15916 NE 83rd Street
Redmond WA 98052
Fine Italian Dining Hiding in Plain Sight
By: Grant Y
Sages manages to find itself in a unique position of barely sliding into the both the fine dining and a hole-in-the-wall category at the same time. In Redmond, the intersection of 160th Ave and NE 83rd St features such remarkable sights like an open field, a crosswalk, bus station, and just recently a new condo development.
What a marvelous Italian restaurant like Sages is doing at this location is somewhat bewildering, until you realize that Oobas, one of the best Mexican restaurants this side of the lake, is just down the street. Perhaps there is more to this particular Redmond block that meets the eye.
Sages is owned and operated by Bart Kuliczkowski, along with his wife Jerri. Kuliczkowski started his restaurant career at Tosoni's in Bellevue nearly two decades ago and for ten years, he was the executive chef at highly regarded Ristorante Paradiso in Kirkland. When Sages opened in 2001, Kuliczkowski took a radical approach not often seen in the restaurant industry by not hiring any side chefs. Instead, to maintain control and consistency in his meals, Kuliczkowski does all the prep and cooking by himself to this day. Apparently, the wisdom that warns against having too many chefs in the kitchen is one that Kuliczkowski takes to heart.
Though Sages offers a culinary mix of Italian and European styles, the setting feels classically American. A window paned double-door opens into the foyer, which reveals a "less is more" interior that draws most of its ambiance from white table linens and simple table settings. This was a huge contrast to the other Italian restaurants in the area like Tropea or Spazzo, which work heavily on the mood setting atmosphere. In fact, Sages' seemed far more suited to having the orchestral soundtrack of Gone with the Wind playing in the background versus the standard and far overplayed Godfather music.
The menu showcases its Italian offering with a wide selection of pastas and meats. Classics such as veal parmesan and lasagna are present, but Sages also ventures into less charted territories with its veal wrapped prawns, BBQ pasta, and chicken marsala. Kuliczkowski, not one to hide his European background, creates daily soups from scratch that include Northwest clam chowder, butternut squash and wild mushroom to name a few.
Our review for Sages included two guest reviewers, Tim and Sharon, who are both avid foodies and came straight from a hiking trip for the review with their hunger roaring.
We started with the Shrimp Tower, a delightfully arranged dish that featured stacked juicy shrimp drizzled with an herb vinaigrette accompanied by a side of toasted bread and reduced meat sauce. I was surprised to find a fair amount of heat to the shrimp, as it was not mentioned on the menu nor is it often encountered in Italian cuisine. That said, it was not overpowering and helped add flavor to the dish. The bread was crisp, which complimented the shrimp, but resistant to soaking up the chowder flavored broth.
My other starter was a Tomoto Bisque, which I only ordered as it was highly recommended. Normally not particular to bisque, I was glad to be proven wrong, as it was creamy, smooth, and a delicious concoction of tomato flavors.
I opted for a rendition of a popular classic with Sages' Angel Hair Pasta with Garlic Prawns. The pasta was simple, used few ingredients, and didn't try hard to impress - but did exactly that. My theory is that Kuliczkowski understands the "less is more" concept quite well by using just enough seasonings to keep a balance of flavors. Cooking technique is on the spot, with well-cooked pasta and moist shrimp.
For dessert, we ordered the trio-sampler which included a Chocolate Decadence Cake, Tiramisu, and Lemon Cheesecake. I enjoyed the subtle nuance of the chocolate decadence, which had a velvety moose texture and a tart contrast of raspberry sauce. I wasn't jumping over the moon for the tiramisu, but loved the cheesecake which balanced a lemony zest while not succumbing to being too rich.
As with all the dishes, the shrimp tower was a wonderful presentation that demonstrated the sincere effort of the chef. The shrimp were large, tasty, and there was a surprising kick of spice in the sauce which gave them a perfect edge.
As a signature dish, the Pork Tenderloin did not disappoint. Savory is the one word that comes to mind when describing this fantastic moist pork dish that exhibited a great balance of strong flavors without being overwhelming. Throw in a wonderful presentation combined with a large serving size and you have a winner. Also, at many establishments, the tiramisu is dry or saturated, but Sages found the perfect, moist balance for this dessert.
The presentation of the shrimp tower was very nice and had the spice that Grant mentioned. If you like cucumbers, you'll like the Greek salad, as it was filled with tasty, fresh cucumber slices.
I also had Bart's Signature Chicken, which was stuffed with spinach and goat cheese, topped with mushrooms and drizzled in a marsala sauce. It was presented well and accompanied by tasty potatoes and veggies. The chicken was sweet, moist and very tasty - yummy! I liked the addition of the goat cheese, as it added a nice touch to the flavor.
From the dessert tray, my favorite was the Chocolate Decadence, which was very rich and also very yummy.
Compared with Italian chain restaurants like Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden, and Buca De Beppo, Sages is considerably better and notably tastier.
I thought that service was decent, but had many opportunities to be better. Kuliczkowski, who was our server, was somewhat unenthusiastic at recommending dishes and at explaining dishes as they arrived. Given the excellent plating, it was a lost opportunity for effect. I may simply be nit-picky, however, as Tim and Sharon were enamored with the service. They both praised that questions about food were answered impeccably and appreciated the small details like unfolding our napkins and advising us on the proper way to pour wine.
We all agreed however, that Sages is a terrific restaurant with expertly prepared food. Though plates can run up from $20 to $30 an entree, dinner is still a good value compared to restaurants of a similar caliber. Overall, Sages is a solid dining experience in the heart of Redmond and we can't wait to go back again.
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