Growing up in Old Lyme, Connecticut, our racket club was part of our childhood, a place to socialize, play tennis and swim in the pool. It was a place my mother could forge connections and feel like an adult while her only child could be entertained and acquire tennis skills at a stellar rate. Looking back at these years in the 1980s, a highlight could be winning a can of Coke Cola for the best backhand in tennis camp, playing Ms. Pacman, or ordering a Shirley temple with a cherry, along side other kids my age. While our parents could let us run free, devouring chocolate-covered cookie ice cream sandwiches and trying out that beloved era’s locker room saunas and chlorine-soaked pool swims, these moments were nothing more than the perfect summer. Now, these images feels idyllic.
So transporting myself to the Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club, a place I had no idea existed in my twelve years in LALA Land, flooded my soul with memories of my mom and what once was my New England adolescent world. Since our friends had not arrived for dinner yet, we seated ourselves in a cabana-like setting at a table surrounded by couches, billowy curtains, and cool-looking tile, all with a perfect view of the tennis match being played. Not sure if the men with the rackets liked the attention or not, we watched them (me with a sense of longing for the old days) while sipping wine and devouring a farmer’s market fresh honey labneh flatbread (basically the fancy word in LA for a chic pizza). Sitting atop this circular pillowy crunch dough was springtime on a plate, a colorful medley of peas, roasted carrots, and mint – the LA healthy pizza version that still left us with room for a grand dinner.
I soon learned Social Hour is offered in the bar and patio from 3 – 7 from Tuesday to Sunday AND you don’t need to be a member to enjoy the restaurant. During this time, anyone can score $6-$7 draft beers, wines, and well liquor drinks. Flatbread is just $5 and included options like House Made Chorizo, Grilled Spring Onion, and Roasted Beets.
While transported in my Connecticut childhood memories, I imagined what life was like here in Toluca Lake at the same time in the 1970s and 1980s where this very place was “the place” to play tennis due to its proximity to the various movie and TV studios in the area. Imagine having a lesson and Farrah Fawcett or Johnny Carson rolls out next to you, or a post tennis nosh (with basic burger fare back then) frequented with the likes of Clint Eastwood or O.J. Simpson. The history alone may inspire you to order the Classy Fawcett cocktail, a sweet, tart, and bubbly mixture of vodka, raspberries, lemon, orange, and prosecco with delicate flower petals skimming the surface. And surprisingly, exciting specialty cocktails come without the LA price.
Inside, I walked around Santuari Restaurant mesmerized by the decor – a Moroccon Mediterranean vibe is not exactly what you expect in a tennis club environment, but I learned the owner’s wife had put her heart and soul into decorating the new restaurant offering guests various venue options along with a custom wine cellar. The goal was to create a resort feel, a sanctuary, which is what Santuari means in Italian. I already didn’t want to leave. I could easily see how if you lived in this area, you might never want to leave an outing here for bites and bubbles (or if a tennis club or fitness member, your whole day could exist here – dining before or after sweating in the gym or on the court).
As our guests soon arrived, we were swept into a white booth surrounded by white tiles, white busts (Adonis, perhaps?), and white orchids. Above us were white ceiling beams and expressive white archways along the wall that one might find in Turkey. The rustic elegance in this main room came with a white Moorish-type fireplace hugged by chalices filled with white coral and shells.
The new Santuari Restaurant, just a year old, is headed up by Executive Chef Brendan Mica who makes everything from scratch and focuses on fresh Californian cuisine with Mediterranean accents. He was raised in LA has cooked all over the world at many notable restaurants, the last being Wilshire Restaurant in Los Angeles. At 4 am you can find Chef Mica frequenting the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for the best produce.
Through the white archways, the backroom can be peered in through the main dining room, which has an entirley different vibe, but immediately made me think of the perfect spot for a private group dinner where you won’t be bothered by other people. Turkish lamps in all gleaming colors and metals in shapes of stars and quadrilaterals hung from the ceiling illuminating the jewel-y green room. A central focus point was a floor to ceiling exotic art piece with lush palm trees and what looked like maybe raptors. The room was like “Rock the Casbah.”
Adjacent to the tennis court patio, these two rooms with lavish and elegant decor created different moods. Everything felt so private, but besides the ambiance, you really need to stay for the food! Menu items will change with the seasons, but we began our meal with Roasted Carrot Hummus, something I wouldn’t ordinarily order, but with grilled flatbread, lemon, olive oil, and dukkah, it was hard to not have enough of this sweet concoction. Our table of four shared Grilled Octopus, Roasted Beet Salad with marinated feta and pistachio vinaigrette, Grilled Asparagus Salad, and my favorite Little Gem Salad with anchovy vinaigrette, crispy quinoa, and aged parmesan. All prepared with fresh ingredients, while some were new to me like green strawberries and a coddled egg with the the asparagus salad and piquillo pepper and nicoise olives with the grilled octopus dish.
While the men opted for a tender juicy Grilled Rack of Lamb with Greek yogurt and pomegrenate and Braised Shortrib with a contrasting carrot puree, my pasta dish tasted homemade but this Bolognese came with chopped seafood so instead of meat, I was are scooping up fresh bites of octopus, scallops, and shrimp in a red sauce. Next time I would be curious to try the Sweet Pea Ravioli.
Everything was cooked perfectly and service was excellent. Top off your meal with vino from their wonderful wine list, like Cabernet from Daou in Paso Robles or Dusiegneur from Cote Du Rhone.
Like icing on the cake, the desserts were standout too! Don’t miss the lighter Creme Fraiche Cheese Cake with Baklava shavings, wildflower honey, and candied walnuts and the Strawberry Shortcake pouring with limoncello macerated strawberries, rhubarb jam, and whipped creme fraiche. If only coffee didn’t keep me up all night, the Turkish Coffee Panna Cotta with dark chocolate coffee beans would have been at the top of my list.
You don’t need to be a member to enjoy dining in this remarkable atmosphere. Let Santuari be your sanctuary.
Come for lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch from 11 – 2. Valet parking is complimenary.
Santuari Restaurant @
Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club
6711 Forest Lawn Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068