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FOOD NEWS: Wonders of Wild Sage
The Wild Sage had me at the fresh white peonies in the bathroom. And then there was the French maitre d’ who refilled our stemmed water glasses with more pomp, circumstance, and flair than I’ve ever imagined could be associated with water. Despite the man sitting at a table next to us wearing a rumpled polo shirt and faded jeans, the eight-table restaurant inside the Rusty Parrot just may be the valley’s most formal restaurant.
Previously I dined at the Wild Sage for a birthday dinner more than three years ago. That night was a lovely experience, but the Wild Sage is so tiny and tucked away I forget about it. Perhaps the pricy menu also impaired my memory, but after revisiting I believe it is so worth it.
The sweet pepper crab cake appetizer – priced at $18 and made with prawn sherry cream, pickled jalapenos and herb oil – ranks among the best crab cakes I’ve ever had. Growing up on the Eastern Bay, an arm of the mighty Chesapeake in Maryland, we enjoyed nightly blue crab feasts with the family. I know crabs. I’m happy to report the Wild Sage does too. The flavor of the crab cakes stands alone, but their prawn sherry cream sauce takes it to another level. After I finished the last bite of the last cake, my dining companion took the plate from me and wiped up every last lick of sauce with a piece of the restaurant’s fresh ciabatta bread, which came to the table hot, salted, and slathered in white truffle infused butter.
The baby spinach salad – priced at $14 and made with duck egg, crimini mushrooms, crispy speck, and balsamic blue cheese dressing – was amazing for the extra crispness of the speck. Speck is a German treat: they take meat from the shoulder of a pig, debone it, marinate it for two weeks in brine flavor with black pepper, pimento, garlic, a little sugar and, distinctively, juniper berries before curing it for five months.
Minus the juniper, it sounds a bit like bacon, huh? It is. But only rubes would call it such. Speck is speck. Especially when prepared as well as that on top of the Wild Sage’s spinach salad.
Entrees are heavy on the meat: pan seared duck breast, bison oxtail, Wagyu beef tenderloin, buffalo rib eye, and wild boar ribs filled out the menu on this night. I love red meat at least as much as the next girl, but happened to be feeling more fishy that night. We ordered the two non-red meat options on the menu: crispy salmon – priced at $36 and made with creamy fennel hash, asparagus, tomato bacon jam – and the bass special that came with broccolini and some sort of kumquat-heavy salsa.
We both agreed my salmon was the standout entrée, though it did not approach the sublimity of the crab cakes. The filet was perfectly cooked, flaking beneath my fork, and the tomato bacon jam, for lack of better words, kicked ass. Acidic and salty in that way only bacon can be, it made a good dish stellar.
Fancy desserts are not my favorite part of a good meal – I can be happy with the perfect chocolate chip cookie or a heavy-on-the-cobbler apple cobbler – but fancy is the word for The Wild Sage dessert menu. As we were just sitting down, the table next to us was enjoying a pear tarte tatin. Priced at $12, it features an entire pear upright on the plate.
We selected a huckleberry shortcake – priced at $11 and made with lemon-scented angel food cake, basil infused huckleberries and almond crème fraiche – that sounded yummy. It was.
The Wild Sage is located at 175 N. Jackson. 733-2000