Restaurant News & Reviews

Restaurant review: The Sage Rabbit has echoes of Harvest's splendor, but still needs some work

John Foster's Sage Rabbit is near the site of his former restaurant, Harvest. Above: Sage Rabbit's pappardelle.
John Foster's Sage Rabbit is near the site of his former restaurant, Harvest. Above: Sage Rabbit's pappardelle. Herald-Leader

In the 1990s, John Foster helped introduce Lexington to the idea of local food with his popular Ashland Avenue restaurant, Harvest.

His newest creation is The Sage Rabbit, just down the street from the old restaurant, in the former location of The Dish.

Like Harvest, there was a lot to like on recent visits to The Sage Rabbit:

■ The pappardelle was truly made in-house and very good.

■ The gazpacho ($5) was a subtle, refreshing treat.

■ Meat ordered rare was cooked rare.

■ The limited wine list has some very good and affordable options.

■ The service is friendly, professional and helpful.

■ They are brave enough to offer a really good pimento cheese sandwich ($7) without tarting it up, although there is a $9 option "loaded with bacon, tomato and pickle."

■ The scallops ($9 as an appetizer) were really good, seared on the outside, firm but tender inside.

Some of the things that didn't impress:

■ The bread brought to the table, upon request, with dinner was an almost sweet multigrain that would have been more appropriate at breakfast.

■ The greens in both salads I sampled — mixed greens ($6) and spinach ($6) — seemed to me like the greens that had come from one of those big plastic bags you see in stores rather than a local supplier. The cheeses served with them, walnut chevre on the spinach and blue cheese crumbles on the other, were very good.

■ The risotto ($15) we sampled was kind of soupy and undistinguished. It did feature some tasty, colorful and probably fresh and local vegetables but they dominated rather than complemented the rice. I missed that almost nutty quality a well-cooked risotto should have.

My overall impression was that, while I enjoyed lunch and dinner at The Sage Rabbit, I thought I might have had better experiences if I'd waited a couple more months after the July 17 opening.

For example, the hamburger at lunch ($10) was a generous serving of very good ground beef. But it was so generous that it overwhelmed both the bun and the crisp slices of onion on top. I admired the generosity — a characteristic not evident in every restaurant — but it was messy to eat and the accompaniments got lost. Balance is everything in cooking and this was just a little off-kilter.

The hen we tried at dinner ($25) was undoubtedly local and, while the meat was nicely cooked it was more or less drowned in sauce.

A note about the setting. I ate both meals on the porch in front, which was pleasant even on a hot midday. Taking a look inside, though, the spaces didn't make me want to come back on a cold day. A bar-like area seemed dark while the dining room was aglare with harsh lighting. Neither seemed like a place to enjoy the food I think this kitchen will be able to offer before long.

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