Ever since Husband and I last visited for Sage and they gave me a copy of their new fall menu, I've been thinking about lamb shanks with chive spaetzle.
One thing that frequently prevents us from reviewing restaurants (aside from Husband's reluctance to drive further than 2.5 miles for food) is that we usually work Tuesdays through Saturdays, and lots of independent restaurants keep similar hours. But I had Tuesday off and decided I was going to take myself out to dinner. Fortunately, Husband got the night off at the last minute, so I had my favorite dining companion.
First of all, an apology for my poor picture quality. It was hard to sneak pics because I was sitting at the bar, and I didn't adjust my white balance properly.
The drink list at Sage is clever, featuring a variety of interesting ingredients - apple cider, pumpkin spice liqueur, organic vodka, and Tang! That's right, every astronaut's favorite orange drink. Now, as a child, I couldn't have Tang. Long-time readers might remember that I had a ton of allergies as a child; drinking Tang surely would have led to the Lisa Allergy Head - sallow skin with hollow dark eye sockets - not to mention the constant refrain of my saintly mothers "if I let you drink that you'll be high as a kite." But now I'm adult and can consume as much artificial coloring as I'd like, so all of that to say, I ordered the "Space Cadet," fun concoction of peach vodka, triple sec, and Tang, with a Tang rim. It was delicious. And girly. Husband opted for the very manly standard of nakid Bombay Sapphire.
We started off with the calamari, with a cornmeal crust and a side of pepperoncini basil dipping sauce. The cali (that's restaurant speak for calamari) was topped off with a chiffonade of basil and even more pepperoncini were served on the side. The squid was fried nicely and I enjoyed the light and refreshing sauce, not laden with mayo or anything unnecessary.
Next up, spinach salad. At first I was taken aback that there were for salads on the menu (who needs four salads?) but if they are all executed as well as the spinach salad was, then I'm all for it. The salad was nicely balanced and contained all sorts of yummy things - bacon, tomatoes, red onions which had been well-treated and weren't b-o-ey or too sharp tasting, and green beans, which were perfectly blanched to be crisp without being too squeaky, and croutons. Everything was tossed - lightly (and properly) in a sweet vinaigrette.
At some point bread arrived - piping hot rolls with a thick slab of good butter topped with smoked sea salt. Those kids at Sage, they really know the way to my heart.
And then it was finally time for the entrees! I of course chose the aforementioned lamb shank with chive spaetzle. The lamb shank was HUGE, juicy and really nicely cooked. The spaetzle were more like what I would think of as "dumplings." I know, spaetzle are dumplings, but I usually think of spaetzle as being tiny little dumplings, where these were long, big dumplings, the sort I usually associate with chicken and dumplings. BUT. No matter, they were very tasty - full of lamby flavor from the broth, which was very flavorful without being heavy or full of butter and cream. Another plus. There was also nicely cooked spinach and tiny little pearl onions included. This dish was the perfect thing for a cold winter night - we'll be having a lot of those coming up. It was nice and hearty without being full of unnecessary fat. My leftovers turned to gelatin in the broth rather than confit.
Husband opted for the duck papperdelle, as I knew he would. WOW. My lamb was really great, but I thought the duck was superb. The papperdelle - flat, wide noodles - was fresh and appropriately slippery, soaked in the duck juices. The pasta included bits of duck confit, chestnuts, mushrooms, and greens, and a duck leg confit topped off the dish. The dish was full of great flavors which went perfectly together and had an interesting light high note which kept the dish well-balanced. Again, there was no extraneous fat; no cream sauce, not a ton of butter. I had to fight for the two tiny bites I could get in.
We chose the banana creme brulee for dessert, the house made option, and in truth I was way too full, but I had to do it for you, dear readers, because you deserve to know how dessert was. It was very banana-y and had a nice caramelized half banana with chocolate sauce on the side. I'm a sucker for a caramelized banana, and it was good. Unsweetened whipped cream sweetened the deal:
Portions were very nice, especially for the bistro prices - the duck was 18, I think, and the lamb was 19. I might be wrong, but we had 2 cocktails, 2 glasses of wine, an appetizer, salad, two entrees and dessert for around $100, which is just fine with me. You could easily get in and out for under $30 a person, which is one reason I love Sage so much and am so happy it came to my neighborhood. It might be the perfect restaurant for the economy we're facing. The decor is soothing and nice without being stuffy in any way. Husband and I were in our usual uniform of jeans, tees and hoodies, but other people were dressed nicely. You can stop by for an inexpensive bite at the bar or go all our.
The wine list is small but well-appointed, appropriate for the size of the restaurant. The white selection was especially strong, but, for what my opinion is worth, for the time of year and comforting food, I would only request a few less-expensive medium bodied reds (Spain comes to mind).
Sage's best attributes going forward might be the staff - chef/owner Bill Glover works the kitchen and the dining room; he has come out to talk to us most times we have been in, even though we didn't know him or any of the staff before we started going to the restaurant. I love this quote from the bio on his website "I have gained knowledge from many cooks, servers, dishwashers and front of the house managers," and I think this attitude shows through in the completely unpretentious atmosphere and great food he's serving up.
Front of house manager Eddie is a consummate professional, possessing that enviable skill of seeming to remember everyone who comes through the door. When we arrived for dinner he greeted us by name, even though, again, he only knows us from dining at the bar (he also acts as bartender and chooses the wines). I have always wanted this skill as a server & bartender, but I only remember people by situation and name, and not appearance (unless they have some convenient characteristic, such as pink hair or visible tattoos). I usually have to be reminded of the situation in which I met someone before it sinks in. (Husband remembers everyone by looks, but not by name, so we make a pretty good team most of the time.)
At any rate, I realized this is a gushing review, but I think Sage might be one of the best things to hit the Hudsonville/Washington Beach/Baja Clintonville neighborhood in a long time, and I hope they stay put for awhile. I only wish they were open on Mondays, so I could go more frequently. There is construction on High Street in front of the restaurant right now, so keep that in mind; fortunately there is plenty of parking in the back.
Info: Sage American Bistro 2653 N. High St (North Campus/South Clintonville) 614.267.SAGE (7243)