Saturday, February 27, 2016

Restaurant Review: Sanctuary

It's rare that a restaurant can immediately envelope me in a sense of intimacy. I usually find that there is some element that pulls my senses out from being truly together and comfortable- the restaurant is too bright, too dim, too loud, too crowded. Overall, there's a lack of emphasis (or perhaps it's execution) in the role that ambiance- whole, crafted, purposeful ambiance- should play in the dining experience.

The outside world disappeared a little when I stepped into Sanctuary. I felt a warmth and familiarity that was suddenly and noticeably absent from so many of my other dining experiences. I was not here 'for dinner'- I was here to dine. It was as if Sanctuary herself had invited me over for supper. How charming to feel such a sense of inclusion.

Atmosphere is only one part of dining out, however, and usually not the component that most people want to see reviews about. The food! The food! That's what you go out for, that's what you want to know all about. Naturally you can't review a restaurant without commenting on the cuisine, but I put emphasis on Sanctuary's ambiance because it truly permeates every element of the restaurant- including the food. It is impossible to ignore the care and purpose with which Chef Patrick Atanalian creates his menu- as if he is trying to appeal to whatever your heart (and palate) need that day. He crafts plates that are at once whimsical and comforting. He inspires a sense of adventure with his menu- that it is okay to be un-apologetically you in this moment and in this space, that it is okay to change whenever you feel the urge. His offerings are sanctuary for those too bold or too meek to fit into tradition.

So now we discuss the food:

We started with Garlic, Spinach and Artichoke Tartlets with Provencal Olives, Cornichons and a Shot of White Verjus. We were instructed to sprinkle lavender buds over our tarts, and then bite into the olive, the cornichon, the tarlet, cleansing our palate with a sip of the verjus. Delightful and warming. The tartlet crust was truly admirable- sturdy, yet with a pleasant crumble once bit. The verjus was a lovely addition to such a rich morsel. Four come in an order. Not to be missed.

For soup, I selected the Coeur de Guanaja Chocolate Strawberry Soup with Ancho Pepper Whipped Cream. Absolutely smooth, with a luscious mouth-feel. The strawberry flavor stays nestled under the chocolate, while the slight savory flavor from the peppers cuts through the creamy 'hot cocoa' idea. Use the spoon to incorporate the ancho whipped cream throughout, then set it down and proceed to drink the soup straight from the mug.

My aunt had the Restaurant Week menu, which included a starter of Sea Scallop with Saffron Veloute and Garlic Chili Yuzu Aioli. She wouldn't share much, but the little taste I had was phenomenally balanced between fragrance and heat- a combination that is hard to achieve and rare to taste.

And now the dish that first peaked my interest in Sanctuary: Wild Acres Farm Duck Breast with Mexican Vanilla Mashed Potatoes, Blood Orange Sauce and Pico de Gallo. The duck was, of course, cooked perfectly- with a crispy skin that didn't wane under the vibrant orange sauce. The mashed potatoes were an oddity. Plated, they looked deceivingly creamy. I expected to be overwhelmed with butter and cream, but instead, the vanilla brought out the naturally clean and starchy flavor of potatoes. It reminded me of tasting mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, before they had been doused in gravy. I would have preferred a touch more salt and pepper in the potatoes, but it was interesting to sample such a 'clean' mash.

Whatever you do, stay for dessert and order Antonio de la Sanctuary Tres Leches Cake and Fresh Berries. This is what dessert should be- something as sweet and refreshing as a cool glass of milk, and lovingly made from a family recipe. The kitchen had, by mistake, sprinkled my cake with a touch of cayenne, The heat lingered briefly with each creamy bite, and if you're up for it, I would suggest asking the kitchen to make the same 'mistake' with your dessert.

We also enjoyed the Restaurant Week dessert, Bette Noir with Creme Anglaise and Lemon Sorbet. This- this was chocolate for the sake of chocolate. Absolutely decadent, and truly one of the best executions of a richly chocolate dessert that I've enjoyed.

Sanctuary offers a weekly 5 course Chef's tasting menu for $35. For those of us who have been burned too often by the belief that price guarantees quality, this is the perfect gamble. I highly encourage you to put you trust in Chef Atanalian.

Nuts and Berries Dessert Cocktail

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