And Sanctuary the restaurant, in downtown Minneapolis, is the perfect place to find it. The upscale eatery opened the same week as the 35W bridge collapse. Considering its location on Washington Avenue, just four blocks west of 35W, such dubious beginnings may have overshadowed their grand opening. Over a year later, the restaurant appears to be thriving despite the initial challenges.
I learned about Sanctuary from a friend visiting from out of town. She found the restaurant on the Internet and treated me to a meal there. The kitchen is headed by executive chef Patrick Atanalian, a French trained, Twin Cities based chef who made his mark at The New French Café, The Vintage, and The Loring Café. When I discovered Atanalian was the chef, I knew she’d made an interesting choice.
A large corner wood wine rack and fireplace greet diners behind a pulpit-like host’s stand. Subdued green paint, stone walls, and magnificent, honey colored wood beams give a warm welcome. I spotted three of Sanctuary’s famous gargoyles, little guys holding their posts discreetly. In the small bar area, patrons occupied the half dozen stools while diners were snug at their tables for two. The plank wood floors give the restaurant a medieval, Moorish look. An outdoor patio with more beautiful stonework provides additional seating in warm weather.
The courses on the menu are labeled Entice, Refresh, Nourish and Indulge. Sanctuary defines its food as “New American cuisine deftly prepared and spiced with classic Mediterranean and Asian influences.” Atanalian uses components of different ethnic cuisines, and balances them all, resulting in a nuanced blend of hot/cold, mild/spicy, Asian/Mediterranean/Latin.
Enticed by sweet potato eggrolls with soybeans and red peppercorn sauce ($7), the subtle sweetness of the potatoes balanced the spiciness of the red pepper. Salmon and cream cheese ravioli ($9) wrapped in a thin potato paper, was sublime, absolute heaven. Garnished with a white peach pesto sauce, I didn’t taste either, but whatever the chef did, the resulting taste was magic.
I Refreshed with a $5 lentil curry soup enhanced with yogurt and cilantro mint. Someone with less spice tolerance may want to steer clear of this one. My companion chose the beet salad with goat cheese and sherry vinegar; they were among the best beets she’d ever tasted.
For Nourishment, I picked tortillas with butternut squash and ricotta cheese. I wasn’t disappointed. Topped with caramelized onions, the tortillas tasted reminiscent of manicotti, but Atanalian’s created a dish all his own. For $14, I had leftovers to take home. My friend enjoyed the beef filet (the priciest Nourishment at $32). I sampled some; this was the best beef I’ve eaten in recent memory. It was accompanied by mashed potatoes, apple cider crayfish sauce, and an adorable, ginger braised apple.
We declined to Indulge in dessert. For $7, there’s prickly pear tiramisu, coconut margarita pannacota, or ice cream sandwiches, and a $10 cheese and fruit plate that sounds divine.
The menu reflects the artistry of Chef Atanalian. A non-conformist whose claim to fame is Coca-Cola crème fraiche and halibut in a gummy bear crayfish broth, Atanalian displays this creativity at Sanctuary. But here, it’s with a lighter hand. He approaches his art with a less schizophrenic method, but it’s by no means traditional.
Since we are both fans of the bubbly, my friend and I also enjoyed small bottles of Zardetto Prosecco. The wine list features selections from California, Italy, France and Germany. A good Chalone pinot noir is available by the glass and the bottle, and half a dozen dessert wines are offered. I’d like to see wines from more regions: South America, Spain, Lebanon, Greece. Sanctuary food is not typically western European, so the diversity of the cuisine deserves a more varied, and interesting, wine list.
Our service was somewhat comical at times, even though one of Sanctuary’s owners, Michael Kutscheid, is a fixture on the Twin Cities dining scene and has been named best maitre’d five times. We had been escorted to the most dimly lit table in the room, where cold air blew on us before management fixed it (but not for long). We could have been given a better table since we dined on a slow night, Monday at 8PM, but perhaps this was an off night for hosting duties. The waiter also almost knocked over my glass while pouring my water.
We retreated to the relaxing bar. I enjoyed a Stella Artois, my friend, a glass of red wine. After being presented with the prettiest glasses of water—old fashioned tumblers garnished with a thin circle each of lemon and lime, I realized a recent trend: bartenders are keeping their customers hydrated with both alcohol and water. It’s a smart idea, and one that’s been adopted here. It’s one more reason to come back to Sanctuary.