According to dictionary.com, one of the definitions for sanctuary is “immunity afforded to by refuge in such a place.” Such a place where Minneapolis diners are immune to fickle attempts to challenge their tastebuds is Sanctuary Restaurant, located in downtown Minneapolis at 900 Washington Avenue.

I first came about Sanctuary Restaurant through interactions on Twitter (hint – if you don’t think you can drive a return on your social media investment, here is a perfect example) and when it came time for my anniversary dinner this year, I sought out a dinner reservation at Sanctuary Restaurant. Sure, I had heard great things about the restaurant, but I hadn’t known anyone of my friends who had yet to try the restaurant.

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From the moment we walked into the restaurant, it is was as though we had been transformed into well, a sanctuary, or a safe haven seeking refuge from a bland dining experience. The restaurant, a refurbished horse barn from the 1860’s, is narrow by design and dimly lit to provide a comfortable, warm and peaceful dining experience, without feeling displeased or perturbed by the close proximity of your dining neighbors. Although there was a lot of activity in the restaurant, we didn’t feel as though we had to raise our voices to hear one another speak.

Owner Naomi Williamson, the poetic voice behind Sanctuary Restaurant’s Twitter handle, along with Chef Patrick Atanalian, create a a highly complex, yet simply structured menu. The menu is often described as New American Cuisine, but is influenced by both Mediterranean and Japanese aspects. Approximately one-third of the recipes change every other month, with new featured dishes each Friday and Saturday night.

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For a starter plate, I was a bit apprehensive to try the roasted bone marrow, but Chef Pat perfectly prepared the bone marrow with garlic and thyme, with a grilled sourdough bread. For anyone that hasn’t tried roasted bone marrow, you simply use a spoon to scoop out the inside “marrow” of the bone, typically a tibia or leg bone from a cow, and in this case, spread the bone marrow on the crunchy, grilled bread. 

Now if you do what I do, take pictures of your food, as well as chat with our dinner mates, you will not want to do this with the roasted bone marrow as you really want to eat this right away as it comes out from the kitchen. Otherwise, as the bone marrow cools down, the butter-like marrow will begin to firm up making for a less desirable eating experience.

Our second small plate we tried was the garlic, spinach and parmesan tartlets. For this plate, I really wish I was paying more attention as there was a whole process of placing the provencal olive and the cornichon on top of the tartlet, taking a small bite and then finish off the small bite with a sip of white verjus. White verjus is the tart, fresh juice of unripe wine, which acted almost as a palate cleanser to offset the tartlet. After the first bite, we had to improvise through the remainder of the plate, but we really enjoyed our first courses.

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As we were already starting to get full from these appetizers, for our main course entrees we went with a beautifully prepared salmon, that was adorned with strawberries and bedded on top of a risotto. In addition to the salmon, we also had a barramundi fish, accompanied by a lemon oil mashed potatoes. The unique flavors of both fish entries made for a delightful main course.

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After a glass and a half of wine, two small plates and two entrees, we were already thoroughly full, but then we were greeted by a trio of three sexy shots and dessert samples (thanks Naomi). This was a wonderful combination of bite-sized desserts, with a series of mini-cocktails to complement each one of the desserts. Along with a cup of coffee, we nibbled our way through pure bliss.

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Overall, our first dining experience at the Sanctuary Restaurant was a success. We cannot wait to return again, so that we can try some of Chef Dan’s new recipes. So the next time that you are in the mood for a gastronomic escape, become a fugitive like me and head to Sanctuary.


In addition to these individual plates, Monday through Thursday, Chef Pat provides a five course tasting menu, as well gluten free items available on request. Please note that the restaurant is only open for dinner, starting at 5:00pm and is closed on Sundays. Reservations are available on-line here and Sanctuary Restaurant’s telephone number is (612) 399-5098.