University District restaurant teaches lessons in sophistication
The menu is narrow and focused, portions are tidy and sensible, the interior smart and sophisticated.
Chef/owner William Glover, whose previous gig was at the Ohio State University Faculty Club, has created a menu that celebrates the best of American bistro fare. If there's such a thing as the perfect portion, this is the place to get it. The protein is usually paired with a vegetable and starch - and it's not always a heaping mound of mashed potatoes. That leaves room for several courses.
Even with a largely approachable menu, it's hardly predictable. Glover occasionally takes chances, however subtle. His housemade blackberry "ketchup" stains several ivory scallops ($18), seared to create some texture. Although it might sound like an odd combination, the sauce has a graceful sweetness and fruitiness that pairs well with the scallops, which are placed around a salad of sprouts and fried potato matchsticks dressed in a light vinaigrette.
The Caesar salad ($6) uses whole leaves of fresh romaine sprinkled with chopped hardboiled egg and big chips of Parmesan tossed in a pungent, anchovy-laced dressing. Even with a modern tweaking, it's largely a classic recipe that never goes out of style. The cornmeal-dusted calamari ($8) are tender and mercifully light on grease, served with a tart and spicy dipping sauce and two pepperoncini for color and heat.
Sage replaces the ill-fated Kitchen Lounge in the University District, a neighborhood that has a diverse dining scene but is no stranger to upscale cuisine. (The excellent Alana's Food & Wine is just down the street.)
Tomato bisque ($4) is a dazzling burnt orange, contrasted by the flakes of Parmesan in the center of the cup. Where some tomato soups are more like spaghetti sauce, this one is thick and herbed, begging for a round of crusty bread.
Glover's commitment to the serious carnivore is evident with dishes such as the pepper-crusted steak ($21) - pan-seared, cooked to the requested temperature, and served with asparagus, crispy onions straws a sweet-potato hash that retains some of its firmness. Another comfort-food dish, the pork tenderloin ($16), is fork-tender and moist throughout, paired with crunchy green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes.
Interestingly, the rigatoni dish ($16) uses a garlicky white wine sauce as its base, touched off by coins of spicy sausage. The entrée has some notable ingredients - pine nuts, tomato, white grapes and slivers of bell pepper - but is entirely too soupy.
The chef takes as much pride in desserts as he does the savory offerings. The ginger crème brulee ($5) is smooth and custardy, its glass ceiling brittle but not too thick.
The addition of blueberries cuts through some of its richness. A mango torte ($5), drizzled with raspberry coulis, is tart and light - great for those who prefer desserts that aren't overly sweet.
Sage has put some thought into its wine list. The 2006 Lagria Pinot Grigio ($6 a glass, $27 a bottle) is crispy and citrusy, while the '06 Houghton Shiraz ($33) is peppery, with deep berry fruit flavors.
Open just a month, Sage is not perfect. Beyond its control is the parking. Because it shares a small lot of with other successful tenants, parking can be tricky.
Fortunately, there's valet service.
What is in the restaurant's control is the bread, which could stand some improvement, as it's basically a cracker decorated with sesame seeds. Service is friendly, never intrusive and mostly helpful but is not without an occasional slipup.
At the same time, Sage feels mature and complete, something that usually comes with age. Given the restaurant's youth, that's quite an accomplishment.