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Mmm, Buffalo…

February 21, 2011

Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play. And are invited to the dinner table.

As anyone who grew up playing Oregon Trail can attest, big game was once a staple of the American diet. Today it is a rarity, and not just due to scarcity. Our palettes, tamed into pasteurized submission by the food industry, are no longer comfortable with the broad notes of wild animal flesh.

On a recent trip to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, I became a little obsessed with the idea of eating something wilder than a Lutheran casserole. Several runs through the town of Brookings took us by a restaurant with the minimalistic name Pheasant Lounge, and each time we passed, with diminishing levels of sarcasm, I suggested we eat there.

A final night’s stay in Sioux Falls led to a far more elegant solution to my craving for game. A little internet research yielded up a promising-looking downtown establishment called the Wild Sage Grille.

I’m going to cut to the chase here. The Wild Sage Grille was an awesome experience. If you ever find yourself in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you will be missing out if you do not treat yourself to a meal there.

The restaurant is nestled within Cherapa Place, which, I am told, is the city’s first LEED certified building. It is a comfortable space, with really beautiful contemporary art pieces along the walls that feature the main menu items: buffalo, pheasant and elk.

I started with a Crow Peak 11th Hour IPA, a hoppy, sweet pale ale brewed in the Black Hills. First out was a pheasant soup with chunky garden vegetables. It was a good setup for a great entree: Buffalo Ribeye with potato de jour and late harvest vegetables. The buffalo was surprisingly tender, just exquisitely prepared. More of a musky flavor than beef, as if a bull had bred with a sheep. To me, that kind of flavor has so much more character than your everyday beefsteak, but maybe I’m just a sucker for all things pungent, intense and different. The walleye my brother ordered was also really well-prepared.

Almost forgot about dessert. We ordered a carrot cake with big, intense chunks of carrot and some kind of whiskey bread pudding. The choice of dessert somehow prompted the appearance of “Whiskey Lady”, a character who enlivened the conversation with her eccentric ways, capping off a very memorable evening of family and food.

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