GUILDERLAND - Some of the best restaurant finds are in plain sight in an unlikely location, as is Sage Bistro. Buried deep within one of the meccas of commerce on Route 20, the chef-owned restaurant rises above ordinary, in atmosphere but especially in cuisine.
Sage Bistro’s menu is Mediterranean, but leans American. As you’d expect, there’s hummus, falafel, pita and tzatziki, and ingredients include feta cheese, garlic, lemon, extra virgin olive oil. Lamb makes a cameo appearance in a marinated kabob salad ($18). Chef Joseph Soliman adds American favorites like Chicken or Seafood Creole ($24 and $28) and Cajun salmon ($23), globally inspired dishes like shrimp Provencal ($23) and Portuguese chicken ($20). Beef lovers can get a grilled sirloin ($27) or filet ($32) topped with roasted garlic gorgonzola fondue.
A nod is given to vegetarians and gluten-free options are highlighted on the menu. Entrees come with side salad with choice of homemade dressing, and a hummus starter.
My companion, Kate, gushed over the olive-oil topped homemade hummus served with warm pita wedges at Sage Bistro, and complimented the decor in the tastefully decorated dining room. Roomy booths line sage-painted walls, and black paint camouflages ceiling infrastructure and adds mystery. The half-filled dining room buzzed, but in our booth we could hear each other without much trouble.
You’ll see a large glass imported gelato case, empty, as you enter the restaurant. At this time, Sage Bistro does not have gelato available.
Our server was a convert, enthusiastically endorsing dishes, recommending favorites. She narrowed down choices and helped us put together an excellent meal.
Sage Bistro’s take on shrimp Oreganata loses the breading and substitutes slim slices of olive-oil seasoned crunchy crostini, much better for soaking and dipping in the oregano-scented broth. Kate and I shared the four very large shrimp, cut them in pieces and dunked them back in the broth.
“They’re not afraid of garlic here,” observed Kate, who was too polite to say she didn’t care for shrimp when I did the ordering. Although there was an abundance of minced garlic and salt in the white-wine based broth, in a nice balance of flavors, the fresh oregano held its own. “So good,” Kate said.
There was still-hot broth left in the bowl; if we’d had a spoon we’d have finished it off. But wait: Kate left me a wedge of pita. I pointed to it, and
she happily went back to the broth. “I sped through that course,” she said.
Salads next; Kate thought the homemade cucumber dill dressing tasted, “Very fresh.” Although well above average and unquestionably fresh, I like smaller pieces of lettuce and not so much spinach. Kate would have liked more vegetables.
The Absolut chicken ($21) entree was very much to her liking. “This is insane,” she said, digging in to the thinly sliced sautéed chicken and prosciutto in vodka sauce served over, “tons of linguine,” said Kate. The sauce was rich but not heavy, and we both tasted red pepper. A bit of melted cheese and chopped basil finished off the dish.
Let me tell you about the beef special. It’s called shoulder roast and The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association diagram shows it as part of the chuck, which includes cuts like pot roast. Shoulder is an inexpensive piece with potential, best marinated before grilling or slow cooking, which Chef Soliman employed to coax out maximum flavor.
It’s prepared so the meat ends up with a pillowy feel. It doesn’t fall apart so much as pulls apart into soft chunks, not tough fibers, and it’s cooked well past done, until the tough connective tissue softens into gelatin. It’s rich, lovely, delicious. It’s a flavorful piece of meat, with strips of fat,
like brisket has, that add even more flavor.
And through some chef magic, the sliced beef had crisp edges, which made it, amazingly, even better.
Whipped potatoes, mercifully garlic-free were seasoned with a light hand so they tasted like... potatoes. Not heavy with butter, cheese or fat,
the flavor of the potatoes was the star.
Green beans, cooked a bit less that I like, but brilliantly seasoned with chopped fresh herbs including basil, were enhanced further with shredded tangy melted cheese.
Kate and I shared ordered a homemade brownie ($9), which we knew by this point was going to be outstanding, and it was. It had, “the right brownie consistency,” said Kate. It was warm, topped with whipped Chantilly cream and caramel made in the kitchen.
We liked the toasted chopped nuts, and the raspberries tasted, “just picked,” said Kate. They were small and flavorful, with tiny seeds,
same with the blackberries. Although they resembled their giant supermarket cousins, their seeds, again, were small so the focus was on the flavor of the berry. It was a high-class brownie dessert.
During the course of the meal, the chef occupied himself in the open kitchen but also delivered plates to tables and otherwise kept an eye on the running of the dining room. Except for a bit of wait for the entrees, the pace of the meal was perfect.
The tab for this outstanding food came to $66 before tax and tip, not counting two glasses of wine before dinner.
This was Kate’s inaugural gig as companion and she got lucky - our meal at Sage Bistro was outstanding. Even a novice could see that.