Sage's "Thai bouillabaisse." 

How much is a good meal worth? I’ve been pondering that lately, as prices at new restaurants in Sarasota have climbed northward. The most expensive dish at Rudolph’s, inside The Sarasota Modern hotel, costs $44, while a ribeye at Summer House might run you $58. And now, at Sage, which opened downtown in January, a lamb entrée is going for $45.  

Luckily, that lamb is spectacular—a double chop marinated in Indian spices and cooked perfectly to the requested medium rare, set atop a bed of dark lentils and cubes of root vegetables. The restaurant’s Thai bouillabaisse, priced at $39, is similarly delicious. Less soupy than the word “bouillabaisse” might condition you to expect, the dish contains hunks of lobster and cod, a single shrimp and a single scallop in a thick, rich red curry.

Your check arrives in a leather envelope designed like an American passport, a nod to the way executive chef Christopher Covelli’s menu will take you on a spin around the globe. In addition to India and Thailand, you can explore Italy via tagliatelle ($27), Morocco via salmon ($36) and France via chicken ($25). The greens in the Caesar salad ($12) come tossed with an aggressive, peppery dressing, while the frisée salad ($16) is enlivened by a blood orange vinaigrette. Glasses of wine run between $10 and $20, while cocktails are mostly set at $14.

The restaurant’s lamb, marinated in Indian spices.

Sage owner Sharon Carole purchased the property in 2014 for $2.1 million. The space today looks fantastic. Early buzz about the restaurant centered around its building, a three-story, early- 20th-century edifice that once housed the Sarasota Times. The address was more famous this century as the home of Ceviche, which for a few years after its opening in 2008 was one of the most bustling hangouts in Sarasota, blessed with a stylish rooftop bar and connections to cool events like the Sarasota Film Festival. (Patti Smith performed there in 2010—a surreal sight.)

Sage’s swanky rooftop bar

It’s wonderful that the rooftop is lively again. The Sage bar may lack the commanding heights of The Westin rooftop just across U.S. 41, but the fourth-floor altitude still delivers romantic views across the city, letting you look down at the glittering lights of the Florida Studio Theatre cabaret, sidewalk palm trees and crowds of theatergoers and young couples. There’s no food service on the roof, but it makes for an exceptional pre-dinner destination or just a charming place to meet up before doing something else. The 1830 cocktail ($14) is a syrupy homage to the man who invented Peychaud’s bitters, while the “essence of Italy” ($14) is a balance of prosecco, grapefruit gin, bitters and lemon juice—dry and refreshing.

The restaurant's "Essence of Italy" cocktail

Image: Daniel Perales 

Value at restaurants can be difficult to judge. What is affordable to one person might wreck another’s credit. You can certainly eat at Sage without breaking the bank, but when placed in context with other pricey new Sarasota eateries, our dining scene is ascending to a new plateau. I bet the new residents of the downtown condos, where some units start at $2 million, won’t flinch when the tab comes.

Sage | 1216 First St., Sarasota, (941) 445-5660, sagesrq.com. Reservations required.

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