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Saddlerock Garden dinners offer organic fare, breathtaking view

Saddlerock Gardens staff members (left to right) Joe Lazo, Lisa Masuda, Alex Parkin and Chef David Wilcox prepare dinner during a March 4 dinner at the Malibu garden. Photos by Barbara Burke/22nd Century Media
A starter during the March 4 dinner at Saddlerock Gardens featured grilled garden daikon, fire cooked lamb, chimichurri broccoli, spring onions and romesco.
Elizabeth Shrer-Rusnak serves a platter of oysters.
Guests await the next course in Saddlerock Gardens’ March 4 dinner.
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
12:00 pm PDT March 16, 2017

Nestled in the mountains off Mulholland Highway, an excellent epicurean experience awaits.  

Saddlerock Gardens offers an outdoor dining experience ($120) in which guests are served organic and sustainably sourced produce grown in the garden, perfectly prepared dishes with meats and innovative ingredients, and of course, wine.  

“It’s magical up here,” said Steve Hilton, of Malibu, as he sat in the garden March 4 amidst the vast horizons at the foot of the majestic Santa Monica Mountains.

The dinners are cooked over an outdoor open fire, and are served in the on-site gardens amongst a beautiful community dining setting.

“Saddlerock Gardens started as a passion project because of my mother teaching me as a little kid about sustainable farming,” said Shane Semler, who founded the garden and whose father, Ron Semler, owns Saddlerock Ranch. “I wanted to start the dinners so we could share the experiences I had as a child and to teach people about sustainable gardening and provide a place for them to enjoy our wonderful wines.”

This experience is much more than a dinner, however.

One can take a leisurely tour of the garden as she sips on a glass from the Semler Malibu Estate Vineyards or from one of the locally sourced varietals the establishment purveys. 

When one reaches down and feels the soil between her fingers, she intuits that Mother Earth supplies all she needs. 

One can leave the cacophony and chaos of the intensely traveled Pacific Coast Highway behind and relax, get in tune with nature, and have one of the finest epicurean experiences in Southern California. 

Attendees can simply sit and relax, watching nature’s lovely, intricate interplays before one’s eyes. The weather is fine, the spacious skies calming, the pace is slow and the fresh air permeates one’s spirits. Such intimacy with farm and ranch life is truly hard to find. 

“We have 300 developed acres,” Semler said. “We have horse pastures, working vineyards and the rest of the 1,000-acre parcel is raw land. We have a Chumash cave painting site as well.”

Further inspection reveals there are a vast array of avocado trees and residents of the acreage include a giraffe, horses, llamas, an Asiatic water buffalo, camels, zebras, yaks, peacocks and donkeys. The property’s filming history dates back decades. Such shows as “The Bachelor” and “The Biggest Loser” have been filmed there, as have movies such as “Mi Familia” and “Fun with Dick and Jane.” 

However, when the garden dinners are cooking, one forgets “the biz.” The sweet scents of homemade vegetables being grilled with just the right amount of spices and herbs takes over one’s senses.

When Malibu Surfside News paid a call, the bar was serving wine, horchata, some killer sangria mojitos and a lovely ginger lemon honey tea.

Acoustic guitar player Shere Disraeli smiled serenely as he played soulful pieces that blended perfectly with the majestic mountains and the cool country air. 

The evening began with hors d’oeuvres of grilled beef meatballs with fennel and aioli sauce, and succulent, grilled oysters. Bowls of fresh, aromatic citrus grown on property adorned the bar and added to the Mediterranean feel.

“Tonight we are serving Spanish cuisine,” Chef David Wilcox said. “One of the things that we’re all about at the Gardens is to use as many veggies as possible in our dishes. But most importantly, it’s all about all of you guests being a community for tonight and enjoying one another’s company.”

A savory dish with grilled daikon, miner’s lettuce from the garden and lamb cooked to perfection followed.  

A plate full of grilled vegetables, fresh from the garden, with Romesco sauce, a delightful peppery, nutty sauce that originated in Tarragona, Spain, landed on the table next. Truly, vegetables never tasted so fresh and flavorful. 

Guests gathered around as Wilcox cooked a grilled paella made on an open fire. Simmering onions, garlic and saffron all merged to titillate the senses as he put the final touches on the dish. Mouths were watering as the guests took their seats. 

It was the perfect way to end a perfect evening.

“It’s been a fabulous evening. We came here to celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday,” said Alyssa Hughes, as she smiled at her mother, Vicki Shaw.

“It’s majestic and the views are breathtaking,” Shaw said as she smiled and tipped her wine glass. “It’s intoxicating here, literally and figuratively.”

This spring will bring welcome changes to the gardens. Spring dinners are currently scheduled for April 1 and April 15.

“We’re expecting the flowers to pop in the next couple of weeks given all the rain we’ve had,” garden manager Ryland Lancaster said. 

Eli Lichter, one of the garden landscape architects and a beekeeper, agreed that this spring is going to be unique.

“We make my honey here on the ranch. I have 15 hives here. Our honey is from the Santa Monica Mountains. This jar is out of Rustic Canyon,” he said as he handed a customer a jar ($12). “All the rain will make for a lot of allergies this season. Honey is a great way to curb any sensitivity to allergens. The taste and texture of honey depends on the location and time of year it is harvested. This year is an excellent year.”

Saddle Rock Garden’s dining experience begins at 2 p.m. so guests can enjoy the gardens and tour the property before sunset.  

Malibu is made more special by having this dining option that is not to be missed. 

Saddlerock Gardens

31727 Mulholland Highway, Malibu

Phone: (424) 346-0041