Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 • Food 8.5 • Ambiance 8 • Price – $$
According to Wikipedia, sage is a small, perennial, evergreen shrub with woody stems, grayish leaves and blue to purplish flowers that is native to the Mediterranean region. It has a long history of medicinal use – including warding off evil, treating snakebites, increasing women’s fertility and even fighting the plague.
So why am I telling you this? The definition does help to clarify Sage Bistro’s identity somewhat, as the menu has a definite Mediterranean inclination, although you could say overall it is eclectic. And I guess it’s no real surprise as the owner, Joe Soliman, also owned at one time two Mediterranean–influenced eateries: Garlic Lover’s Corner in North Greenbush and The Hidden Café in Delmar. So while taming my case of the plague might be out of the question, getting a fairly authentic Mediterranean dish seemed promising.
In Guilderland’s 20 Mall near the 155 entrance, the Sage Bistro is in a prime location. My dining companion, Tina, and I arrived for dinner on a recent Tuesday evening. The small restaurant was less than a third full, but the upside to this was that the wait staff was uncompromisingly attentive and courteous throughout the evening.
Sage Bistro’s setting is calm, open, airy and serene. And, an added bonus is that as you enter, you are met by a large freezer case of homemade gelato in every conceivable color and flavor – it’s as if someone is telling you to save room for dessert (I took that suggestion).
We sat in one of the comfortable and private booths that border the dining room and took a look around. The contemporary decor features cool colors and exposed duct work on the ceiling gives it a very “metropolitan” and loft-like feel.
Menus were accompanied by a list of that evening’s special dishes and cocktails. Being the adventurous soul that she is, at least drink-wise, Tina took her cue from the specialty drinks menu and ordered the Zen Absolut Orient ($9). This intriguingly-named drink was a concoction of apple ginger vodka, organic elderflower liqueur, bitters, fresh lime juice and a splash of citrus soda. Wow! Can you say summer in a glass? Tina said this drink was like eating a cherry lollipop, sweet, fruity and refreshing, but without being overly saccharine. Planning on ordering something spicy to eat, I strategically chose a glass of the always reliable, crisp and slightly acidic Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($8).
Along with our drinks, we were brought a basket of warm pita bread and possibly the best hummus I’ve sampled in the area. If you’re a garlic lover, get yourself over here post haste and see if you can’t help but devour this blend of chickpeas, extra virgin olive oil, lemon and a truckload of garlic. The hummus is also offered as an appetizer, if you can’t get enough.
Overall, the menu is about quality not quantity, as a “bistro” menu should be, but with enough variety to make choosing a challenge. There were chicken, seafood, lamb, pasta and vegetarian options. The appetizers were mainly Mediterranean and Portuguese influenced, and included Babaganoush, Fried Calamari, and an olive, sun-dried tomato and caper Tapenade. All were priced between $7 and $13.
Having made quick work of the garlicky hummus and pita bread, we skipped past the appetizer course and dove right into deciding on dinner. As is the norm, my desire for variety won out and I ended up choosing two small plates off the appetizer menu as my “entrée”. I started with the Portuguese Clams in olive oil, garlic and jalapeños in a Vinho Verde wine broth ($10). To accompany this I ordered the Mediterranean Feta Salad ($7). It was described as crumbled feta cheese, vine ripened tomatoes, kalamata olives, scallions and a hint of crushed red pepper drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Hey, sounded like all good stuff to me.
After waffling between the Jambalaya and several other dishes, Tina settled on the Absolut Chicken ($17), which featured strips of chicken sautéed with prosciutto, shallots and garlic finished in a tomato vodka cream sauce over linguine pasta.
Although Tina’s dish was good, there was nothing remarkable or extraordinary about it. You had the feeling that this was a dish you could easily re-create at home. The chicken was a bit over-cooked and bland, and could have really benefitted from some seasoning. The sauce was better, clearly homemade, with a taste of fresh tomatoes in every bite, and it was nice and silky. However, the dish was very one-note and in need of some “zing”.
My meal, however, more than made up for the lack of depth of Tina’s chicken. The clams were simmered in a broth of Vinho Verde, a very light, fruity and floral Portuguese wine with some effervescence, even though it is not technically a sparkling wine. The garlic, again, made an appearance, infusing the wine broth with both spicy and slightly sweet notes. But the real standout here was the use of the jalapeños. Each delicate little clam was cradled in its shell and topped with a jalapeño pepper slice. I’m already a fan of spicy, but these peppers added more than just heat. They imparted a deep, intensely smoky and grilled flavour. The dish consisted of just a few very well-chosen and very well-executed ingredients, and the result was stellar.
The Mediterranean Feta Salad threw me for a loop. Don’t misunderstand; it was extremely enjoyable and a great pairing to my light and spicy clams. However, I was expecting more of a chopped salad. What I was served was not unlike a scoop of tuna salad. The “scoop” consisted of very finely minced tomatoes, olives and scallions, held together by small chunks of creamy feta, atop a bed of greens. Not only was this a beautiful dish, but the first bite was a like a party in my mouth – velvety, salty and savory.
Not forgetting the allure of the gelato case, our minds soon wandered to dessert. Tina is on a personal crusade to sample every Key Lime pie in the Capital Region, so that was the first part of our order. We decided to pair this with a scoop of Mango gelato. Our order came out looking like a tropical dessert fantasy!
For me, this Key lime pie ($5) was the front-runner of all those I’ve had. Tina rated it as second. It had a thick, crunchy and buttery graham cracker crust with a cool, airy mousse-like key lime filling that was sweet, but had intense lime flavor ( a “key” part of Key Lime pie that is often under-represented).
The mango gelato ($3) was like biting into a soft, ripe mango – the burst of flavor, the juice dripping down your chin, the whole bit. I can only imagine what the other flavors are like. (Note to self: must try all other flavors to perform “professional” gelato comparison.)
Sage Bistro is a wonderful little spot to grab a cocktail and appetizer after work with a friend or to enjoy a full three-course meal on the weekend. Just about everything was thoughtfully and imaginatively prepared and presented by a polite waitstaff. Personally, I have plans to go back just for a plate of the hummus and a scoop of gelato. Hey, don’t judge; check it out for yourself and you’ll understand.
The total cost for one cocktail, three glasses of wine, two appetizers, one entree and two desserts (excluding tax and tip) was a great deal at $71.
Sage Bistro is located at 2050 Western Avenue, Guilderland. They are open daily from 11am-3pm and 4:30pm –9pm. Their hours are the same on Saturday, except that they open at noon. They are closed on Sunday.
For more information call 608.5410 or visit www.sagebistroguilderland.com
Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in Troy, but eats just about anywhere.