Sage still serves up la dolce vita

Email|Print| Text size + By Wesley Morris
August 17, 2007

When the Yankees have the Red Sox's diminished lead in their sights, as they currently do, one might expect that every flat-screen television in every local restaurant that's paid its cable bill will show the game. On a recent Monday night, Sage, the reliable Italian place that just moved from the North End to the South End, was playing "La Dolce Vita." The TV hangs above the bar, and no one complained until about the seventh inning. This might be worrying news for Sox fans (the bartender says it was a fluke; he thought the game was on the West Coast). But it's a boon for Fellini lovers.

When there's no baseball, Sage runs Italian movies at the bar-cafe area. That's the place in this restaurant to be -- and not just for the movies. The light from the widescreen windows doesn't adequately reach back to the modest dining room, and no one on the otherwise accommodating staff has found a way to bring a side of natural light with the melon and carpaccio soup. But the dish stands on it own. The airy sweetness of fruit and the soft but rich texture of the meat was a kind of lightness in itself.

When it was in the North End, Sage acquired a reputation for impressive classic and contemporary Italian dishes that chef Anthony Susi and his staff prepared with heart and skill. The food was inventive but not intimidating. Its gradual acclaim meant getting a seat at one of the 10 tables could be a hassle, but a worthy one. High-tailing it to the South End, on the same strip of Washington Street that's home to Union, was both a trendy move (the perpetually jammed Stella isn't far away either) and a means of expansion (the bar/café area is new and allows you to marvel at one jovial bartender's indelicate pours). It probably also invites a slightly newer audience. Hipsters who work at nearby restaurants come and party at the bar -- on a bustling Monday night. That same night, the menu was limited (it was restaurant week). But that actually took some of the worry off having to decide what to do: three courses for $33.07.

Arancini (a fried rice ball) had been stuffed with short rib. A salmon cake on top of creamy avocado also came with a delicious marinated corn-and-red-onion salad at the other end of the plate. The positioning was adversarial, but the tastes were oddly complementary. The tangy salad woke up the humorlessness of the fish. A roasted chicken breast with an olive tapenade was pretty much what you want when the heat index is threatening triple digits. And skirt steak served with a panzanella salad (marinated tomato, basil, and bread) was actually revelatory. The extra crispy duck leg would have benefited from the succulence of either of those meat dishes -- it was arid.

But by dessert, no one really remembered. Sage mercifully spares you the tiramisu and the hunk of chocolate cake that less inspired restaurants lean on. In this town, orange panna cotta with cherries is a novelty. The crespelli -- a crepe filled with berries and the sweetest, creamiest mascarpone cheese -- was downright hallucinatory. Under its spell, anybody could look up at that monitor and swear that Marcello Mastroianni was fielding for the Red Sox.

Sage , 1395 Washington St., 617-248-8814 , Entrees $20 -$31; wines by the glass $8-$16


Cuisine: Italian/Pizza

Address: 1395 Washington St., Boston (North End)

Phone: 617-617-8814

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Closed Sun.

Prices: Entrees $20-$31. Wines by the glass $8-$16.

Comments: Reservations.

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