Find sanctuary at Toluca Lake’s Santuari

Santuari, a new restaurant located inside the historic Toluca Lake Tennis Club, has opened its doors to the public. Executive Chef Brendan Mica prepares exciting Mediterranean influences with fresh California ingredients.

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For years this upscale wellness facility was a sanctuary for celebrities and executives from nearby motion picture and television studios. They played tennis, used the gym and hung out. In the 70s and 80s members included Johnny Carson, Farrah Fawcett and Clint Eastwood.

The owners closed the space for about two years, renovating and designing the interior to resemble some of their favorite travel destinations. They named the restaurant Santuari which means sanctuary or shelter in Catalan.

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One semi-private room offers beautiful Moroccan arches, decorative nooks, pleasing blue smooth plaster walls, and traditional metal and glass light fixtures bringing a hint of magic to the room.

The evening my daughter and I dined, a group of Walt Disney Studio executives were in this room, so we sat in one of the elegant semi-circular white booths in the main dining room.

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This room feels as if your are visiting the Spanish island of Mallorca offering Roman and Moorish style with stone and smooth plaster walls, and wood beams. Other design touches include dramatic large chandeliers, a large fireplace, and white french doors opening out to an al fresco patio overlooking mature trees and tennis courts.

The night I dined with my daughter, the custom wine cellar was just completed. On the curated wine list were some of my favorite wineries from vineyards including Daou, Jack and Jill Hammer, Raymond Reserve, and Hugel. I ordered a glass of my favorite Jill Hammer Rose’ of Pinot Noir.

The menu also offers ten specialty Hollywood theme cocktails that are named after famous movies or some of the past club members. There is a Stoli cucumber “Classy Fawcett”, Titos vodka “From Here to Eternity” and a Knob Creek rye “Des Artistes.”

California School of Culinary Arts graduate Brendan Mica was hired to lead the kitchen and craft a unique menu. Raised in Southern California, I learned he graduated from the same high school I attended. He is a stickler for the freshest quality ingredients and visits the Santa Monica Farmers Market every Wednesday to stock his kitchen at Santuari.

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Making everything from scratch including the pleasing thick flat bread grilled and cut in triangles, he serves them with a beautiful orange colored roasted carrot hummus, made with olive oil, a touch of citrus and sprinkling of dukkah, an Egyptian condiment consisting of a mixture of spices, herbs, and nuts.

Other vibrant dishes on the menu include a roasted beet salad and grilled octopus. The salad arrived with light pink and dark red sliced beets and blood orange sections, marinated feta cubes, a handful of greens and a drizzle of pistachio vinaigrette.

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Two charred octopus tentacles were on top of a thin spread of brick orange piquillo pepper sauce. This dish also had chopped Niçoise olives, preserved lemon, and crispy shallots rings. This sauce offered a sweet taste with no heat, and the sprigs of parsley add a pop of green color to this “sea meets the earth” balance of flavors.

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Ordering the blanched asparagus green salad, I enjoyed the coddled egg in the center. Surrounding the egg were slices of green strawberries and crispy fingerling potatoes that dazzled with an Italian calabrian chili aioli. This type of chili is small, but oozes a variety of unique flavors. Although predominantly spicy, there is also a slightly salty, smoky and even fruity taste to these blood red in color peppers

Chef Brendan makes his own pasta, including Tagliatelle with asiago, seafood linguine Bolognese and my favorite sweet pea ravioli filled with ricotta and topped with morel mushrooms, bread crumbs and mint leaves. It was enhanced with a slightly tangy Meyer lemon beurre blanc.

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Other entrees includes black sea bass with Sicilian olives and roasted sunchokes; grilled whole fish; rack of lamb with Greek yogurt; braised short ribs with dried apricots and snap peas; and seared scallops.

We finished our meal with a gooey chocolate cake and scoop of vanilla bean gelato, along with a slice of crème fraîche cheesecake with flakey baklava shavings.

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Our server Michael told me that a glass of Jill Hammer Rose’ is one of the wines served during Social Hour from 3 to 7 p.m. They also give guests a choice of beer, well drinks and other wines starting at $6. The food offerings include a variety of spiced nuts, marinated olives and flatbreads for $5 each.

Come in for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Start with a flute of blood orange, passionfruit, blueberry, blackberry or pomegranate “Santimosa”.

The brunch menu features the roasted carrot hummus I loved, as well as crab Benedict; a breakfast sandwich; banana bread; French toast; variety of salads; prime beef burger; and Mediterranean Shakshuka.

Take a summer vacation reminiscent of Casablanca, Santorini or Ibiza inside one of the prettiest restaurants in Los Angeles.

Santuari serves lunch starting at 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.,and dinner Tuesday to Thursday from 5:30 to 9 p.m and Friday and Saturday 5:30pm to 10pm. 6711 Forest Lawn Dr. in Los Angeles. Call (323) 902-9700.

This review was featured also in the Beverly Press.

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