Visiting a 100-year-old Restaurant in California
For ghost hunters and believers in the supernatural, Los Angeles is a goldmine — especially when it comes to the spirits of Old Hollywood movie stars. The only rumored haunted spot I've visited in LA is the Magic Castle, and I saw no ghosts. So when I got an invite from chef Adam Horton to taste the new bar menu at Saddle Peak Lodge (rumored to be haunted by a few spirits, according to Haunted Places), I wondered: Would I finally see a ghost?
In the hills of Malibu, under the Saddle Peak, rests one of LA's most historic and reclusive eateries, which was built at least 100 years ago. Starting as Crater Camp Roadhouse, it has held many identities over the years, including a general store, a Pony Express stop, a hunting lodge, a bordello, and possibly more. Since the early ‘60s, it's been called Saddle Peak Lodge, and currently chef Adam Horton is the executive chef.
Horton was previously the chef at Saddle Peak from 2008 to 2012 but moved on to cook for Mélisse and Restaurant Gordon Ramsey among other spots. Now, he's back in the saddle and is very familiar with the landscape. Regulars of Saddle Peak Lodge, don't worry, Horton isn't eliminating the beloved menu that is already in place. He's aware that longtime customers don't want a new menu — which I completely agree with — but there will soon be some new allergy- and diet-friendlier items added.
What makes Saddle Peak Lodge so fun for regulars is the rustic appearance you would expect from an old-school lodge, but the dining room itself has an elegance to it. Since I was invited to try the bar menu, I was seated at the bar, which gave me serious Twin Peaks vibes (remember The Great Northern Hotel?) with its copper bartop, tronco tables and low lighting. Even if you're someone who doesn't love sitting at a bar, it's tough not to appreciate the kitsch of Saddle Peak Lodge.
The new bar menu is served nightly for bar patrons from 5 to 10 p.m. Horton shared that he is influenced by flavors of Southeast Asia, so in addition to the American classics that will always be on the menu, he's incorporating a lot of Thai- and Vietnamese-inspired dishes as well.
I started with the One Night in Chiang Mai cocktail, with tequila, grapefruit, makrut lime, lemongrass, ginger beer, and chili. This Thailand-inspired cocktail was created by Horton and packs a punch. The spiciness level is mild-medium, and I recommend this cocktail for lime-lovers.
The Saddle Peak Sour is a more classic cocktail. They infuse Jack Daniel's No. 7 with vanilla and ginger then shake the infusion with lemon juice, simple syrup, Peychaud's Bitters, and egg whites. The creaminess of the egg white with the vanilla flavor made this beverage stand out from other sours I've had in the past. Well done.
To get a feel for Horton’s style, I started with both classic American and Southeast Asian dishes.
The pork belly with Vietnam flavors is perfect finger food. I recommend pairing this one with the One Night in Chiang Mai cocktail, since they are both light with spicy kicks. I ordered the Brussels sprouts, which were roasted crisp with a light balsamic glaze.
The Saddle Peak Lodge dining room menu is known for having a wide selection of wild game meats, while the bar menu focuses on having a more hands-on approach to food. The SPL Burger is a double-patty burger with blue cheese, umami bacon relish, and watercress, and it comes with your choice of salad or fries. I went with fries, of course (you don't win friends with salad).
The crispy chicken sandwich was my favorite item from this tasting. The fried chicken patty is pounded thin. With a lemon spritz, it reminded me of chicken schnitzel. But what I loved the most were the fresh dill pickle chips in combination with the grilled frisée. I can't name another sandwich in LA with grilled frisée, so this was a first for me. The anticucho mayo also adds a savory meatiness, and all the flavors work beautifully together.
For dessert, I decided to try a pioneer dish and went with their Skillet Hoe Cake. For those not familiar, hoecake descends from a staple dish prevalent in North America since pre-Columbian times (sometimes referred to as a johnnycake by Northerners). It's traditionally a cornmeal flatbread, but Horton sweetens it up a bit to make it feel more like a treat. This was my first time having this dish; it's like a bite out of American history.
Even though I didn't see any of the rumored ghosts here, the new bar menu at Saddle Peak Lodge will leave you satisfied, and you'll get a sense of mountain dining with some modern influence. I will be back soon to try the wild game items in the dining room!