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A pleasant, healthful balance is struck at Sage Karma Kitchen in Willoughby | Restaurant review

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I don’t know why I was surprised.

Sage Karma Kitchen was opened in mid-2021 by the husband-and-wife managing partners Teanna and Dan Vitantonio, and I already was reasonably familiar with their other restaurant venture, Tavern Six in Kirtland.

I’ve never had anything but enjoyable meals at the popular establishment on Route 6, but I wasn’t prepared for the level to which I would be wowed by Sage.

I mean, wow.

Whereas Tavern Six offers a menu chock full of accessible and tasty fare, Sage goes more for that chef-prepared approach to its culinary creations, which, during a visit in January, proved to be complex, delicious and presented exquisitely.

My dining companion Cassandra and I arrived at Sage early on a Friday evening to find the space that previously was home to Nickleby’s Roundbar pretty busy. We were more than happy to grab a pair of seats at the circular bar — an obvious and welcome holdover from the Nickleby’s days.

Overall, Sage has been given a light facelift to better reflect the healthy vibe of the menu, which boasts gluten-free and vegan choices to go along with carnivore-friendly dishes. (Between the two of them, the Vitantonios are a combination of vegan, gluten- and dairy-free, and they wanted to create a restaurant that catered more to people like them.)

You’ll see the 12 laws of karma on a wall, and you might notice the scent of some sage burning. Fairly large televisions do sit above the bar, but you’d come here more for the food than to catch a game.

Starting with drinks, we quickly focused on the Specialty Cocktails despite Sage’s solid beer-and-wine offerings.

Try as I may, I was powerless to avoid my typical pro-old fashioned leanings, especially considering how wonderful Sage’s Blood Orange Old Fashioned ($10) sounded. Consisting of Maker’s Mark bourbon, orange, Amarena cherries, a rough-cut sugar cube and blood orange bitters, it was the ideal mix of sweet and bitter. If not perfect, this was darn close to it.

Sage Karma Kitchen’s Blood Orange Old Fashioned is full of flavor but not overly sweet. (Mark Meszoros — The News-Herald)

Likewise, Cassandra loved The Shiva ($12), a nifty combo of Casamigos Tequila, agave nectar, lime, coconut milk and brown sugar, complete with a nutmeg. (It sounded sweet enough that I’d want it after dinner, not before it.)

The Beginnings section of the menu tempted us with the Hummus ($12), Shishito Peppers ($10) and Pretzel Sticks ($9), but we came together pretty quickly on the Sweet Potato Skins ($12) and Avocado ($12) appetizers. The former tops the skins with cheddar, bacon, scallions and sour cream, while the latter pairs two tempura-battered avocado halves with corn salsa and salsa roja.

Before we go any further, know you will not get filled up on at least these two apps; the portions are not generous, which was a little disappointing. But that’s mostly because both simply were fantastic, each creation offering memorable taste-and-texture combinations.

The Avocado is such a fun departure from the usual appetizer for which it’s used, guacamole — not that we’re here to hate on guac, mind you.

Hopefully the Avocado appetizer will be back on the menu at Sage as soon as it’s easier to get good whole avocados. (Mark Meszoros — The News-Herald)

The three sweet potato skins were more along the lines of what I was expecting from the other appetizer, but that didn’t make them any less of a sweet-and-savory treat.

On a future visit, perhaps for a spur-of-the-moment lunch treat, I will try one of Sage’s tantalizing bowls, most likely the Thai Dye Bowl ($12), which brings together spiced jasmine rice along with vegetables and peanut sauce. Proteins and other additions can be made to a bowl for $4 to $12.

In fact, Cassandra chose the Karma Bowl ($12) — consisting of brown rice, cauliflower, sweet potato, mushrooms, spinach and flax — and added Faroe Island salmon to it for $12 more. She was thrilled with the dish, and the bite I had of the fish was deeply complex and delicious.

I focused on the entrees, landing pretty quickly on the Grass Fed Steak ($26), dressed with housemade chimichurri and served atop sweet potato hash. Prepared medium-rare, as requested, but with nice color on the outside, the steak bordered on perfection.

Sorry, steak lovers — this Grass Fed Steak entree at Sage Karma Kitchen for now has been replaced with a similar short ribs dish. (Mark Meszoros — The News-Herald)

OK, so here’s the bad news in the event I have your mouth watering based on what we ordered: Sage’s menu changes regularly and has since our visit, with the current seasonal menu offering Grass Fed Short Ribs ($26), instead of the steak; similar-sounding Sweet Potato Bites ($12), instead of the skins; and no avocado-based app, as it’s not the right time of year.

I was told each of those items is likely to resurface at a later time, and I was glad to hear it.

Another bummer, if also an understandable one: While Sage, like Tavern Six, offers a unique cupcake of the day, none was available that day due to unavoidable circumstances.

I plan to return soon for a bowl or a sandwich, such as the Chickpea Patty ($12), Black Bean Patty ($12) or, more likely for a carnivore such as myself, the Sage Chicken ($11) or Grass Fed Burger ($14).

Or perhaps I visit for the relatively new Sunday brunch offering, which, at the moment, offers Breakfast Bowls, Pancakes, Huevos Rancheros and other appealing choices.

Either way, be assured that I will get my cupcake.

Reviews are based on one anonymous visit to a restaurant.

Sage Karma Kitchen

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4051 Erie St.




Location: On the east side of Erie Street, just south of Third Street.

Type of restaurant: Health-conscious bar and grill.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

Liquor and wine: Wine and beer.

Facilities for the handicapped: Yes.

Credit cards: All major

Cuisine: Eclectic.

Vegetarian: Many options

Special diets: Vegan and gluten- and dairy-free options; talk to your server about special requests.

Kid-friendliness: Highchairs, boosters and kids’ menu.

Outdoor dining: Patio.

Dress code: Casual

Reservations: No.

Wi-Fi: Yes.

Delivery: No.

Prices: Moderate, with apps around $10, sandwiches and bowls about $10, entrees ranging from $14 to $26.

Value: Good.

Ratings (of five):

Food: 4.5

Atmosphere: 3.5

Service: 4.


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