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(not to be confused with a restaurant of the same name in Canmore, AB)
University Centre, 6331 Crescent Road, Vancouver, BC
Breakfast, 7:15am to 9:00am
Lunch, 11:30am to 2:00pm
Dinner, open for special events only
Certainly the many academic campuses that I have visited in my lifetime have been infamous for their usual array of dismal cafeterias and fast food chains dishing out pre-packaged, pre-cooked, preservative-filled, artificially-colored disasters that can be had for cheap – a key element in deciding what to eat for many a starving student. So I was intrigued upon hearing of this restaurant that had boldly decided to set up right on the campus of the University of British Columbia, which for those who have never been, is positioned on one of the most beautiful pieces of land, not only in Canada, but I reckon around the world. Sage Bistro, through the online community, seemed to be appreciated by those few who perhaps even knew about it, and I decided that it being the summer break and with me in the neighbourhood, that I would check it out for the very first time. My main interest was to see if the buzz I’d heard was truly deserved, or more based on being a ‘big fish in a small pond’ – getting its praise simply by being in a geographical space dominated by the aforementioned fast food competition, as well as being well off the beaten path.
Stepping inside, I expected a lot less people with main classes not in session, so I was surprised to see quite a full dining area. A long table of about twenty people right in the middle of the floor seemed to be partaking in some kind of social gathering, while another whole section of the room was being set up and not being used at all. Without a reservation, my guest and I were whisked away to the lounge area – seeing it in the light made it seem all the 1980’s tackiness I heard it was cracked up to be – with its red brick wall which reminded me of my old elementary school’s exterior. This month’s lunch menu featured a choice of two appetizers, three salads, two pastas, four entrees and three vegetarian dishes. Sitting next to us was an older couple, who apparently had not ordered any appetizers, and on the other side, a pair of gentlemen who had. I guess for lunch, its really up to you, though figure an entree per person is just the right volume.
But wanting to get the most out of this visit, I brought a guest along and we both chose an appetizer to start off, to get the most exposure to this establishment’s offerings as we could. A plate of three types of bread was brought to our table (a second basket would cost you $2.50) after we’d received the menus. An opening volley to the meal was the day’s soup creation – a smooth asparagus soup with sliced almonds. I thought it would be richer and thicker, but turned out to be just the right consistency for this part of the meal, with good flavours that were not too overpowering. At $6.00 for the side size and $7.00 for the entree size, the latter I was told was just another cup more in volume, it seemed a bit steep though, and I know a cup was more than enough and can’t imagine how someone could have more than this for a meal.
As a second warm-up, a plate with a trio of Dungeness crab cakes ($8.00) with lime-chilli aioli, served with a slaw of red & yellow onions and cilantro, was brought to our table. On first glance, the intense darkness in color turned me off as I thought for sure they were overcooked on the outside… and taking a bite, they certainly were. Inside though, it was still remarkably moist and crumbled easily with a fork and the flavours were spot on, I especially liked the kick coming from the aioli! The slaw was nice, not too sour and softened just right to match the creamy texture of the cakes.
Mains selected were the campanelli pasta ($14.00) with mussels and chorizo, tossed in a garlic/shallot/lemon juice/parsley sauce & a guajillo chile and lime marinated roast chicken ($17.00) – bone-in leg and breast portions – served with a pineapple salsa on a rice pilaf with spears of green asparagus and yellow carrots. Its been a while since I’ve tasted campanelli, and soon remembered why I was not a big fan as they just seem huge per bite and kind of flip flop all over the place when you try to stab them with a fork. 🙂 The mussels were tiny but not dried out, and the chorizo was fantastic! Something from the sauce, think it was either the shallots or the parsley, however was a turn off, as it was just coming across as bitter and the more pieces I ate, the more this sensation grew on my taste buds, much to my dismay.
The roast chicken was well cooked inside, certainly not overdone, and the chile/lime sauce had caramelized well on the exterior skin and had dripped nicely onto the bed of pilaf, giving that more flavour components. The roasted summer veggies added some more color to the plate, making the whole presentation stand out. Not an overly experimental dish, but good solid, earthy tastes throughout, well fitting to the bright day we had that was still a bit on the chilly side with the blowing wind.
All in all, a pleasant experience, good though not overly outstanding food, with generally attentive service (getting some attention for the bill at the end was trying, as it seemed a bunch of others were wanting the same thing and the lounge was just staffed by one person, though two others had been around earlier delivering plates and refilling water). Hard to be sure, but the clientele seemed to be more people who either worked on campus (e.g. professors, admin staff) or people living in the nearby neighbourhoods, and larger parties gathered for special occasions. I am sure if on this day they had opened up the seating outside with the fantastic view of the water, they’d have more people coming for the view. Perhaps its both a blessing and a curse to be located on such prime real estate, in a more distant part of Vancouver proper, though judging from the busy lunch crowd, it looks like Sage Bistro and Chef de cuisine Andreas Kodis have found themselves a nice little niche in this neck of the woods…