Place Setting: Saddle Peak Lodge

The Old West and Hollywood come together at this storied Santa Monica Mountains restaurant and bar.

Saddle Peak Lodge is the kind of place that inspires stories -- some true, but many more are likely tall tales. Reports of ghost sightings and legends that the lodge was once a brothel or Pony Express stop are fiction, says owner Ann Graham Ehringer.

But stories of cowboys, hunters, and campers seeking respite are bona fide. In its earliest days -- the 1880s, Ehringer believes -- the lodge served as a general store. And when the Twentieth Century Fox studios and Paramount Ranch were nearby, it was a popular roadhouse for the Hollywood set.

Tucked in the Santa Monica Mountains, Saddle Peak Lodge feels far from the noise and traffic of Los Angeles. Now an award-winning restaurant, the place is nonetheless rooted in earlier eras. When my dinner companion and I arrived, we were struck by an overwhelming quiet, punctuated only by birds, crickets, and, in the distance, a coyote.

Once inside, we walked through the bar, where a framed pistol collection and dusty books line the log walls, and into the main dining room. We were seated beneath mounted deer heads and next to a stuffed badger; across the room, a water buffalo trophy watched over diners from its perch near the stone fireplace.

The setting is a sight to behold, but then again, so is the menu. Game meats such as elk, bison, and venison are the highlights, but chef Christopher Kufek also offers more standard fare, including duck, pork, fresh seafood, and seasonal vegetable dishes.

To start, we ordered seared venison Carpaccio and a mixed beet salad. After much internal debate, I chose an entree -- New Zealand elk tenderloin with brandied cherries, braised cipollini onions, stuffed cremini mushrooms, and vanilla butternut squash. My friend selected the wild game trio, featuring venison and cauliflower, oxtail with polenta, and elk tenderloin.

Fully sated, we explored the lodge, wandering past displays of hunting and fishing gear and up the staircase to the cozy den, where diners sat amid a model ship collection, and the library, packed with books and a second fireplace.

Up another flight of stairs was a small loft, with a wall of windows offering a panoramic view of the mountains. Our last stop was the sprawling outdoor patio, where guests can dine among native plants and the trickle of a small garden waterfall.

We left Saddle Peak Lodge reluctantly, high beams lighting the way down the winding canyon road back to the freeway, and back to the bustle of the city.

Online Exclusive: [Slideshow] Saddle Peak Lodge: Game Meats with a Side of History

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