We were looking forward to dining at Wild Sage, a new restaurant on Route 8 in Allison Park, for a number of reasons. The contemporary American menu, with French and Mexican accents, looked original — quirky enough to be interesting but grounded in culinary tradition. The ambience promised to be a step up from our home dining room. And, on a personal level, the restaurant embodied a confluence of savory memories of meals past. Its location is the former Spadafora's, some of whose warmth we hoped Wild Sage would inherit, and its chef is Matthew Christie, whose cooking we'd enjoyed — albeit in a very different context — at Bridge Ten Brasserie.
At Bridge Ten, which closed a year ago, Christie presided over a menu so French it practically wore a beret. We were curious to see what he'd cook up to fit the more casual, less conventional vibe at Wild Sage. This is Christie's own restaurant, and it has the feel of a neighborhood gathering place, equally suited for special occasions or meeting for an after-dinner drink. A chalkboard wall, ornamented with decorative handwriting for desserts, was a subtly French touch, but overall, the decor and service transmitted a culture more universally friendly than specifically regional.
The breadth of Christie's ambition was set from the first couple of appetizers on the menu: lobster crepe and bone marrow. The former is a timeless French classic, while the latter is emblematic of today's nose-to-tail culinary approach. Then came a couple of taco concepts: grilled ahi tuna and duck confit. Pairing the tuna with kimchi, and the duck with classic Mexican toppings, the kitchen displayed confidence in its mix-and-match approach.
The duck confit — salt-cured and poached in its own fat — lost some of its rich fatty flavor when it was shredded to fill the tacos, and it was a little tougher than we'd expected, though not off-puttingly so. But the dark meat was well suited to hold up to the other flavors in the taco combination. In this case, those were miniature corn tortillas, pungent pickled onions, peppery radishes and chipotle-lime crema. A slice of avocado atop each taco returned some of the richness lost with the duck fat.
Pickled onions and avocado also appeared atop the Southern Belle salad, on a bed of tender kale with a savory bacon-balsamic vinaigrette. Angelique ordered this as the vegetable course of a meal she put together from various small plates, a great way to experience the breadth and depth of Wild Sage's offerings.
The lobster crepe was tender, filled with succulent morsels of lobster and a luscious sherry cream, all showcasing Christie's fluency with French traditional cooking. But the texture and number of the julienned leeks close to overwhelmed everything else. We had expected long-braised, almost melted leeks, but instead the vegetable's woodiness was not quite cooked off, and chewing the leeks thoroughly enough became the main goal of every bite.
There were four flatbreads on offer, each promising bold flavors: chorizo, duck, tequila-lime chicken and artichoke with spinach. Angelique chose the tequila-lime chicken to complement her earlier order of tacos. Queso blanco was the right cheese choice, adding creamy, salty notes to the subtly flavored shredded chicken. Shallots chimed in with their gentle suggestions of both onion and garlic, and diced tomato, while it would never be mistaken for the fruit of summer, at least contributed some needed juiciness. Here, with rich creaminess provided by the melted cheese, a slice of avocado on each piece seemed more emblematic of Mexico than integral to the dish's construction.
Pork shank braised with apple cider sounded perfect, and Wild Sage's came pretty close. The pork was fork-tender, and while the cider sauce threatened to be a bit sweet, thyme's herbal notes pulled it back toward a savory center. Whipped potatoes were creamy and spaghetti squash, while bland as that gourd usually is, added some textural contrast. It should be noted that pork shanks are enormous joints of meat; it would take an extraordinary appetite to finish one in a single sitting. This makes the dish a great value, if a bit intimidating.
Pasta Bolognese, prepared with bucatini in the traditional fashion, was also excellent. The mixture of pork, veal and sausage was deeply flavorful in a sauce inflected, but not overwhelmed, by tomato. On a frigid winter night, this was comfort food, indeed.
Wild Sage is the creation of an ambitious chef unafraid of experimenting with flavor and fusion in a warm, comfortable setting.