“Sanctuary, sanctuary,” cried Charles Laughton, famously, in the 1939 classic film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I know the feeling. Here at Town Square, I need a respite from the parade of mindless brewpubs that dot the landscape. So thank heaven for Nu Sanctuary Lounge, a spiritually themed New Age restaurant where chef Brian Howard, late of the Bradley Ogden and CatHouse restaurants, plies his trade.
Both the décor and menu here are, if you’ll forgive a turn of phrase, rather unorthodox. Lights are purposely kept dim, and the centerpiece of the large dining room is the Tree of Life, a floor-to-ceiling replica of a tree hovering portentously over the center bar. Meanwhile, a private backroom, dubbed “The Nu Supper,” features symbols depicting various religious faiths—Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist, among them—displayed on a rear wall.
Lunchtime is slow, but dinners seem to be busy, especially as evening wears on. This time of year, the most sought-after tables are on the outdoor patio. Inside, the spirits collide with a sports-bar ambience, as a bevy of television screens seem constantly tuned to Major League Baseball.
But there’s nothing friv about Howard’s cooking. One evening he did a small tasting that featured pineapple with yuzu and olive oil, and his clever “steak and eggs,” which is really a delicious beef carpaccio topped with avocado, red onion, black truffle, Parmesan cheese and a fried egg.
The chef clearly likes his eggs. My favorite pizza here features local basil, pancetta, ricotta cheese, crushed tomato and, yes, fried eggs. If you come for lunch, beef shawarma (done wrap style) is terrific, and so is a traditional Vietnamese banh mi—basically a broiled pork sub that he stuffs with pickled carrot and radish.
On my first visit, the server “blessed” my table with a contraption that spewed smoke created by liquid nitrogen, the same component he uses to flash-freeze the caramel corn from the dessert menu. I left worried that this cutting-edge approach might not work in the forest of Town Square, where the excellent Louis died a premature death.
I needn’t have. For every dish like braised lamb tagine with basmati rice, Howard has included a dish like spaghetti and meatballs, and the spillover crowd from places like Yard House shouldn’t mind these transgressions. (For the record, Howard makes his meatballs with short ribs, shoulder and ground chuck from Angus cattle.)
That said, my favorite dishes range from the sacred to the profane. The Caesar, for instance, uses clever anchovy beignets instead of the more ordinary filets. Fried chicken wings are done up Thai-style, with lemongrass, Fresno chili, fried garlic and a cooling cucumber relish.
Save room for one of pastry chef Martha Araiza’s unusual desserts: sticky toffee pudding cake, a rose-scented pistachio crème brûlée and a delicious concoction called the Chocolate Hookah, featuring dark chocolate, hazelnut and carmelized banana. General Manager John Anthony has compiled a nice wine list, as well, with value priced choices such as an Onix Garñacha/Carinena blend from Spain, for only $25 a bottle.
The restaurant is fairly green, too. For example, they bottle their own water using the Nordic System. Is this the future? Consult the spirits.