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You can be excused if you drive up to the Saddle Peak Lodge and think it looks more like a log cabin than a high-end restaurant, as the oldest part of the building got its start 100 years ago as a hunting lodge. During the last century, this property in the hills above Malibu has been a roadhouse, a Pony Express stop and, though it is mentioned in whispers, a bordello. The inside of the lodge restaurant retains the hunting lodge ambiance. While I was down in Southern California last week I had a chance to eat dinner at the Saddle Peak Lodge as their guest*.
The lodge has a collection of books, guns, old west fine art and if you look closely you will find a fossil found locally built into the large fireplace in the restaurant. In keeping with the hunting lodge theme, I could see 11 different full animal heads mounted on the wall from my table as well as various antlers. The display has been augmented over the years by patrons of the restaurant and the collection now boasts elk, deer, moose, gazelle, and a rather large cape buffalo which was above my table. While I am told that the vegetarian entrees are excellent, the game special seemed to me to be more appropriate to order under the circumstances.
Over the years the lodge hosted cowboys, hunters, and oil riggers before it became a popular spot with Hollywood stars like Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. Now you will be more likely to find a wedding party on the beautiful veranda than a starlet. With its remote location and with most entrees running from $30 to $50 this restaurant is, for many people, a place for a special occasion.
The restaurant was having a special the night I was there on wines by the bottle and the half bottle, but that is a winding road to get up the hill to the Saddle Peak Lodge and a single glass of Syrah seemed like a wiser choice.
I started my dinner with an excellent salad made with cooked pink lady apples, blue cheese, candied pecans, and endive.
My waiter, Bryce, recommended the elk as his favorite of the game selections but I chose the sampler platter which included, from left to right, elk, ostrich, and antelope ($54). The chef recommends that these all prepared medium-rare which is therefore what I ordered.
- The ostrich was interesting. It was served on a bed of buttered potatoes and spinach with a duck sauce reduction that took over a day to cook.
- The antelope tenderloin was wonderful. It was served on a beef-flavored couscous and Brussels sprout leaves with a mustard Bearnaise sauce.
- The elk tenderloin was, just as Bryce told me, amazing. It had a smokey flavor that it picked up from the wood-fired grill more than the other two types of meat did. It was presented on a bed of arugula, celery purée, current purée with a hunter venison sauce, and topped with sweet potato strings.
Even now my mouth is watering as I think about the flavor of the elk in particular. If you are in the Malibu or Thousand Oaks area and you don’t mind having to look the elk in the eye as you eat (although I am pretty sure that was a different elk) then I can highly recommend the fare at the Saddle Peak Lodge.
* When I say I was the guest of the Lodge, let me spell that out that they fed me for free in exchange for me writing this review. They did not ask for, nor would it have been appropriate to ask for, a chance to preview or edit this review.
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