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Sage: Everything was perfect until...

Four of us went to Sage last night to celebrate a birthday -- our first time at the South End location. First we had a drink at the bar (most memorable was a bitter campari drink on their cocktail menu) and shared a light, smoky, crisp pizza.

We moved to our table, and service started off impeccably. I ordered the soup and the fazoleti. Soup was a sunchoke puree with crabmeat; I don’t even know what a sunchoke is but it was scrumptious – a cross between artichoke and parsnip. The veal and spinach fazoleti was described by our server as a big ravioli but it more closely resembled crespelle, Italian crepes. So good, so good.

I tasted a bit of my DC’s gnocchi, and it continues to be the best in town. Not just light and airy, but imbued with all the surrounding flavors in the dish.

Then we ordered a cheese plate for dessert. And we waited. Twenty minutes passed and we finally managed to catch our server’s eye. When we told her our cheese plate was taking an inordinate time to come out, she scowled, said OK, and literally turned away from us without another word. No “sorry”; no “I’ll check on that for you”. The restaurant was packed by then and we understood that she was busy but we would have appreciated some simple courtesy.

After another 5 minutes the manager finally brought out the cheeses. When we commented that we had been waiting a long time, here was his reply: “It’s artisanal cheese; it takes time to slice it.” This was plainly an asinine remark, when a “sorry, we’re backed up” would have satisfied us.

The food was uniformly yummy. The first 2 courses were well paced. The new space is lovely. But Sage needs to work on the service and attitude.

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  1. That is actually hilarious. I would have laughed in his face. Time to slice it? Do you recall the types of cheese?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Dax

      It was clearly a slip of the tongue...he MEANT to say "it takes time to AGE it."

      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Actually my first thought when reading this is they wanted to give the cheese time to come to room temp before serving it -- vastly improving the aroma and texture, etc.. But most places that offer a cheese course will have them out during the entire service, so resting the cheese wouldn't be necessary. I think they forgot, and instead of saying "we forgot, let us bring you a glass of wine" they were snarky. That's too bad.

      2. re: Dax

        I remember 2 of the 3: sottocenere al tartufo and roomano pradera.

        Our butter knives sliced right into them with little time or effort.

      3. Sunchoke is another name for Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem. It's the tuber of a species of sunflower from North America. They're easy to grow and you can find them in grocery stores.

        I wonder if they had to take time to hand-forge a knife to cut their artisanal cheese.

        1. Oh, that's not so bad at all! I thought the post was going to go something like "Sage: Everything was perfect until... the explosive diarrhea" or something awful like that. Late cheese is nothing. :o)

          1. Just a thought here, most imported cheeses need to be served at room temp, or close to it, for it's max taste benefit. Maybe the mgr, being in a rush which is no excuse, didn't explain that. His bad!

            6 Replies
            1. re: treb

              If a cheese plate is offered all night with the same cheeses, would they not keep out some quantity so that they would not have to bring to room temp every time a plate is ordered? With that said, most of the kitchen will obviously higher than any 64-75 degree "normal" room temp so I guess it would have to be kept elsewhere.

              1. re: Dax

                See my response upthread. Most places that serve a cheese course have the cheese "tempered" for the entire service. L'espalier, for example, has the cheeses at room temp on a rolling cart.

                1. re: yumyum

                  I saw your response but kind of wondered where they kept the tray to keep the excessive heat of the kitchen from it. I guess if it's on a cart they can keep it anywhere.

                  1. re: Dax

                    I think room temp is a little low, anyway...I always like to serve at room temp on a 90 degree day, so a kitchen would be the perfect place for tempering, IMHO...My other favorites are the area over the pilot light on a gas stove, and a car dashboard.....

                2. re: Dax

                  You would think that the estab. had it's act together, 'Assumed' they would keep cheese in a 'ready to serve state', bad to assume I guess. Shame on Sage, that's the difference between an average place and a great place.

                  1. re: Dax

                    i used to work in a restaurant where we had to tell the guests that a cheese plate will be about a 15 minute wait to allow the cheese to come to room temperature. the chef didn't leave it out at room temp all night because it was a health code violation to leave cheese unrefridgerated for long periods of time. he would rather have the guests wait 15 minutes rather than get nabbed during a surprise inspection. i always thought he was being a little over-cautious considering so many restaurants store their cheese at room temp, but who was i to argue with him about the rules?

                3. Funnily enough, we were also there on Saturday night and had a service issue. We were walk ins so sat at that bar. Our side dishes didnt come out of the kitchen until well after we finished our mains despite trying to go slowly and repeated asking. I have to say though, the sides were on the house and the maitre d' came over to apologize. Maybe they were short handed in the kitchen that night?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: MellieMac

                    Either that or they were "artisan sides" that take extra long to prepare.

                    1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                      Sauteed pea tendrils and panzerotti? Probably not artisan sides.

                        1. re: tatamagouche

                          Yes.....a sorry attempt at one, anyway ;)

                    2. re: MellieMac

                      Seems like there has been a lot of FOH staff turnover at Sage recently; I saw a lot of new faces on a recent visit.

                    3. It's been a while, but I had a totally forgettable meal at Sage and also encountered service that was rude. Your indignation over the cheese was perfectly understandable and is indicative of an attitude found all too often at restaurants with pretensions of grandeur. Having worked in many fine restaurants on both sides, I can tell you that an attitude like that is a direct reflection of the ownership. People complain about Parisians, but I can tell you that I've encountered far more rudeness in Boston as a resident than I have in Paris as a tourist, and a bad French speaker at that. Phooey on Sage and its ilk, patronage restaurants that actually value their customers. Case in point, went to Eastern Standard the other day for dinner and had exemplary service (ok, they missed pouring the wine once) from start to finish. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised when they brought us the foie gras app for no apparent reason. Despite its boisterous bistro ambiance and location, it is a restaurant where the staff is well-trained and alert.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: globalevent

                        Why can't we have both? I would love to have Eastern Standard service and Sage food. We find the food at Eastern Standard to be average, and can't justify going back just for the service experience. OTOH, the service issues at Sage sometimes overshadow the great food.

                        1. re: Duster17

                          rude waitress one time ok..manager in the same night..nope, would NOT go back and WOULD let them know..

                      2. My sig other and I were there about 10 days ago for her b-day and really looking forward to it.We had been planning to try it ever since he left the north end. Had a surly waitress who seemed to only stop by the table out of obligation. She also missed a few opportunities to make him more $$.
                        The food was good but not excellent as we expectedl and overpriced.
                        A return visit is highly unlikely.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: merilaw1

                          I'm curious - did you say anything to the MOD that evening (or follow-up with an Email or phone call the next day so as not to upset your sig. other on her birthday)? I can understand not going back if the food wasn't as you had expected and overpriced...the food is the food as the chef wants to prepare it. But poor service could (hopefully) be rectified by management - but only if they know about it.

                        2. (This was originally part of my response to a since-removed post; these are my more generic points.)

                          I like Sage a lot, dine there fairly often. I think the waitstaff that I know (a small handful, given the huge turnover recently) is excellent, very professional. Susi's cooking remains as fine it was in the North End. But I wouldn't go so far as to call it a jewel that needs a rallying of Hounds to keep it going, as some partisans have suggested. It's still a moderately expensive South End fine-dining option, though prices have come down a bit (fewer entrees near $30), a pretty reasonably-priced bar menu, and some early-evening freebies and specials.

                          If Sage has a problem filling that dining room (and I think it does on weeknights, like restaurants all over the city in the current economic climate), it's because they cut corners on the decor. At these prices in the South End, diners expect something nicer looking. Spectacular designs at Banq and Gaslight, nearby restaurants with comparable prices, only underscore this issue.

                          1. This topic may have been beaten to death, but I'll add my $0.02. I had a similar experience at Sage. We had already received and nearly finished our apps but the wine hadn't been brought. I caught our server's eye and told her that we didn't have our wine yet. She just said "OK" and walked away. It took another 10 minutes to get the wine. No apology.

                            I understand that sometimes restaurants are busy and things get backed up. However, Sage should realize that a little courtesy goes a long way. I agree with the Hound who said that service is what separates a good place from a great one. By contrast, my recent dinner at L'Espalier was a model of good service. And it didn't take 25 minutes to bring the cheese.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: neocx

                              Contrast my Birch Street Bistro experience - delay in getting another beer - reminded the server who apologized - bartender finally brought it over, who also apologized. It's a small thing, but it helps.

                            2. I haven't been to Sage since it was located in the North End, and I was shocked to read that they have a hard time attracting people; I remember it as being often crowded in the NE.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                The South End location, if you include the bar and bar area tables, has probably three times as many seats as the original North End location.

                              2. I guess I'm piling on at this point....but we recently went to the new location for the first time, remembering a fabulous meal in the North End. The food was still wonderful (arancini...mmmm), but the service was definitely lacking...and we were at the bar toward the end of a weekday evening! The bartender barely glanced in our direction the entire time we were there and we had to wait 10 minutes for his attention to request a bit more sauce for the gnocchi, which seemed slightly dry. Apparently he was too busy talking to his friends at the end of the bar. My husband and I eat at the bar very frequently, as we usually find the service better, given the limited physical space the bartender must cover. But not at Sage. Though the food was tasty, I doubt I'll be able to convince my husband to return anytime soon. The service left a bad taste in our mouths.

                                1. I'm also happy to find out that I am not the only one who thinks Sage needs an attitude adjustment. My DC and I have been there 3 times and every time there was a problem with the service. I won't go into details, because my experience has been identical to many posted here (late dishes, and rude, unapologetic, wait staff). I would just like to point out that a little kindness goes a long way even when the kitchen is slow, etc. I hope Sage reads this post and learns. I, for one, won't be back until I hear that things have improved.


                                  1. It is disheartening to know that good restaurants put such poor emphasis on service...like it's your *privilege* to be there so they don't have to do anything...like they're saying "you're really not required here, so take what you get." And they can get away with it. I really can't stand when they have some dumb excuse for something, like in your instance. One time when I got some cold food, they said it was because it was *winter* outside! :)