Thursday, February 8, 2007

Sage Restaurant (Newport Beach) - LA-OC Foodie's Report

After hearing about Newport Beach Restaurant Week last month on this very blog, I knew it would be a good excuse to check out some OC dining at a discounted price (during Restaurant Week, 3-course lunches are $12.95, and 3-course dinners $26.95.) As I scroll through the list of participating restaurants, which include the usual popular suspects such as Newport Beach Brewing Company, Rusty Pelican and chains French 75 & Daily Grill, my eyes fell upon Sage Restaurant and its sister Sage on the Coast. At first, I thought they're rivaling/piggybacking the Stinking Rose with their own herb, but upon seeing their menus online I realized the restaurants specialized in "creative American cuisines" with a nod to Pan-Asian and Mediterranean styles. Interested, and relieved it wasn't "let's put sage in, on and around everything", I made my reservation and took a trip to Sage (not Sage on the Coast, which was a bit further south in Newport).

Sage Restaurant is in the corner of the Eastbluffs Village Plaza, which has a small collection of shops and eateries and is anchored by CVS & Ralphs. The interior is both cozy and airy at the same time: dimmed lighting, blond wood floors with cream-and-sage colored walls and nondescript plants and paintings in a dining space that seats about . I went on a weekday around 8 p.m., and the crowd was pretty much professionals and colleagues having afterwork dinner, along with a few mature couples and foursomes.
Normally I don't talk much about bread (let alone take pictures of them), but the warm, sage-infused foccacia here are something special - a nice crust with a soft texture and a green grassy, slightly-minty perfume of sage, just strong enough against the accompanying garlicky hummus-like spread.

Shortly afterwards, my wine (a light, crisp & fragrant
albarino) arrived with my appetizer:
Spicy ahi tuna spring rolls with a sweet-spicy sauce with asian slaw - I had higher expectations of the bite-sized rolls, which, while light and crispy, turned out have fairly bland and dry fillings and I had to submerge each in the soy-based sauce (a cheap trick, in my opinion) to make them kind of palatable. But I did love the slaw, bespeckled with toasted sesame seeds and tossed in a wonderful fruity, nutty dressing. If it was me, I'd rather bill and build the starter as "heaven-on-earth Asian slaw, accompanied with tuna rolls", but that could be just me.

Having mixed feelings already, my entree came:
Herb-crusted salmon over risotto with leeks, peas, beans and mushrooms with a champagne-saffron cream sauce. A bit clichéd but Holy crap! This is frickin' delish! The buttery and slightly salty salmon melds wonderfully with the sublimely aromatic sauce, and the creamy vegetable risotto side dish are better than most of the risotto main courses I've had at other places. Even though I tend to be mindful of how much
refined carbs I'm eating, I can't help but take another half-slice of the bread to mop up the rest of sauce, risotto bits and stray flakes of salmon.

The wine paired well enough with the courses so far, even though in hindsight I should've chosen something a little more full-bodied (despite my love affair for lesser known, fragrant whites).
Wrapping up it all up, a vanilla cheesecake with creme anglaise and a citrus salad. The cheesecake was light and airy (as opposed to the dense NY style ones) with good vanilla flavors, and the oranges and grapefruits were good for rounding off the palate.


And so concludes my experience @ Sage Restaurant - all in all I really like the place and the food. I do feel just a little young and under-dresseed for the occasion, but when all your senses are locked upon great food and not how other diners are looking at you - who cares?

The Bill:
Three-course prix-fixe: $26.95
Wine: $8
Pretax/tip total: $34.95

The Rating:
Ambience: 3/5 (A nice, cozy place with nothing particularly remarkable. Tables spaced just a little too close for my comfort)
Value: 4/5 (For this event, I think the prices are more than reasonable -- perhaps less so for their regular menu which I also looked at, where a dinner can run around $35-50 a person, without drinks)
Service: 7/10 (Staff was prompt, efficient and attentive, but not particularly beyond-the-call-of-duty stellar and there was a bit of a lag time between courses)
Food: 16.5/20 (Lovin' it overall! The only downer was the spicy ahi tuna spring rolls)
Bonus/Demerit: +.5 for a perfectly-portioned prix-fixe (most others I've had is WAY too much food, this one left me thoroughly satisfied, but not bloatingly full.)
Overall: 31/40 (Worth the trip if in the area or for a slightly upscale occasion.)

Other notes:
*keep your change & small bills at home - ample free parking in the lot (thanks to Ralphs/CVS)
*according to the Website, they also have a small plates, small tastes menu (reminds me of tapas) ~ I didn't notice it when I was looking at my regular menu, so probably best to call them up on it.
*Sage on the Coast, on the other hand, offers a reasonably-priced prix-fixe menu year round ($30 , $40 with paired wines)

Sage Restaurant
2531 Eastbluff Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 718-9650
www.sagerestaurant.com

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Comments on "Sage Restaurant (Newport Beach) - LA-OC Foodie's Report"

Blogger Chubbypanda said ... (February 8, 2007 at 9:45 PM) : 

Aaaarg! I can't believe I missed restuarant week!

I was so busy that I completely forgot about it.

Sadness...

Blogger Jay said ... (February 11, 2007 at 9:37 PM) : 

I too am angry that I missed out!

Sounds like there was some good eatin' to be had.

Blogger Julian Hsu said ... (February 13, 2007 at 12:52 PM) : 

You completely forgot?!?! AwwwwW! We went to the Landmark, and it was a nice meal. Great deal. Chilean Seabass was like buttah.

Blogger H. C. said ... (February 16, 2007 at 11:28 AM) : 

Panda & Jay: Too bad - I'm sure there'll be other OC restaurant events (be sure to keep me & other OC Food Blog readers in the loop though!)

Julian: Oooh... I love chilean seabass too, but have drastically been cutting down after hearing of the un-environmentally ways that they're caught. (www.seafoodwatch.org)

Blogger Kedric said ... (February 22, 2007 at 5:05 PM) : 

Sage is fine, but the decor feels a bit dated, like your favorite aunt's parlor.

Sage on the Coast, on the other hand is sleek and comfortable. Rich Mead, the owner/chef, is about the only O.C. chef I know who goes to the Santa Monica Farmer's Markets weekly, at least, rather than relying on gleaners and purveyors and such.

Between Sage on the Coast, Abe's Bluefin and the anticipated move of Javier's into the same Crystal Cove center, this upscale corner of O.C. will soon be a pricey little slice of foodie heaven.

Not to mention Mastro's Ocean Club...which I won't.

Thanks for the great blogs!

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