By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
A plate of meatloaf ($13.50) wasn't worth bothering with; despite being made with filet mignon and veal, the dish was dreary and dry. The mashed potatoes and grilled veg served with it were just perfect, though.
Our daube de boeuf ($13.95) was rich, deep, dark, and winey with hints of fruity sweetness (the menu says orange zest) and great complexity of flavor -- it all pulled together beautifully around tender chunks of beef. Diving into this dish was like exploring your subconscious; it was a delicious process of discovery that kept turning up new experiences. The heartwarming stew came festooned with a puff pastry croute hat. This croute, which appears all over the menu -- with the escargots, the coquilles St. Jacques, with a brie appetizer, with the dessert profiteroles, was completely inexplicable. Depending upon the dish, it veered between flakey but flavorless to tough as jerky. It didn't add a thing to the daube; neither did the penne pasta it was served on. Buttery flat noodles, or, even better, a really good half-loaf of bread, would have been just the ticket. As for my friend's coquilles St. Jacques ($15.95), the scallops were plump, but soggy and flavorless. They were rescued by a puddle of fennel cream sauce that was so good we could have quaffed a bowl of it by itself. We thought we could taste brandy, certainly white wine, and it evinced that wonderful layered effect French sauces have, where you can tease out flavors just briefly before they lapse back into harmony.
En fin, the desserts were a disaster. To screw up a crepe au chocolat ($5.95) takes deliberation. Flour, butter, egg, milk, and a hot pan is all you need to make one. At Sage, here's how you botch it: First, freeze your crepe forever. Then thaw it out and let it sit around getting as stale as the soles of your chausseurs. Overfill it with whipped cream and raspberries; drizzle a bunch of Hershey's syrup all over it. Serve on a gigantic platter.
A French bakery we like in Lantana, Le Petit Pain, makes crepes daily. Two dollars buys you one rolled around raspberry or chocolate filling, and a single bite is enough to transport the most jaded gastronome. Spongy, light, and buttery, this crepe is a revelation. It takes some skill to make these, but chef Tasic, who according to Sage's website was once "honored by Paris Match as the best young chef of France" must know how to cook a pancake. What possible excuse could his kitchen have for serving these boggling imposters? Some notion that Americans have no palate and require desserts the size of their own heads? Possibly true, but still no excuse!
It's easier to make a wildly unsuccessful profiterole with ice cream. A profiterole is basically a delicate pastry built around empty space -- very Being and Nothingness. Sage's version ($7.95, the chef's special) was a puff pastry so unpuffed you could use it as shirt backing. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: There was too much there there.
I hope Tasic makes one New Year's resolution for 2005: May he strive to perfect all the elements at Sage to meet the standards of its gorgeous setting and the chef's own fine reputation. Like Woolf's famous daube de boeuf, let him bring exquisite order to our chaotic lives. Things are damned difficult and humbling enough without our having to lose the battle to puff pastry.