Warm setting, satisfying food is the wisdom of Sages
Special to The Seattle Times
Some chefs agonize over what to name their dream-come-true, a restaurant of their own, but for Bart and Jerri Kuliczkowski the name was the easy part. The husband-and-wife business partners had a name in mind two years before they found the right location. Last January they finally opened Sages in the corner of Redmond's LionsGate townhouse complex once occupied by Gibralter's.
Apart from putting the restaurant's moniker on the green awning, the Kuliczkowskis have changed little else about the space. Inside, navy-blue curtains and carpeting accent wheat-colored walls, and fresh flowers greet you at the door and adorn each white-clothed table. Even the staff is the same.
What's different is the menu, now less Middle Eastern and more European with a bit of an Italian bent, not surprising given Bart Kuliczkowski's résumé. The 29-year-old chef has been working in restaurant kitchens since he was a teenager.
Soon after his family emigrated to the U.S. from Poland in 1986, he got an after-school job at Tosoni's in Bellevue. Chef/owner Walter Walcher became his mentor, encouraging Kuliczkowski to attend culinary school at South Seattle Community College.
After graduation, and a stint at Equus in The Bellevue Hyatt Regency Hotel, Kuliczkowski spent 10 years in front of the stove at Ristorante Paradiso in Kirkland.
All of those influences are brought to bear at Sages. There's an elegant simplicity to the food that matches the simple elegance of the setting, which despite its formal appointments projects a candle-in-the-Chianti-bottle kind of warmth.
The closest Kuliczkowski comes to trendy is with the shrimp tower ($11), an appetizer composed of eight jumbo prawns sautéed in olive oil with white wine, garlic and red pepper flakes. Stacked in pairs the tower sprouts "antennae" of dried pasta.
Those giant prawns turn up under the entrees as well, awash in butter and garlic ($19), and less effectively as a garnish for a bowl of angel-hair pasta, where they sit like an elephant on a haystack, mired with the noodles in a humdrum tomato and basil sauce ($11 lunch/$16 dinner).
There's nothing humdrum about cream of tomato soup ($3 cup/$5 bowl), however. The emphasis is on cream but the tomato flavor doesn't get lost.
Fresh ripe tomatoes ensure the success of a couple of other appetizers as well. Slices of fresh mozzarella alternate with Roma tomatoes for a classic Caprese salad ($8) seasoned with oregano and fresh basil, salt and pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For bruschetta ($7), diced tomato joins capers, garlic, basil and oil in perfect balance to embellish toasted baguette slices.
The salad and the bruschetta, like the generous bowl of Manila clams ($10) awash in an aromatic broth of white wine, garlic and its own liqueur, beg for a rustic, dense artisan-made loaf of bread, and while Kuliczkowski has plans to make his own bread someday, for now the linen-lined bread basket holds Gai's dinner rolls.
Save a morsel or two to press into service later as a mop for the last traces of cream sauce smothering shiitakes, chanterelles and scallops of veal ($19), the sage-scented pan gravy coating tender pork medallions ($11 lunch/$18 dinner), or the sweet Marsala sauce glazing a chicken breast stuffed with spinach and goat cheese ($17).
The fish of the day may be pan-roasted halibut filet crowned with fresh tomato and herbs ($22/dinner) or salmon with lemon and capers ($13/lunch). Like the other entrees, they come with the chef's choice of potato and vegetables. On one visit the bitter taste of burned garlic marred an otherwise lovely sauté of spinach mixed with carrot and zucchini, but the mashed potatoes and oven-roasted fingerling wedges were faultless.
The handful of pasta dishes includes a lively Mediterranean version — feta cheese, cured black olives, artichoke hearts, capers, tomatoes and penne noodles glistening with garlic and olive oil ($9 lunch/$14 dinner). It stretched to feed a party of five, sharing it as an intermezzo between the appetizers and the entrees, which left a little more room for the dessert sampler: lemony Italian-style cheesecake, a wedge of dense chocolate decadence cake and whipped-cream tiramisu.
The wine list is as "continental" as the menu, though skewed toward the New World rather than the Old World, with good choices at several price points, from below $20 to more than $70 for a 1998 Joseph Phelps Napa Valley cabernet or a 1996 Tommasi Amarone from Italy.
Providence Cicero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.