After finishing our meal at Sage Student Bistro, my dining partner and I left more than a tip. We left feedback about the experience on a comment card, rating everything from our server’s knowledge of the menu to the taste and temperature of the food we had just eaten.
Sage Student Bistro is the restaurant located at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus. It’s where aspiring chefs can refine their skills, interact with customers, and get some feedback and practice to prepare them for careers in food and hospitality.
Offering public dining and practical experience for students, the bistro opened as Café Metropol in 2002 in Metro’s old culinary arts building on the north side of campus. It was renamed Sage Student Bistro in 2004. The restaurant moved to its current space inside Metro’s $16 million Institute for the Culinary Arts—which opened in November 2009—in January 2010. The state-of-the-art institute features several classroom kitchens, a chocolate laboratory, a bakery, and more.
Renovated last fall, the bistro seats around 60 guests. The dining room is a warm, inviting space with modern décor, floor-to-ceiling windows, wood finishes, neutral colors, and a relaxed atmosphere. Outside, there’s a small garden area where rosemary, sage, lemon verbena, oregano, and other herbs are grown.
Students create it all, from appetizers to desserts. Besides learning about cooking methods, techniques, and the latest trends, they learn the ins and outs of other aspects of the restaurant business, including menu development and working as servers.
Diners are asked to fill out an evaluation form at the end of their meal. “We want all that feedback—good and bad,” says James Davis, MCC culinary arts instructor and chef. He and the students later review and discuss customer comments.
On our dinner visit in early July, the bistro earned high marks all around. Fresh ingredients, careful seasoning, and attention to detail were evident throughout the evening. Service was friendly, efficient, and informed.
A complimentary bread basket featured three types of freshly baked bread, including a hearty, seeded multigrain, which we enjoyed with a generous swipe of sage butter. To further prime the palate, the kitchen also sent out an amuse-bouche: an elegant bite-size blini topped with crème fraîche and fresh herbs.
Perfectly suited to summer, a starter of ripe and juicy heirloom tomatoes was fantastic. Big slices of deep red and golden yellow tomatoes were served with grilled gem lettuce and topped with shaved fennel, a dollop of creamy burrata cheese, olive oil, and mint.
Glazed with miso and gochujang (Korean chile paste), the confit pork belly was slightly dry and not as tender as it should have been, but slices of crunchy pickled radish and creamy carrot purée elevated the dish’s flavor and added textural variety.
A better choice was the chilled crab salad. A delight to eat, the dish was loaded with fresh, sweet lump crab meat, its flavors and textures enhanced by tarragon aioli, cucumber gelée, preserved lemon, charred frisée, and chives.
Steak is one of those dishes where a lot can go wrong. Not here, though. My ribeye entree arrived a perfect medium rare. The beef was tender, flavorful, and served with king trumpet mushrooms, grilled green onion, and heirloom carrots. A simple yet satisfying side of kohlrabi purée provided an earthy, creamy accompaniment—a nice alternative to mashed potatoes.
Another highlight among the entrees: diver scallops. Three plump, succulent scallops were cooked just right—seared to a delicate golden brown and served with tender asparagus spears, lemon aioli, basil, and puffed farro for a crunchy element. The scallops tasted fresh, and neither the seafood nor the vegetables were overcooked.
At $15 to $19, entrees are reasonably priced for the quality. Starters are in the $5 to $8 range and perfect for sharing. In addition to a standard menu, there’s a wonderfully affordable prix-fixe menu designed by students (five courses for $30 per person). A concise beverage list includes a selection of red and white wines as well as local and imported beers.
Staffed by second-year culinary students, Sage Student Bistro is open Monday through Thursday for lunch and dinner during Metro’s academic calendar. The small, seasonally changing menu includes a wide range of fresh, local ingredients. “We want the food to fit the season,” Davis says.
Leave room for dessert. A slice of not-too-sweet strawberry-matcha cake and a light, refreshing citrus soufflé were artfully plated and delicious. Although we were plenty full, we nearly licked our plates clean. At the end of the meal, our server brought out a selection of mignardises—tiny, bite-size sweets, including delectable house-made chocolates almost too pretty to eat. A post-dessert dessert? Sign me up.
While the bistro focuses on fine dining at dinner, it offers more casual fare such as soups and sandwiches during lunch hours. Lunch and dinner during the fall 2019 quarter continues through Nov. 14; dinner reservations are recommended.
The students working in the front and back of the house are talented and passionate about providing guests a top-notch dining experience. Walk into nearly any Omaha restaurant and you’re likely to find a Metro culinary grad who spent time in the kitchen at Sage Student Bistro. It’s one of the area’s best hidden-gem restaurants.
This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.