Something old, something new … sort of

Sage Indian
Sage Indian, which replaces the short-lived India Palace on Oechsli Avenue, has mostly kept its menu – featuring standard Northern Indian dishes – the same. Photos by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eats with

This week let’s make quick visits to a couple of St. Matthews-area eateries where you can fill the tank for a reasonable price and go away satisfied.

Shady Lane Café, a homey storefront nook in Brownsboro Center, qualifies as “old,” sort of, by local restaurant standards: Owners and cooks William and Susi Smith have been doing business in this location going on two years now, and they’ve built a following the old-fashioned way, earning loyalty through a savvy combination of high-quality, down-home fare at a price that’s right, even when there’s not a recession going on. (See my report in the post below)

Sage Indian makes the grade as “new,” sort of: It arrived last month in the quarters vacated by the amiable but short-lived Royal India, which put up the shutters well under a year after it opened last winter.

Sage Indian: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Not much has changed at Sage Indian except, apparently, the management and the sign. Even the telephone number remained.

A few Southern Indian delicacies like dosas and iddlies have disappeared from the menu. That’s a distinct disappointment for me, as I love the less familiar flavors of India’s Deep South. But the rest of the menu – with its standard Northern Indian dishes – doesn’t seem to have changed much at all.

The front room has been equipped with a large, well-stocked bar, giving weight to the subsidiary clause in Sage’s title, “restaurant & bar.” The once-bright lighting has gone dusky, but it’s not so much a romantic dim as an apparent effort to save a few dimes by plugging in 40-watt bulbs. And, although service is certainly correct and formal, we miss the lovable, amiable nature of the former proprietors.

The menu, as noted, closely resembles Sage’s predecessor but for the disappearance of the South Indian specialties, and prices remain attractively affordable, with just about every dish on the menu under $15 and most under $10. A few dishes have actually gone down a few pence (aloo gobi, for example, was $9.50 and is now $8.99; the “non-vegetarian” appetizer platter has dropped from $6.95 to $6.25).

Even trimmed of its regional dishes, the menu remains expansive, with more than 60 dinner dishes – about one-fourth of them vegetarian, as well as broad selections of appetizers, breads and soups. The lunch menu offers two dozen choices – about half of them vegetarian – priced to sell from $5.99 to $6.99, mostly; it’s a few bucks more for “thali” sampler platters.

We dropped by for dinner and found most dishes serviceable but lacking excitement. The vegetarian appetizer platter ($5.95) consisted of five items: vegetable pakoras, samosa, aloo tikki and cheese pakora – most of which proved to be heavy, somewhat greasy deep-fried fritters – plus a pappadam, a thin, rather oily crisp lentil cracker with mild red onion chutney.

A vegetarian dish, channa masala ($8.99), is a hearty, filling dish of chickpeas cooked with onions in a red, spicy tomato sauce. It comes with rice but is traditionally served with pooris (puffy fried wheat bread), so we ordered a pair of the latter ($2.57) and found both greasy and only one puffed.

Seekh Kebab ($13.99) featured ground-lamb meatballs cooked on a stick with onions and green peppers. Served off the skewer, the lamb tasted spicy hot at first, but said heat appeared to be the result of a great excess of salt rather than chile peppers.

We wouldn’t have minded an Indian dessert – I was thinking about a dish of Kheer (rice pudding, $2) – but we were unceremoniously handed the check without an invitation to dessert, so I said the hell with it.

With a large Kingfisher beer for two, the tab (printed on Royal India register paper) came to a fairly reasonable $43.27, plus a $10 tip.

Sage Indian Restaurant & Bar
4123 Oechsli Ave.
Robin Garr’s rating: 72 points