The Sage of Newport

Photo by Jeanne RiceI like wine, but I don't know much about it. I don't subscribe to Wine Snit magazine, and I generally drink whatever's $5 or less per bottle down at Liquor Trough.

And I have never, ever in my life sent back a bottle of wine at a restaurant. Like I'm going to pit my wine discernment against some bristly sommelier? They could pour salad dressing—with croutons—into my glass, and I wouldn't send it back.

Ah, but that's changed now. Some friends and I were dining at Sage in Newport Beach's Eastbluff environs, and two of us had sampled our Syrah and determined it had gone vinegary. Even then we were going to keep it—hadn't Colonel Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the American Revolution, subsisted in Carolina swamps on a daily regimen of vinegar?—but our waiter insisted, "You shouldn't drink wine you don't like" and brought us a more convivial vintage.

How many concise truths are there in the world?

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"The unexamined life is not worth living."

"You shouldn't drink wine you don't like."

Thank you, Greg the Waiter, for adding to the sum of man's wisdom.

Dining at Sage can be a mite pricy, and appetizers have names that defy you to say them five times fast, like "warm roast root vegetable salad." Yet locals regard the place as their regular hang—"like it's their neighborhood Bob's Big Boy," according to Greg.

But it is possible to dine cheaply and well there. The pizzas are superfine, from the $8 tomato/basil/fontina/mozzarella combo to the $11 seafood pizza with shrimp and scallops and pesto. There are also three chicken- or fish-enhanced pastas for $15 or less, or you can pretty much make a go of it with a $7 Chinese chicken salad or a $9 goat cheese salad.

But then you hear the call of the rib-eye steak imploring, "Eat me, fat boy—c'mon," joined by a chorus of its accompanying friends: the balsamic grilled red onions, potato goat cheese lasagna, grilled zucchini and yellow squash swimming in beef jus with an attending tiny crock of Dijon horseradish cream. And you can't quite have that without also throwing down some fresh figs and prosciutto served—with some assembly required—on toasted rosemary bread with warm goat cheese, arugula and pine nuts swimming in balsamic syrup. It helps to be able to swim if you're a foodstuff at Sage. And, of course, you're not going to be eating that without some wine or some apple walnut crumble to tamp it all down.

The path of excess is strewn with goat cheese and arugula, and it is not too long before you note that your tab has strayed a bit beyond Big Boy territory and that there is no free comic book. You just need to start making more money, so get cracking, and then come back for more.

According to the menu, this is "creative American cuisine," and that is largely a good thing. The grilled T-bone pork chop, for example, is slathered in a stunning meaty port sauce, with a corn bread dressing to sop it up and other well-blended accompaniments. The Gorgonzola salad is a masterful melding of greens with candied pecans, Granny Smith apples, dried cranberries and a raspberry vinaigrette.

Some items, however, such as the seared Arctic char (it's a fish!) with Israeli couscous, roast asparagus, leeks, scallions and Maui onions, grilled corn, squash and tomatoes with Dijon vinaigrette, balsamic syrup and mango relish, can make you think, "Jesus, chef, you've impressed me. Can you back off the throttle a little now?"

Many of the above-mentioned items were from the menu's specials page, though some (such as the rib-eye and the figs and prosciutto) make frequent appearances there. There is also a sizable and significantly different lunch menu that includes a number of burgers and sandwiches, a shrimp tostada, and a Cajun steak with Gorgonzola cheese.

Along with an excellent staff and an appealing interior, Sage has a relaxing, quiet dining patio. It is the perfect place to argue with your Republican friends. Once they're appropriately stuffed and comfortable, you can just about get them to agree that Castro would make a good U.S. president, as long as Big Boy could be VP.

Sage Restaurant, located at 2531 Eastbluff, Newport Beach, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (949) 718-9650. Dinner for two, $18-$80, food only. Full bar. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.

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Sage Restaurant

2531 Eastbluff Dr.
Newport Beach, CA 92660


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