Ambitious Bar Food and Impressive Scotches at Capitol Hill's The Old Sage

Allison Austin Scheff  |   March 2014   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
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The amberjack is smoked under glass at The Old Sage

The success of The Old Sage, the latest from chefs and business partners Brian McCracken and Dana Tough (Tavern Law, The Coterie Room, Spur Gastropub), who opened it last June, depends very much on the angle one takes in approaching the place. If one goes in expecting a bar—with the noise and the flashy scene (now the standard most nights on that stretch of Capitol Hill’s 12th Avenue)—then The Old Sage, with its open sightlines, dim lighting and murals by artist Joey Nix, is satisfying. Alongside its impressive selection of Scotches is a menu of ambitious, delicious food. The kitchen custom-smokes much of the menu: the sublime amberjack ($16) is hickory kissed, the fine fish adorned with black garlic, radishes, sorrel and mustard seed; lavender is used to smoke the pull-apart-tender pork cheeks, nestled atop potatoes with a nice echo of caraway ($18); the amaranth salad ($12) is chewy and earthy, with pieces of beet and chard for interest. But that’s where the disconnect happens: If one arrives primarily for the fine food, The Old Sage’s success isn’t so clear-cut. There’s little soundproofing and no separation between the bar and the tables, so while the food is quite good, it’s a noisy, distracting place to enjoy a meal. On one visit, our waiter strained to hear our order, and mistakes were made. Frankly, the gifted chefs in The Old Sage’s kitchen deserve a better showcase for their nuanced food. So, do come to taste Scotch: The bartenders are happy to spend time explicating Highland versus island Scotch, setting up custom tastings or offering tiny sips for newbies. And do delve into the menu. Just visit early or on a weeknight, when the experience is more balanced and more conducive to the fine fare. Dinner nightly. Capitol Hill, 1420 12th Ave.; 206.557.7430;
theoldsageseattle.com