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Will Sage be all the rage?

The block of Whitaker Street between Congress and Broughton has a new tenant — a restaurant with a small but impressive menu.

Sage quietly opened a couple of weeks ago in the tiny, two–level location that was the long time home to Sushi Zen. Patrons who recall that small, cramped space will find an airier location, white tablecloths and a comfortable setting for dishes that are elegantly presented yet accessible.

We were seated in the balcony. The low ceiling had always felt crushing to me, but a new coat of black paint opens the height sensation.

I had been craving fried calamari, and the nicely crispy breading of the Sage version added just the right saltiness and crunch to a good blend of rings and strips (the word for “tentacles,” which is my favorite part). Chili aioli dipping sauce was creamy and spicy, a fitting companion to the calamari.

Ms. T.J. joined me for this meal, our wedding anniversary celebration, and began her night with Caesar salad. While it was not revolutionary, the salad was executed properly — good flavors, fresh Romaine and an ample portion. A salad does not have to benchmark the meal but certainly needs to be prepared properly. This one was.

Between courses, we nibbled from a jar of cheesy, crisp breadsticks that could become addictive. We both went for beef courses.

Ms. T.J. chose a beef kebab over orzo lemon salad. The citrus elements were in mouthwatering contrast to the tender pieces of medium rare beef. She had plenty remaining to take home.

I chose the beef loin agrodolce. That should mean the beef is accompanied or dressed with a sour and sweet reduction — a flavor combination native to Sicily. And while I did not detect any such dressing, the Medium rare perfection of my amply portion and tender beef tenderloin did not disappoint.

Accompaniments of mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were in harmony with the presentation and the flavors of the dish. As much as I like to try different items from a restaurant’s menu, I might be stuck on this plate from Sage for a while.

The small but thorough wine list offers more than 40 wines by the glass, the bottle or by the bottomless glass. There are two pricing tiers for wines — a method I can appreciate — so picking by price isn’t a exercise in number crunching. The bar offers full liquor service.

Our server, Pete, was efficient, observant and on task.

Sage is owned by veteran downtown restauranteurs Chris Zinaich and Craig Biszack. Their combined experience shows in this fledgling project. Don’t let the white tablecloths scare you away. The food is certainly upscale in concept, but the space is comfortable and inviting  for casual diners.

Appetizers range from $6–$12; main courses from $9–$22. Sage opens at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday. Sunday brunch is served from 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

41 Whitaker St./233–0002