Second Helpings

CORRESPONDENTApril 1, 2011 

When I reviewed Sage Café, not long after the restaurant opened in 2003, I was charmed by the casually romantic jewel box of a dining room and by the warm hospitality of owner/host/waiter Ramin Jahannia. I was even more impressed by the refreshingly different vegetarian fare turned out by his mother and partner, Homa Jahannia.

But I'll confess that I was skeptical of the eatery's long-term survival. The Triangle has historically not been kind to strictly vegetarian restaurants, and the fact that Sage's offering was interwoven with Homa Jahannia's native Persian cuisine placed it in an even more specialized niche.

I needn't have worried. In the eight years since its opening, Sage Café has done so well that its owners have been emboldened to add "Vegetarian" to its name. Homa Jahannia recently built on the restaurant's success with the opening of Jahan, an international market, nearby.

And I'm happy to report after a recent visit, the food at Sage is as delightful as ever. Freshness and scratch preparation are still hallmarks, from daily changing soups to salads such as the colorful cornucopia of organic mixed greens, sprouts, cinnamon-roasted walnuts, raisins, shredded carrots and sesame seeds in a creamy dill dressing I thoroughly enjoyed. You can transform any salad into a meal by adding grilled tofu or tempeh, or choose from entrees such as vegetarian lasagne or soy chicken cutlets in a mild curry.

If anything, the offering has expanded somewhat over the years, and now presents a global sampling of flavors from gnocchi arrabbiata to Caribbean style black beans over rice with avocado, spicy grilled tofu and plantains. But the soul of the menu is still Persian, represented by exotic temptations ranging from bud-m-joon (a saffron- and cinnamon-scented medley of vegetables that lives up to its nickname of "eggplant paradise") to Homa Jahannia's still richly rewarding vegetarian take on the classic pomegranate-sweetened poultry stew, fesen-joon.

So it turns out I'm not a very good market forecaster. I'll gladly settle for being a satisfied customer.

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