Restau­rant Re­view

Sage Bake­house

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Molly Boyle I The New Mex­i­can

Back in 1996, when An­drée Falls opened the nowven­er­a­ble Sage Bake­house, who would have thought that a time­less sta­ple item like bread, or­dained by the Bi­ble as the staff of life, would be­come the sub­ject of such a hot-but­ton food-cul­ture war? Twenty years on — af­ter the ad­vent of the low-carb rev­o­lu­tion, in­creased aware­ness of celiac dis­ease, and trendy elim­i­na­tion diets — Oprah Win­frey’s joy­ful dec­la­ra­tion in a Weight Watch­ers com­mer­cial that she does not deny her­self her beloved bread and in fact eats it ev­ery day seems like a rab­ble-rous­ing act of sedi­tion.

But at Sage’s in­dus­trial strip-mall oper­a­tion on Cer­ril­los Road and Paseo de Per­alta, it seems, bless­edly so, that the gluten-free move­ment might well never have hap­pened. Cus­tomers who park in the small lot and walk around to the en­trance, fol­low­ing the heady, be­guil­ing aroma of fresh bread, are treated to a clear view of the bak­ery’s in­ner work­ings, with its flour-dusted sur­faces, huge sacks of grain, French oven, and in­dus­tri­ous boulangers. In­side, the min­i­mal­ist vibe is com­pa­ra­ble to a gen­tri­fy­ing ’90s es­tab­lish­ment in a larger city, with sev­eral sleek wooden café ta­bles along­side a ban­quette on one side and a size­able com­mu­nity table on the other.

A hand-let­tered butcher-pa­per menu on the wall con­tains a mod­est as­sort­ment of care­fully crafted sand­wiches: open-faced tartines, pressed pani­nis, and cold sand­wiches to go, along with two ro­tat­ing soups, two sal­ads, and a few break­fast op­tions. The small French wine list in­cludes a Sancerre, a Bur­gundy, a Bordeaux, and a Côtes du Rhone, and the cof­fee hails from Cal­i­for­nia’s LaCoppa. The pas­try case, filled with crois­sants, mini-quiches, and tarts, is topped with cook­ies, more pas­tries, and bread sam­ples; a nearby baker’s rack houses invit­ingly plump bur­nished loaves that can be sliced and wrapped up to go home.

Ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail is ev­i­dent in many menu items. One re­cent cold, gray morn­ing found me star­ing lov­ingly down at the beauty of my egg tar­tine, a toasted slice of crusty farm bread topped with but­tery-soft light scram­bled eggs, which I or­dered with melted white ched­dar cheese and av­o­cado (ser­rano ham is also avail­able). Two passersby also stopped to ad­mire its en­tic­ing ap­pear­ance: Cut neatly into five size­able pieces, at­trac­tively topped by half-moon av­o­cado rings, and flanked by a line of al­ter­nat­ing herbed green and black olives, it made a sub­stan­tial break­fast along­side a bit­ter­sweet cap­puc­cino. Later that evening, I rel­ished the treats I had got­ten to go: a mini-quiche with a mild flaky crust, fresh spinach, creamy eggs, and not-too-strong blue cheese, along­side a truly phe­nom­e­nal crois­sant: crisp on the out­side, tis­sue­soft on the in­side, it was a finely tuned bal­ance of salty and slightly sweet.

On a bustling lunchtime visit, my din­ing com­pan­ions and I were lucky to snag a table; all around us, a pros­per­ous-look­ing bour­geoisie were hap­pily hav­ing their bread and eat­ing it too. A nicely con­ceived salad of ro­maine leaves with warm beets, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Roque­fort cheese came out a tad over­dressed, though the fresh char­ac­ter of the slightly caramelized sprouts and earthy ma­genta beets burst forth, the creamy tang of the Roque­fort com­ple­ment­ing ev­ery bite.

A farmer’s mar­ket veg­etable soup ar­rived gar­nished by a few soft, sweet car­rot slices and tasty wilted greens; the rest was a some­what bland or­ange puree of un­named veg­eta­bles (squash? car­rots?) that I livened up with a few twirls from the Bo­dum salt-and-pep­per grinder on the table.

The grill-striped tuna and moz­zarella panini oozed rich cheese over a hearty, salty mash of white tuna and nutty arugula pesto, while the roast-beef tar­tine was a marvel of lus­cious, thin-sliced strips of blush­ing meat over toasted farm bread slathered with herbed mayo (more aioli than gloppy) and topped with a de­li­cious olive-oiled leek con­fit. My com­pan­ion, who had been skep­ti­cal of the $12 price tag for the sand­wich un­til he tried it, ended up too full to fin­ish his last piece, which I agree­ably pol­ished off. A cold turkey half sand­wich on wheat bread is in­ge­niously spread with a tiny bit of honey and then topped with white ched­dar, roasted and sliced turkey, and mixed greens — the combo is sim­ple yet rev­e­la­tory.

Sage may have re­mained im­mune to the cru­sade against gluten, but the bak­ery seems closely aligned with the lo­ca­vore and farm-to-table move­ments, as ev­i­denced by a few plac­ards around the shop that at­test to their com­mit­ment to non-GMO foods. Sage says that 88 per­cent of their flour orig­i­nates from wheat grown and milled within 275 miles of Santa Fe. Un­treated, the flour is nat­u­rally leav­ened, hand­crafted with wa­ter and sea salt, slowly fer­mented, and then baked on stone slabs. The re­sult is truly top­shelf bread, won­der­fully crusty out­side and chewy on the in­side, and Sage de­serves ev­ery bit of their ro­bust, ever-grow­ing busi­ness with re­tail out­lets and restau­rants all over town and nearby.

As I or­dered a loaf of the moist, briny olive bread to take home, the cashier asked me, “Have you ever made a grilled cheese sand­wich with this?” I replied in the af­fir­ma­tive, rel­ish­ing her some­what con­spir­a­to­rial tone, and she nod­ded at me as if we had shared an in­dul­gent se­cret. “It’s great with fresh toma­toes,” she added glee­fully, and she was right about that, too.

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