dining, was
attentive and friendly.
With a modern cuisine to match its setting, Sago ought to
be a destination for anyone who loves Mexican fare and appreciates
a creative twist on the classics.
Sago Modern Mexican
What's Cooking at The Triangle
By Kate Thornberry
Photography by John Anderson
Sago claims to be unique and modern in its approach to both
Tex-Mex and Interior Mexican cuisine, and that's a justified
claim. From the moment you taste the table salsas, your expectations
begin to climb. The red table salsa has a fire-roasted tomato,
guajillo, and pasilla red-pepper base - slightly offbeat and
very good. The green table salsa is, in a word, magnificent.
Sweet yet sour, hot yet mild, as only a perfect roasted-tomatillo
salsa can be. The tortilla chips are fresh-fried and of such
a high quality that you have to restrain yourself from making
a meal of chips and sauce alone. Everything at Sago is made
on the premises. Though the menu is light on vegetarian options,
it is inventive and, like the red salsa, offbeat: Appetizers
include gorditas, ceviche, yucca fritters, and baby back ribs,
as well as the more traditional chile con queso and guacamole.
The entrées are memorable and clearly demonstrate the
skill of Chef Chase Jones, an ambitious chef who trained at
the Culinary Institute of America in New York. I had the chipotle
chicken stuffed poblano ($10.95), recommended by my server.
A layered deconstruction of chile relleno, the dish featured
a fresh-roasted poblano pepper, fully cooked yet still firm,
filled with spiced white chicken, balanced on a layer of cilantro-honey
rice with a fried corn masa cake layered in between, adding
a divine, crunchy texture. Absolutely fabulous. The cheese
enchiladas ($9.95), made with mozzarella, asadero, and cheddar,
were also fantastic: fresh, garlicky, and not remotely greasy,
topped with a creamy roasted-tomatillo sauce.
Sago does breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, and the
menus for each meal reflect a free-thinking mindset. Lunch
features Mexican panini such as the Havana (sliced pork loin,
pickles, mustard, sweet roasted garlic, and Swiss on ciabatta,
$9.95) and entrée salads such as the Interior Shrimp
(achiote-grilled shrimp with avocado, pumpkin seeds, cotija
cheese, greens, onions, and red pepper, $9.95), as well as
enchiladas and tacos. The enchiladas include beef brisket
($9.95) and pork shoulder ($9.95) options, and the tacos include
fish ($8.95) and shrimp ($9.95) options.
The breakfast menu really cuts loose with items such as
Spicy Salmon Cake Stacks ($9.95), where salmon cakes are placed
on toasted English muffins and topped with poached eggs and
chipotle hollandaise. Mexican French toast ($8.95) layers
bananas and apples with goat's milk caramel and griddled challah
French toast, and the Havana Breakfast places pork roast and
Swiss on toasted baguette, with poached eggs and black pepper-asadero
cheese sauce ($8.95). For the less adventurous, there are
breakfast tacos and migas ($6.95). The prices are reasonable,
the service excellent, and Sago boasts a full bar and specialty
cocktails, as well.
Austin Monthly Dining Guide
Beyond the Menu
Sago Modern Mexican
New Triangle Eatery Off to a Great Start
By Terry N. Martinez
Photography by Vanessa Escobedo Barba
The name says it all: Sago Modern Mexican, emphasis on "modern."
Everything at this restaurant, located at what some are calling
the new restaurant row at The Triangle in Central Austin,
is just that. From the hip décor that interior design
guru Joel Mozersky dreamed up the clean and balanced flavors
of the food to the fun (and sometimes fiery) cocktails, one
trip to Sago and your Taco Bell drive-through days are past.
Chase Jones and Shawn Selby, former proprietors of Portabla
on West Sixth Street, dreamed of opening a new restaurant
that emphasized the kind of food that Jones, who attended
the Culinary Institute of America, loves to cook. As executive
chef, Jones has worked tirelessly to create dishes that are
modern interpretations of Mexican classics like campechana
As they modernize their dishes, the owners of Sago also
seem to strive to make everything they do fresh and exciting.
At least, that's the impression my dining companions and I
get when we have dinner on the lush patio on a warm, breezy
night. When we step into Sago, the striking interior immediately
makes us smile. The main room is bright pink and orange with
white booths to contrast. A tiled mirrored wall reminiscent
of a disco ball sparkles in the bar area. Jones says he and
Selby told Mozersky, "We wanna be hip and very much upscale
but we want people to feel comfortable coming here."
The patio, with its hanging plants and sunset view, makes
diners feel they're in a tropical retreat.
It is in this frame of mind-relaxed, excited and festive-that
my friends and I enjoy our meal. We begin with cocktails made
with 100% blue agave tequila and sweetened with agave nectar,
an idea Selby had because, as he puts it, why use simple syrup
if you can find a by-product of agave and keep the flavors
in the same family? La Toronja is a mixture of Herradura Silver
Tequila, agave nectar and fresh pink grapefruit juice. The
drink is crisp and refreshing and pairs remarkably well with
Sago's two spicy, smoky salsas. One of my friends sips the
Zarzarmora, made with Herradura Silver, Grand Marnier, blackberry
juice and fresh lime. Another companion enjoys the signature
Z-Best Martini, a combination of spicy flavor from muddled
jalapenos, sweetness from agave nectar, salt from a jalapeno-stuffed
olive and, of course, a kick of liquors from Z Tequila and
Cointreau. "It started off as a spontaneous idea, and
in our constant effort to make things well balanced, we tweaked
it and twisted it until we got it to the point it is now,"
We munch on the top-notch chips and salsas, made with roasted
tomatoes and tomatillos, as we peruse the menu. Each morning,
the cooks at Sago make fresh batches of these intensely flavored
sauces that Jones says customers constantly rave about.
Next come our appetizers of yucca fritters and ceviche.
The ceviche's balance of crisp jicama, sweet mango, large
chunks of tilapia, creamy avocado and salty tortilla chips
is a favorite for the entire table. Of course, we have to
balance our healthy first course wit some yucca fritters.
Yucca is a starchy potato-like root, and the version Sago
fries up with cheese and serves with a spicy chipotle aioli
is a sinful treat we can't gobble up fast enough.
I relish my entrée of roasted garlic-chipotle shrimp,
a dish with eight plump crustaceans marinated in a mild mix
of spices. All the shrimp needs is an extra squirt of lime
juice to brighten up the flavors a bit. The entrée
includes Sago's cilantro-honey rice, a sweet counterpart to
the many spicy dishes we enjoy, and crisp roasted vegetables
with a slightly charred, smoky flavor.
I also sample the campechana, an appetizer that a friend
chooses for a lighter dinner option. The tomato-based poached
seafood dish reminds me of gazpacho with chunks of red snapper,
shrimp, avocado and the Mexican trinity: chile, tomato and
onion. The fish is cooked to perfection and served with crunchy
The grilled chicken Castro, glazed with a honey-pasilla
sauce, is sweet, smoky and tender. It's a hearty portion,
but not so much that it weighs me down. The side dish of poblano-cilantro
mashed yucca is full of garlic and has a creamy texture. The
brisket enchiladas are unlike any I have tried: the tender
beef rolled in handmade corn tortillas and topped with a chipotle-guajillo
sauce is tangy, sweet and very spicy.
We end our meal with some rather unusual takes on desserts
that we enjoy, but that leave us a bit perplexed. The sopapillas,
which are fried and topped with agave nectar and cinnamon,
seem more like bunuelos-a sweet fried tortilla-to my friends
and me, but we enjoyed them nonetheless and make sure to sop
up the nectar with the crisp dough.
The Mexican cheesecake, filled with rice and topped with
a cajeta, a goat's milk and caramel-espresso sauce, begs for
and explanation. "It's a modified rice pudding that has
cream cheese added at the end," Jones explains. The crust
is toasted pecans, Maria's cookies, sugar, butter and cinnamon,
formed to make a graham cracker-style crust. The name may
change at some point, but for now he's content with the rice-less
description. Despite the disconnect, people order it and like
it, myself included. Perhaps I have a warm place in my heart
for it because as a child I experimented by spreading cajeta
on Maria's cookies to make a quick treat. Perhaps it's because
it's yet another delicious example of Sago's ongoing mission
to recreate Mexican classics.
"When people think of Mexican food, what do they think
about?" Jones poses. "Enchiladas, things covered
in cheese, and beans and rice, which is great. We have our
own version of that as well, but there is also so much more
to Mexico." Luckily, the owners of Sago are here to offer
a new glimpse at what lies beyond the border.
Sago Modern Mexican
By L. Ford
As a longtime fan of the fresh and flavorful salads and creative
dinner entrees at Portabla, I was eager to visit the new venture
of its former owners, Chase Jones and Shawn Selby, always
the gracious hosts, nestled in a nook of the Triangle development.
Sago's Joel Mozersky interiors are sleek and modern but also
warm and inviting. Diners can sit in the brightly colored
dining room or on the patio, filled with lush, tropical plants.
We started with the ceviche-lime-and-orange-marinated tilapia
tossed with mango, cilantro, red onion, jicama, seedless jalapeno,
and avocado and served with corn tostadas. The starter was
full of bold, clean flavors that carried through the entire
meal. The roasted garlic-chipotle shrimp, one of the specialty
entrees, boasted a nicely spicy sauce. The cilantro-honey
rice and roasted veggies were a perfect pairing for a light,
memorable entrée. The salsas, made each morning with
fresh produce, are some of the best in town. Cocktail connoisseurs
will appreciate that all margaritas are made with 100 percent
Blue Agave Tequila, and the Z-Best Martini, served with muddled
jalapenos in premium Z Tequila, Cointreau, and agave nectar,
with fresh lime, doesn't disappoint either. The eatery also
offers a unique brunch on weekends. Sago Modern Mexican delivers
on its name and offers a delectable getaway from the typical