Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Sage in Clarksville

Everyone loves Great Sage, which is probably why I need to eat slowly to really enjoy myself.

Great Sage in Clarkville comes with no meat, but a mess of hype from places like the WPost and the Sun.  It's a vegetarian restaurant from the same people who own the Roots grocery, and the kitchen serves a seasonal menu of healthy, hearty food.

This is a beautiful place.  Elizabeth Large named it the "Most Romantic for Vegetarians," and she was right to tout its soft lighting (although the table cloths appear to have disappeared since 2007).  The decor is modern and understated with wooden carvings and a beautiful waterfall on the farthest wall.  With one side facing trees, it pulls off sophisticated because it shows a little less parking lot than Aida Bistro or House of India.

I'm prattling on because I'm not sure how to describe the food.  I enjoy it.  On my last trip, I went alone and ate slowly while reading a magazine.  A Mexican-inspired appetizer with beans, brown rice and guacamole perched on a crisp tortilla.  Then a Thai-inspired coconut-milk curry with tofu and squash.  They were delicious.  They were also relatively subtle, relying on the expectation that people who choose Great Sage are people who relish well-cooked winter squash.  This isn't the spicy-sour zest that comes from Bangkok Delight's curries.  It's a different cuisine that pushes the vegetable flavors to the front.

My advice is to focus on dishes that look like vegetables -- the soups, the Mediterranean plate appetizer, the curries, the dishes that aren't masquerading as something specific.  My one disappointing visit was the night that I ordered "bulgogi" and Mrs. HowChow ordered a "burger."  We love those dishes.  Great Sage doesn't serve them.  It serves a soft vegetable patty on a roll and serves some kind of soy product in a mild sauce.  The kimchi next to the soy product was delicious, but there wasn't really bulgogi or a burger on our table so our expectations made them disappointing.

So go for vegetable flavors in everything from salads to sandwiches to complex entrees and a vegan carrot cake.  (I haven't tried the cake yet.)  This is a skilled kitchen that rotates its menu, and the prices are reasonable enough that you can take risks.  Plus, everything is healthy so order extra.  I overate on that night of tostada and Thai curry, but too much brown rice and vegetables leaves a person gorged but happy.  I carried out half the curry and ate it for lunch later in the week.

Great Sage offers Sunday brunch and special nights like bellydancing and "green singles" mixers.  They'll also adjust to special dietary needs like gluten or peanuts. 

(Update: The Lunching in the DMV blog wrote up Great Sage.   It is a nice description and sounds similar to my thoughts:  It's a delicious place, but you'll like it best if you're open to or seeking vegetarian cuisine.  And late, the Black Coffee and a Donut blog talked up Great Sage as well -- with some great photos of everything from drinks to dessert.)

(Update II:  Great Sage went vegan in 2010.)

If you like Great Sage, you are going to love the organic market Roots in the same shopping center and should probably also check out David's Natural Market in Columbia and My Organic Market in Jessup.  Great Sage is also right down Rte 108 from El Azteca.

Great Sage
5809 Clarksville Square Drive
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR:  This is on Rte 108 in the same shopping center as the Roots supermarket.  It's a few lights north of the intersection of Rte 108 and Rte 32.

Great Sage on Urbanspoon


DAS said...

I must respectfully disagree with your take on Great Sage: I've eaten there twice, and both times found the food expensive and the service a bit amateurish. With so many ethnic restaurants in the area that offer vegetarian dishes, I'm not sure what benefit Great Sage offers. And the organic beer I tried there was one of the worst beers I've ever had. I think if the prices were 20% lower I would have liked it a lot more.

HowChow said...

Thanks for the comment. I hadn't thought to write about the service, but "amateurish" sure does fit. I have had frustratingly amateur when I couldn't get help when I wanted, and on my last trip, I actually had charmingly amateur. I had time. The restaurant was almost empty, and the waiter talked to me for a long time.

I struggled with how to explain Great Sage. You're right about the prices, and you can see from my top 10 list that I complete agree that vegetarians can eat spectacularly at Indian, Chinese, Thai, etc. I do think that Great Sage offers something different in flavors based so much on the vegetables (as opposed to the spices/herbs). Even after I chose to go to a vegetarian restaurant, I was still shocked to realize how much I was enjoying *squash*.

Thanks for the comment. To the extent this blog is anything more than my inspiration to discover new things, I hope that it lets HoCo people see that they have choices that they might not know about. People have written great stuff in the comments, and other people's feedback balances out my opinions.

Marie said...

hey i'm actually trying this place friday! my cousin loves the place and raves about it.
thanks for the tip ordering thigns that are supposed to be veggies instead of the imitation stuff. i eat meat, but this place looks fun.

HowChowBlog said...

I hope that you like it Dskco. Feel free to return with another comment once you have tried Great Sage!

Jessie Newburn said...

Saw this online. Thought I'd add it to the mix -