Hefty portions 

Decatur Square welcomes Sage's American-bistro fare

Decatur Square's lunchtime crowd is lucky to have Sage. With no pretensions beyond generic American-bistro food and ambience, the baby sister to Le Giverny offers hefty portions, modest prices, decent if spotty cooking and warm, welcoming service by a mostly female staff.

Sporty types, legal beagles and expense-account specialists can meet at the bar, consult the wide-ranging wine list and loosen up. Same story only more so after 5 p.m., when entrée prices rise from $7-$10 to around $21 (for filet mignon).

Wood paneling, mirrors and a TV monitor tuned to CNBC financial news add up to buttoned-down informality and an adult (though moderately kid-friendly) atmosphere. Office workers on tight noontime schedules can get in and out in under an hour. One caveat, however: Given the time it took me to get the check and pay, folks in a rush may want to flash plastic as soon as the main courses appear.

A chicken, onion and pepper quesadilla — topped with guacamole and sour cream, cut into triangles and arranged on field greens — was big enough for two light eaters to share at lunch ($7.95; an appetizer at night, $6.50). The chicken was tasty, the greens fresh, the dip rich and spicy, the swirled sour cream entirely unnecessary except as an Applebee's-style gesture.

The Sage burger — grilled Black Angus ground chuck on a potato roll with lettuce and shoestring fries — was cooked as ordered, naturally flavored and not gunked up with silly seasonings ($6.95). Our mound of fries arrived hot and reasonably crisp. Various extras can be added at surcharges ranging from 75 cents (Swiss or cheddar cheese) to $2.50 (sautéed mushrooms or creamed spinach).

To start, we split a plate of cornmeal-crusted onion rings with ancho-cilantro vinaigrette ($4.25 for about six). Although the breading tended to fall off in sheets, the flavor was appealing and the dressing a nice match, so we ate every crisp morsel. It was not a huge portion for the money.

Flank steak, rainbow trout, crab cake and several pastas and sandwiches round out the lunchtime list. Beverages are refilled early and often. Soups and bar-food starters are offered day and night.

A huge appetizer portion of fried baby calamari with undistinguished cocktail sauce — and a couple of fried lemon slices a la Anne Quatrano, but not sliced thin enough — costs $6.95. Though slightly greasy, the flavorful squid were worth eating.

Creamy roast-garlic and onion soup, not quite what I expected, turned out OK, too ($3.95). The menu mentions basil oil, cheese and croutons. As served, the soup was closer to a lightly thickened cheese soup with sliced onions, scant garlic flavor and a few small croutons decorating the center.

Pan-seared monkfish on green olive and potato pancakes with fried leeks — served at night on a pool of clear, butter-flavored sauce and set beside an unripe, half-cooked winter tomato crowned with breadcrumbs — was Betty Crocker provincial in highest drag ($15.95). The fish and potato cakes were actually quite delicious. The whole thing probably would be satisfying for, say, an airline mechanic with a high tolerance for cholesterol and no patience with culinary subtlety.

Veal meatloaf with mushrooms, dried tomatoes and peppers — topped with mushroom sauce and slapped on mashed potatoes — resembled a tray meal on the mechanic's airline — in economy class ($9.95). Not served hot enough, the mound of mystery meat wasn't worth even the bit of money asked. Quitting after two bites, I asked myself: Did an innocent cow have to die for this? To which I answered: Why am I not yet a vegetarian?

Créme brulee, a small portion for $5.50, with nearly all its flavor residing in the caramelized sugar crust, improved my spirits only somewhat.

Sage is no Watershed, or even Buckhead Diner. But then Le Giverny is no Brasserie Le Coze. On its own modest terms, the addition to the Courthouse/MARTA Station neighborhood is worth checking into. Just avoid the meatloaf. And don't make a special trip across town.


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