The great zest of life is when you're just out living and you experience new things, happenstance, with no expectations. It is what we experienced last night at our new surprise favorite restaurant. We will be venturing to Brainerd, MN far more often, I dare to wager.
Last night we had a movie date night and made no plans for dinner before hand. We were caught up in driving and talking and enjoying the warmth of the car against the super chill we've been experiencing the last few days. Browsing downtown Brainerd, we pulled up into a parking space, just happening to be in front of Sage on Laurel, a restaurant newly opened downtown.
We were so deep in discussion and feelings of some recent difficulties we were processing that we really weren't even thinking of food. It was more of a formality at that point. We literally were paying no attention in what we were doing just going through the motions of "dinner and a movie" and expecting the same old with a new restaurant, so it was a complete surprise to us as we walked in and stopped just inside the door and said, "wow". A much needed uplevel in emotional vibration immediately took place inside me as I felt a connection to the creative places within me. It isn't that the decor is luxuriously expensive and corporately "planned out" with the intention of rivalling the restaurants that already exist(thank God), but that it felt like life itself with it's organized haphazard array of life's beautiful finds. The setting was simple and uncomplicated. The decision(whether or not it was consciously done or not, I don't know) to play on creativity was genius, as it hinted that we might also be surprised by a unique menu. There was an inviting mini studio in the corner of the front window with an eclectic showing of artwork on the walls, and a stage behind, speaking of the open mic nights that will soon bounce off the old style brick walls.
Pulling in, we were expecting the dark, dank heavy atmosphere of the multitude of bar restaurants you find everywhere, especially in new start ups. Instead what we found was a lively lit (and not overbright) comforting simplicity that when I reflect on it now, perfectly exemplifies the vibrant and lively offerings on the menu.
And all at once, an unplanned review was underway. First impressions are a wonderful thing and I was anxious for the second, the menu.
Rarely, with my food preferences and the reviews I've conducted, do I find MULTIPLE options on the menu, where the choosing was actually difficult. There were so many dishes I wanted to try. Usually, it's narrowed down to what I can "make work", but this menu could have been pages out of my own recipe books. Yes, I wish this kitchen abutted the rear of my house. It is nice to know that there ARE indeed quality restaurants where food is explored and honored and preserving the food's true value of uniqueness itself is centerpoint. People of Sage, I don't know if you planned this, but I mean to make you aware of it as I believe it will be key to your success. Please don't get caught up as others do in trying to get so creative with a dish that you actually mask the value of the food itself. Thus far and as far as I can see, you have done a FANTASTIC job of showcasing the food's qualities, pulling out the best in each food and matching and pairing them well with other tastes and textures. Keep this up and you will truly be set apart from the rest.
I will admit we need to return and try the dinner menu as we occupied ourselves with sides and appetizers in order to sample more of the tastes. But it was enough. It was satisfying and filling and left us not feeling heavy and overfull. And the pricing is efficient, in case you were wondering. It all added to the feeling that there was real care in hostessing food because of loving food, not to be showy and be something they are not.
When you go and try them out, and I would immediately and often, try the Thai Spring Rolls. One bite and I quote, "Oh my God, I want to eat these everyday."
The sweet potato fries were an original take on a newer classic and it worked! A word to those who avoid sugar, I ordered mine without the cinnamon sugar toss that I am sure would have been delicious, but doing so did not result in a lack of flavor. It was comfort food for sure. I would have no questions about their ability to adapt any of the menu to my particular preferences and that makes me feel safe in their hands. As with anywhere you go, just let them know your needs. Though it will be lovely to sample choices just as the chef prepares, (I would hate to miss her lovely creations in favor of trying to make it how I want it) and of course adaptations are occassionally necessary for some of us, but for sure this restaurant is less risky with their frankness and purity of combining real foods.
I can't say enough about the crispy, vibrant and lively tastes, textures and freshness of our meal. We left feeling physically satisfied as well as inspired and feeling that we truly enjoyed a meal that nourished the body, in addition to providing an environment that nourished my soul in a much needed way.
My advice is to continue what you have created with the combination of "simple classic meets inventive creativity", while keeping it classy and smart, not as the image of a poor arthouse, with both the food and the ambience. Get your Facebook page to showcase your image as well as your restaurant does. And hang in there. This restaurant needs to stick around.