The Exquisite Experience of Farm-to-Table Dining at Saddlerock Gardens

Al Fresco doesn’t even begin to explain this summer soiree.

Amble along windy Kanan Road, south of the 101 Freeway and you’ll find Saddlerock Ranch. The sprawling, multi-faceted estate, owned by the Semler family, houses Saddlerock Family Estate Vineyards, Malibu Wine Safari and Malibu Wine Hikes.

The ranch also host countless events, weddings and enchanting biweekly garden dinners, one of which I recently attended at the property’s outdoor dining venue, Saddlerock Garden.

It is a unique experience—even your arrival. Heading down the long, twisting driveway, you’ll pass by pens of zebras and Asian water buffalo. Diners check in for seat assignments next to a sun-bleached blue bus and are handed a wine glass that’s quickly filled with crisp, 2016 Saddlerock Rosé. Everyone is advised to “keep your glass” as wine flows all night.

Farmer Nick Barner kicked off the five-hour evening by leading a tour of a former horse pasture that recently entered its third year as an organic vegetable garden. We walked the rows, passing “Windsor” fava beans, purple- hued sage varietals and pineapple-flavored “California Wonder” sweet peppers, and numerous tomato varieties. Nick explained the concept of “companion planting”—pairing potatoes with lettuce, for instance, boosts both crops; incorporating native flowers and weeds encourages biodiversity.

Back at the “kitchen,” tantalizing hors d’oeuvres—freshly picked fava beans, prosciutto-wrapped dates filled with feta, sliced Pecorino and crusty sourdough—were presented on an open-air wood platform.

Resident chef Alina Hardin rotates in different cooks for each farm-to-table dinner. During our visit, Paola Guasp and Corrina Becker-Wayman from Amara Kitchen in Highland Park were running the show. Katie Hardin (Alina’s younger sister) from Elf Café in Echo Park and David Wilcox of Journeymen in Atwater Village are other chefs who have been at the helm.

Regardless of the chef, all the menus focus on healthy, seasonal food sourced from Saddlerock’s garden.

Highlights from the Amara Kitchen chefs’ five-course, family-style dinner included ham hocks and Beluga lentils braised with beer, honey and carrots, topped with stewed collard greens; wild King salmon with fennel date pesto; and Pecorino sage grits topped with mushrooms, parsley, microgreens and marigold-spiked salad.

After dinner, diners are encouraged to stick around for coffee or cinnamon tea, to explore the grounds and to play games like Jenga or cornhole. They can also sample some honey produced by Alina’s partner, Eli Lichter-Marck, a treat that —along with the entire Saddleback Garden evening—was infinitely sweet.

Saddlerock Gardens  |  31727 Mulholland Hwy, Malibu | 424-346-0041

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