There are 18 different dining facilities on the Cal Poly campus, but only one creates the kind of experience that Sage Restaurant provides.
Until it was remodeled in 2008, the restaurant shared the name Vista Grande with the adjoining cafeteria, but that’s still an apt description of the view. Perched on a hill just off Grand Avenue across from the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center, Sage offers a picturesque vista of San Luis Obispo framed by a few peaks of the Seven Sisters.
Inside, the stylish but understated décor complements the view instead of trying to compete with it. The white linen tablecloths and dark wooden chairs provide an ambiance of sophistication that’s nicely balanced with welcoming earth tones.
“(With the remodel), we wanted to fill a niche market and to provide something other than the traditional college fare,” explained Mike Thornton, director of campus dining. “The vision was definitely of a ‘white tablecloth’ venue to mirror the upscale restaurants around here. We wanted to provide a place for the university staff to hold meetings and also partner with the PAC for the community.”
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Given that approach, the culinary team needed to appeal to a very diverse clientele, so they “couldn’t really focus on one particular cuisine,” said Thornton. As a result, the dishes at Sage reflect an eclectic mix of traditional American, Mediterranean and Asian fare, including a recently added noodle bar featuring steamed bao buns, pho noodle soup and housemade ginger ale.
Lunch appetizers and salads include corn fritters with chipotle aioli, Asian lettuce wraps with soy ginger chicken, and a rock shrimp salad with spiced pecans and gorgonzola.
Main dishes run the gamut from a French dip sandwich to grilled artisan pizzas made with housemade dough, from mango barbecue shrimp to a baguette sandwich with cappicola and prosciutto, from dan dan noodles with chicken to charred local black cod with rice noodles and miso broth.
Many of those items are also available at dinner, plus entrées such as orange chili-glazed salmon on udon noodles, wild mushroom ravioli with a sherry cream sauce, and a peppered flank steak with burgundy reduction and garlic mashed potatoes. There are daily housemade soups and specials at both mealtimes, often sourced from produce grown at the Cal Poly farm.
“We want to be seasonal, serve as much local food as possible, and keep it elegant and fun,” said executive chef Corey King, a graduate of the prestigious College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University in his native Rhode Island.
King joined Cal Poly in the spring of 2010, bringing with him experience at restaurants and resorts on the East Coast, as well as at Texas A&M and Tulane University.
The proximity to the PAC affords Sage the opportunity to create special prix fixe meals for each performance (along with the regular menu), explained Margi Braden, the manager for both Sage and Vista Grande Café.
While the choices for a recent symphony dinner included prime rib and stuffed chicken breast, the prix fixe for humorist David Sedaris also offered pan-seared salmon and Cal Poly linguica bangers. Though reservations aren’t required for those dinners, they are suggested, Braden said.
Braden also noted that Sage provides very flexible work hours for students in both the wait staff and select kitchen positions. Although most students are focused on other disciplines and don’t have the time to dedicate themselves to learning the culinary trade, “the opportunity is definitely there if they want it.”