Restaurant review: Sage American Bistro

  • Photos by Tessa Berg
By Columbus Alive
From the May 10, 2012 edition

Please stand and kindly remove your hats. You are now encouraged to lock arms and slowly sway from side to side while reverently singing our new alma mater for The Ohio State of Eating.

Oh come let’s sing Ohio’s praise And dine on foods that’re locally raised Summer’s heat and winter’s cold Create flavors that are fresh and bold Time at Sage has surely shown How delicious thy bounty, O - HI - O!

OK, sue me for being silly (I’d plead guilty), but this ditty came to me while eating at Sage American Bistro and thinking how good Ohio looked (and tasted) on Sage’s menu — where “Ohio” starred in several entrees.

You know Sage, don’t you? It’s a “Top 10” north-of-campus restaurant where a sophisticated yet fun-loving crowd consistently enjoys stellar dishes selected from a smart and refreshingly smallish menu.

That menu — which is currently in flux (meaning items I’ll describe here might be altered) — says a lot about Sage. Here’s what I’m getting at: Even if descriptions include flashy components like “avocado mousse,” “bone marrow foam” and a “curry vanilla emulsion,” their unvarnished, generally two-word titles (e.g. “Ohio Pork”) show chef Bill Glover‘s focus is honoring his main ingredients. Time and again, this results in playful presentations but clear and distilled flavors.

Speaking of distilled, ordering the prettily layered Scarlet and Gray — a ’90s throwback Grey Goose vodka, cranberry and Pama cocktail — would be a great way to thematically stay with a Buckeye motif. However, since I much preferred Sage’s tight and citrusy Manhattan and its floral, potent and rare Persephone’s Ransom (made with rarefied Ransom Old Tom gin) — I’d go with those heady slurps instead.

But back to Ohio. The deceptively clever Ohio Chicken ($24) was a delightful and delicious illustration of Sage’s considerable strengths. Namely, it achieved magnificent flavors and killer textures while having fun with repetitive tinting.

Perfectly grilled asparagus spears peeked out between a French’s mustard-colored puddle (actually a complex and intense vegetal puree called “hot sauce leek fondue”) and an identically yellow if attractively brown-spotted johnnycake (a corn and salty andouille sausage-studded cornmeal pancake). Overlapping these was a segmented slab of chicken so incredible it required a double take. This featured ideally browned skin and fresh-tasting and tremendously tender meat but also contained a secret: seamlessly integrated with the juicy yardbird flesh was a peppery sorta pale yellow crawfish terrine. I’d posit this remarkable dish’s origin was a New Orleans existing solely in the mind of an imaginative chef.

At least as wonderful was the Ohio Pork ($25), which was grounded in Latin accents and a nearly monochromatic reddish brown. Another triumph of textures, this brilliant study in pig coupled crusted yet unctuous belly hunks with dreamily porky cheek meat. Along for the magnified porcine ride were a risotto cake, fried plantains and the leavening agents of saffron sofrito and a citrusy avocado mousse.

Surf ’n’ turf has always confused me — it’s akin to a mismatched grouping of ebullient Buckeye fans with a swarm of angry Wolverine supporters. Yet Sage’s great Ohio Beef (filet mignon) & Lobster ($29) made it work by unifying its succulent proteins through expert grilling and beautifully rhyming textures.

To finish, I recommend staying in state with Sage’s lovely and wisely curated Ohio Artisanal Cheese Plate ($14). With a panoply of fragrant housemade accoutrements, it brightly showcased a buttery brie and smooth and clean gouda (from Canal Junction Farmstead) along with Bluejacket Dairy’s wonderful Houtz, a creamy Parmesan-like goat cheese.