April 12, 2007

My sage advice: take advantage of Sage Grille's free kids meals this April

Sage Grille
260 Greenbay Road, Highwood

“This was the most fun I ever had at a restaurant!” Exclaimed our eight-year old dining companion. His comment wasn’t sparked by free balloon animals or a roving magician. No, this wise young man simply enjoyed a delicious meal shared with some of his silliest friends, the Moldofsky boys.

Our dinner got off to a rocky start due to some confusion between The Grill, the casual spot where our friends headed and the upscale Sage Grille where we waited for them just blocks away. We spent our first minutes in the small fireside lounge nibbling crispy homemade potato chips. Lightly dusted with cinnamon and cayenne, they were like a gentle alarm, waking our taste buds for the delightful flavors to come.

Reunited at last, our group of three adults and four boys ages 6 through 8 settled into the dining room. And by settled, I mean moved rather boisterously to our table. No worries, though. We were well within Sage Grille’s unofficial “children’s hours,” the period between 5:00 and 7:00 PM when diners are most likely to show up with kids in tow.

We received baskets of fresh herbs rolls and pretzel bread shortly after being seated. Each boy was handed a placemat full of games and pictures to color along with a small box of Rose Art crayons and a kids’ menu. It featured typical kid offerings with a grilled chicken breast for sophisticated little palates. Meals are priced $6-8 and include soup or salad, fresh vegetables and fruit, cookie or ice cream for dessert. We asked that the fruit be brought with the first dishes of the adults. This was the first of many special requests we made of our waiter. He patiently rose to the occasion throughout our meal.

He also provided detailed explanations of the tempting specials, but I heard almost none of it because I was busy shushing the boys. Sage Grille features fresh, seasonal offerings with the menu noting their preference for organic and local produce.

My friend Susan and I each started our meal with the roasted beet and endive salad ($10), while DH had parsnip and potato bisque ($9). Two of the boys received bowls of steaming chicken soup. Steaming liquids + small children, not a great combo, but the waiter promptly returned with a glass of ice and delicately spooned some into their bowls. Impressive service, but they might follow the lead of Starbucks where the kids’ hot cocoa is served lukewarm and ready to enjoy, not to mention less dangerous in case of a spill.

The fruit plate was a thing to behold and practically a meal in itself. Even as our resident picky eater admired the beautiful arrangement, he expressed concern because the different fruits were Touching. Each. Other. Fortunately, he found enough “uncontaminated” pieces to dig in and enjoy.

When the main course arrived, the discriminating friend was relieved to see they’d served his noodles just the way he likes- no sauce, no butter, no salt, and don’t even think about olive oil. The other boys were just as satisfied with their selections: mac and cheese, pastas with marinara sauce, and grilled cheese. The parents loved the fresh carrots and peas that accompanied each child’s meal. The boys, however, barely touched them.

Susan made a meal of the appetizer portion of the rich, filling lobster gnocchi ($13) and I enjoyed carmelized sea scallops served over French lentils ($28). DH had winter squash ravioli, a dish that left me swooning. It consisted of an artful combination of forest mushrooms, ruby beets, toasted almonds, mushroom syrup ($19).

The meal progressed with one spilled glass of water, a little nosepicking, much laughter and an excess of boy energy that took my attention away from the meal. As the restaurant filled up, I was acutely aware of the noise our boys were making.

I realized we had broken a key rule of dining out with kids: they outnumbered us, and this is not a good thing in an upscale restaurant. Susan pointed out that we’d ignored another cardinal rule: we neglected to ask our waiter for express service. Sage Grille is an excellent place for a leisurely dinner, but lingering + four raucous boys, not a good combo.

By the time we got to dessert my head was spinning. But even noisy boys and a waiter who strongly recommended the apple turnover could not keep me from my chocolate- the devil’s food cupcake. A chocolate cupcake with cocoa toffee tuile, chocolate ice cream, caramel sauce, buttered pecans and fresh bananas ($8). Susan and I ostensibly shared this, but she ate about five spoonfuls while I savored it down to a droopy chocolate puddle. The boys happily shared cookies and ice cream for dessert. We received a delightful amuse bouche (bonus treat) of chocolate truffles before leaving.

We look forward to returning to this restaurant in a few months, when their menu has changed with the season.

I hate to end a fine meal with potty talk, but here are some things you should know when someone has to go. Great news for moms: the men’s washrooms have baby-changing stations. Bad news for sensitive kids: the toilets flush very loudly; let your sensitive ones leave the room or at least cover their ears. It’s the kind of thing that can set a tentative potty trainer back a few months.

One final note: we were invited guests of a publicist, but we treated our friends to dinner.

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