birthday dinner round II - blue sage veg grille

what do you get the foodie who has everything? ok, while she doesn't have the fully stocked kitchen of her dreams, sissy lauren has been gifted numerous cooking items. in fact, she's just been gifted many things from me in general over our 24 year-long course as sisters. so for her recent birthday i found myself at a bit of a loss. an extra special dinner out is always fun, i figured, but where? we've been to horizons enough times to give it a rest, mi lah has recently been super disappointing, and sadly, that kind of covers it for fully vegetarian restaurants in the city. maybe upstairs at govinda's but...eh, i dunno that just never seems appealing to me. so i literally googled "vegetarian restaurants philly," and amongst all the crap that came up from the search, i saw one name i'd never heard of, blue sage vegetarian grille.

i looked over the menu and excitedly sent the link to lauren. she agreed that we should try it out, and we finally got our schedules to click (it is a few weeks past her actual birthday), and made the reservation for this past wednesday. now, blue sage is not in philadelphia proper; it's actually about a 1/2 hour drive, up 95N and then down street road, in a town called southampton. if you weren't specifically looking for it, you could easily miss the restaurant, tucked away in a little shopping center, very suburban. bottle of white wine in hand - it's a BYOB - we ran into the joint (we were a bit later than our rez...driving down those main drags always takes longer than you think), and the place was packed! a good sign on a weeknight. the restaurant is pretty small, and it took us little while to get seated, and our impatience was heightened by our growling bellies.

finally at our seats, we took stock of the interior. overall, pretty non-descript and boring, as you can see from the photo on their website. many of the tables were really close together, but we had a more generously sized personal bubble up against the front wall. not spacious enough to shield the comments of the nerdy, tact-less older couple next to us, who kept quietly commenting, as if we couldn't hear them from 3 feet away, on how we were photographing our food. forget the BYOB, just MYOB. geez.

more importantly, the wine was poured, and we made our menu selections with our cute, non-invasive waitress. the menu was about 1/2 vegetarian and 1/2 vegan, with some interesting options. some of the descriptions were a bit overdone, nearing paragraph length at times, and "simple" is not what i'd call this food. in that cliche gourmond way, everything had tons of ingredients. one interesting thing that we noted was the absence of tofu, or any other "meat substitutes." just tons and tons of vegetable dishes, which is awesome. anyway, soon the food started coming and i stopped analyzing and just started eating. first, a little bonus starter: walnut honey pumpernickel bread with pumpkin seed butter and cranberry jam, a cool twist on pb&j.

the pumpkin seed butter was so wondrously flavorful, definitely something we want to experiment with making at home. next up were two relatively standard, but delicious appetizers. in the end, i think these were the strongest dishes of the whole evening:

green curry summer BBQ rolls: not-fried rice paper roll encases baby spinach, thai barbeque glazed vegetables, smoked red onion, fresh ginger & basil. served with soy syrup, dipping oils, side of jicama slaw

these were unlike any spring rolls i've ever had. the veggies inside were absolutely soaked in BBQ sauce, but not in a bad way. i can't really remember how the green curry factored in, maybe it was just mixed in with the soy glaze drizzled on the plate. either way, these were really satisfying, savory little snacks.

red pepper hummus sampler: smoked red pepper hummus with chive infused olive oil, falafel topped with tomato almond romesco & pistachio topped baba ghanoush. served with toasted rosemary focaccia slivers.

it's hard to go wrong with a middle eastern sampler, and this was no exception. i love, love pistachios, so the baba ghanoush really rocked my face off. the falafel balls were just okay (not green inside, which i've learned is the telltale sign of really fresh falafel), but the almond romesco was rich and spicy. the hummus was average, but the focaccia, stuffed into a cup with huge sprigs of fresh rosemary, was top notch.

as you may have noticed, the portions at blue sage are way generous. suffice to say, we were getting full-ish, but were still psyched for the entrees. i gotta say though...the entrees did not truly meet our expectations. my hypothesis is that there was just too much going on on the plate. exhibit A:

cubano supper: flaky plantain pastries stuffed with sunflower seed-smoked red pepper pesto surround tower of yellow tomatoes & avocado corn salsa. served with chipotle jicama slaw & mango-papaya relish.

this was certainly the stronger of the two entrees. the plantain pastries were hearty and not too greasy. all the stuff piled up in the middle (my attention span is barely long enough to get me through the end of the dish description), was fresh and tasty, and though i despise papaya, the fruity relish was quite a nice palate cooler. now, when i hear "cubano" i think of those awesome ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches, so i have no idea if this dish reflects authentic cuban food. my guess would have to be not really. but still, it was a decent eat.

next up:

east-west bento box: avocado cucumber salad with thai peanut dressing, steamed dumplings with red lentil filling in pea broth, and red coconut curry with exotic mushrooms, edamame, and corn.

i had really high hopes for this dish and was rather disappointed. i harbor deep affection for steamed dumplings, and these were so bad, we didn't even bring the leftovers home. the pureed lentil filling had an unappealing texture, just mushy mush in your mouth. ugh. also, the pea "broth" was more of a puree, in a wholly baby food kind of way. not good. the red curry was spiced with a heavy hand, and the coconut flavor was faint, at best. the mushrooms were left in huge caps, not sliced, and hard to eat in any graceful manner with that tiny ceramic spoon. the salad was actually great, but an easy score. i dunno, it's also possible that we were so full by that point that eating was becoming a bit of a chore. we took the bento box leftovers home (sans diaper dumplings), and it's sat untouched in the fridge for the past 3 days. i just don't think we can get excited about it, which is sad, and very unlike us.

so we passed on dessert, paid the check, and headed home, driving past the endless shopping centers and fast food joints. the bill came in somewhere around where horizons might if you kept the booze to a minimum, but the quality of the food simply did not compare. it was fun to adventure outside of the city (dudes, the 'burbs are weeeeeird), and it's awesome that there can be a successful fully vegetarian restaurant operating in a decidedly non-urban locale. but honestly, next time i might opt to save the gas $$, call in a double order of spring rolls to vientiane, spread a blanket under a tree in the park, and pound a bottle of birthday wine with sis lauren.


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