I’m sitting at my desk, the right side of my face is completely numb and all I can think about — not that I need another thing to make me drool — is the Saddle Peak Lodge.
The rustic, log cabin restaurant tucked away in the hills of Malibu was the site of my “last supper” four weeks ago. Since then I have had four wisdom teeth pulled, a filling fixed and a deep cleaning. Until recently, I was unable to eat a decent meal because of my recovery, which means I survived on soups, mashed potatoes, yogurt, really ripe bananas and macaroni and cheese. (OK, I snuck in a burger from The Counter two weekends ago as I my body was shutting down from a lack of red meat.)
Maintaining my sanity has been difficult. Aside from the drugs prescribed, my only solace has been memories of the wild game trio I ordered at the lodge that included tender, slow-roasted buffalo short ribs with molasses and elk tenderloin with brandied cherries. There was also the pear salad with goat cheese, walnuts and blueberry-fig vinaigrette and the agnolotti with wild mushrooms, truffle essence and parmesan. It was a decadent meal, befitting a man about to go under the knife.
That meal has sustained me and I must thank the restaurant’s publicist and manager for treating me to Sunday dinner.
The lodge has been a dining gem for generations, but in the last few years it has become more modern, incorporating the latest trends in fine dining, which include locally-sourced produce and lighter sauces that let the food speak for itself.
The service is impeccable. Our waiter seemed to be able to sense when we needed more wine before we did and he was attentive without being annoying. He was very knowledgeable when it came to the various wines offered — most from California-based wineries — and the different starters and entrees, which range from $34 to $54. My dining companion and I sipped on a delightful cab-franc from Paradigm, which has deep roots in Napa Valley. It was gentle, but with a definite palate profile. At over $100 a bottle, the price is a tad steep, but you certainly get what you pay for.
The lodge is ideal for special occasions like a wedding anniversary, college graduation or Thanksgiving dinner (you better make reservations now if you expect to get a seat for turkey day). It truly offers a unique dining experience that is hard to duplicate anywhere else because of the location and décor. I went from the hustle and bustle of West Los Angeles to the tranquil hills of Malibu, the sun setting to my right as my dining companion and I made our way north on Pacific Coast Highway. The beautiful scenery helped get us in the mood for a relaxing, romantic dinner by the lodge’s stone fireplace.
When we arrived I was struck by the lush foliage, the many mounted heads, old books and hunting rifles lining the walls. It truly felt as if I was back in Mammoth at my favorite cabin getting ready for the next day’s adventure on the slopes.
Each course was presented beautifully. The flavors melded well together and I had no complaints about the quality of the ingredients or how each dish was prepared. I could tell that those in the kitchen take great pride in their work.
Following the meal I had a chance to digest with the executive chef, a young and impressive Christopher Kufek, whose story was truly inspiring. A troublemaker as a youth, Kufek stumbled upon Saddle Peak Lodge a few years back when he was researching places to take his mother for a nice dinner as pay back for being so patient with his teen antics. He was immediately drawn to the place and felt compelled to seek employment there.
After knocking on the backdoor several times over three months, he was finally offered a job. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. Now the 27-year-old former carpenter is running the show. I found it refreshing that an institution with so much history now has a relatively young buck leading the way. Kufek, who trained under James Beard Foundation award-winner Gavin Kaysen, is slowly putting his stamp on the menu, staying true to the classics (think wild game) while always looking for fresh ideas. He is sure to keep the restaurant relevant and on the cutting edge, even though when visiting you’ll feel as if you’ve taken a step back in time.
If you go
Saddle Peak Lodge
419 Cold Canyon Road