It's been three days, and I can't stop thinking about a grilled Palisade peach — skinned, slightly caramelized, juicy and maniacally good — paired with fresh, lavender-leaf-flecked white chocolate mousse.
Oh, king of fleeting desserts, you creamy $4 freak of fructose, you have my undying fealty.
Damn you, world of non-constant peach production! Damn you, Blue Sage and Greg Soukup! Really — thanks for the glimpse of glory before the long off-season of peach-less suck.
But thems the stakes of farm-to-table dining. Chef Soukup knows that well, since in the summertime he largely designs his weekly café menus around what he buys from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers on Wednesdays.
Blue Sage began offering sit-down lunch service in May, after 3½ years in catering. Dining outside its snug, open prep kitchen — in a bright, local-art-furnished space that hasn't entirely shrugged off its Acoustic Coffee Lounge skin — feels distinctly unlike eating at a regular restaurant. It's more casual, where you can chat with Soukup as he and a slim crew prepare boxed lunches for office deliveries and prep for functions. (Disclaimer: We were unavoidably recognized.)
The menu options, scrawled on a giant mirror, are equally slim: a soup, three salads, five sandwiches, one dessert. The heavy hand of a panini press fashionably chars most breads (a good, gluten-free Udi's whole-grain option is available), and the caterer's touch shows in festive skewered garnishes of cherry tomatoes and hot peppers interwoven with thin pickle slices.
Overall, flavors are on key, save for some textural stumbles and a couple ingredients promised on the menu, but not delivered. Addressing the former grievance first, our otherwise fine citrus berry salad ($8.25/whole, or $8.50/half with half a sandwich), with grapefruit segments, strawberries, fried goat cheese and candied walnuts, came drenched in a berry balsamic dressing, making for soggy baby greens.
On a gazpacho shrimp salad ($7.95), the prawns were mushy, as if over-cured by the citrus element, in stark contrast to the super-fresh salad greens, arugula, cucumber and outstanding Venetucci Farm heirloom tomatoes. One dining mate couldn't get past the cafeteria-like, spongy cubes of ranch-soaked turkey on the Chop Chop Salad ($10.25), which otherwise had a decent Southwest vibe going. And a Cuban ($8.25) was dry, in need of more mustard and arguably some Swiss cheese. (Soukup swapped it out with cabbage strands for crunch.) It also could have used more mojo-sauce flavor in the pork; Soukup goes with a dry spice rub and lemon.
As for the MIA, feta cheese was missing on a still-tasty spinach, artichoke heart and olive panini ($8.50), and a delightful smoked turkey and Brie on sourdough ($8.75) lacked the nut component of an advertised cranberry-walnut chutney.
A guacamole bacon burger with fresh relish ($7.95) was flawless, though, as was an Bombay chicken sandwich with orange curry yogurt ($8.50). Soukup also deserves credit for experimentation with a creamy salmon, shrimp and Swiss chard soup ($4.50), into which he whimsically tosses Brie cubes, breaking his own rule of never pairing fish and cheese. It wasn't unpleasant, but needed ample sea salt from our table setting, since he prefers to let diners salt to their own tastes.
For my taste, Blue Sage wins with the fresh and local focus, but can obviously tweak a few techniques to consistently deliver that haunting peachy perfection of which it's capable.
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