Sage Mindful Meals and Elixirs
217 E Matilija Street, Ojai
$2-20
www.sagemindfulmeals.com


Following a two-hour scenic hike through the Los Padres National Forest on a cool, overcast Saturday morning, I ended up in the little alcove along Matilija Street, where Sage Mindful Meals recently opened its doors, looking for a hearty meal. I had come to the right place.

If there were ever a restaurant that personified the spirit of Ojai, it’s Sage Mindful Meals. Here exists a space for goods made in-house with loving care, to sustain both mind and body. Ingredients are sourced locally, as can be seen via a chalkboard listing farms utilized by the kitchen for everything from produce to seafood. Produce, they say, is certified organic, seafood is wild and line caught and meats are organic and free range.

With such a lofty premise, delivering a better-than-average meal would be the key to success. Truthfully, Sage excels.

Firstly, the restaurant itself is small. What little seating exists is a free-for-all. Once you order from the walk-up counter, you’re given a number. If you’ve ordered a lot and choose to eat in, finding a table should be priority No. 1.

The kimchi ramen hot pot combines hand-made noodles, vegan-friendly kimchi and crunchy vegetables into one satisfying bowl.

Muhummara is a Middle Eastern roasted red pepper dip served with house pickles and your choice of naan (traditional or vegan and gluten-free).

Japanese grill (Yakitori) inspired menu with veg/tofu skewer and shishito peppers skewer.

Second, there is a lot to choose from. Following a nice morning hike, my attention turned to heartier items on the menu. Whatever diet you’re following, there’s something for you here, be it vegan, paleo, keto or even Ayurvedic (which follows traditional Indian methods using food as medicine).

Being that it was somewhat gloomy, the so-called Rainbow Bowls caught my attention. Vietnamese Pho is offered here in two iterations, traditional with a beef bone broth or with a vegan broth ($12). The Korean-inspired Kimchi Ramen Hot Pot ($13) is vegetarian, utilizing in-house made noodles with egg. There’s also a traditional ramen, a Japanese staple made with a pork bone broth ($12).

We went with the Vegan Pho and the Kimchi Ramen Hot Pot as our mains. Because we were greedy and had performed the minimum required regimen of exercise for the day, we also ordered from the small plates menu. The Muhummara ($8) is a Middle Eastern roasted red pepper dip served with house pickles and your choice of naan (traditional or vegan and gluten-free). To round-out the meal, we chose from the Japanese grill (Yakitori) inspired menu the veg/tofu skewer ($2.50) and shishito peppers skewer ($2).

I also chose one of Sage’s many elixirs: a Calm Spirit. The beverage is a concoction made with your choice of milk (dairy, coconut or almond), fat (coconut oil, cocoa butter or ghee) and sweetener (coconut sugar, honey or monkfruit).

We managed to find a table and patiently waited for our food, knowing that everything was made to order. We didn’t have to wait long. The Muhummara arrived promptly alongside the skewers. The roasted red pepper dip paired with Sage’s freshly made naan was a revelation, leading me to ask where had this dip been all of my life? The shishito peppers were perfectly charred, served with a splash of lemon and ponzu, and the veggie skewers were plump with farm-fresh mushrooms and crispy tofu.

Our respective soups came next. The hot pot had been described as vegetarian on the menu, owing to egg in the homemade noodles. Knowing what I know about kimchi, however, I asked the chef if fish sauce or shrimp were used in its making. Neither, he told me. Sage makes a vegan kimchi by hand-rubbing Napa cabbage and utilizing apples to give it a traditional taste. Consider it a victory for Sage: The kimchi was spot-on and delicious, mingling in the hot broth with crunchy radish and plump noodles.

The pho was a hit as well, a subtle broth with just enough heat from the jalapeño to keep it honest. There’s an option to add a poached egg for $2, if you’re looking to try Sage’s locally sourced, grain-fed options.

Sage offers a plethora of brunch and breakfast items as well, from biscuits and gravy ($8) to vegan garnachas ($9) topped with black beans and vegan chorizo.

Sage’s menu picks and chooses items from across the globe and does so without seeming overburdened. It takes a delicate touch to fulfill the promise of its name, “mindful meals.” Perhaps adding memorable to the name would be well suited, as I still cannot stop thinking about how good the kimchi was and that Muhummara still floats around in my dreams.