Sanctuary: An Oasis in the Arizona Desert

I awaited that first look at the menu with trepidation. Though my dining companions had assured me I’d find something I could eat, I still had my doubts. Dining out while keeping kosher for Passover is a risk (and, for more observant Jews than me, technically not kosher at all). Dining out while keeping kosher for Passover AND as a vegetarian –a vegetarian who cannot eat hummus, tofu or any other type of bean by ordinances of the holiday–well, now that’s just nearly impossible. Or so I thought.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that I found myself last Saturday afternoon at a place called Sanctuary, not a synagogue, but a resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona, just outside of Scottsdale. An impressive oasis in the middle of the desert, Sanctuary’s grounds were so inviting that I was resigned to sitting down at a table at the resort’s Elements Restaurant whether or not I would be able to eat. A glass of water would be just fine, so long as I could continue enjoying that desert view.

The holiday of Passover commemorates the Jewish people’s escape from slavery under Pharoah in Egypt. We remind ourselves how fortunate we are to be free people today because of the sacrifices our ancestors made. One of those sacrifices was getting out while the going was good, meaning the Jewish people did not have enough time to let their bread rise before piling all their things together and running towards freedom. They were left with flat, hard bread to eat, the precursor of matzoh, the unleavened “bread” eaten to this day throughout the eight days of the holiday in place of traditional carbohydrates and any form of legumes, such as chickpeas, peanuts and soy (I put the term “bread”  in quotes because it’s more akin to cardboard than actual bread, in my opinion).

In observance of the holiday, I was in the midst of those eight days without real, solid carbs as we sat down to lunch at Elements. No pasta. No rice. Certainly no freshly-baked bread, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, that was brought immediately to our table and plated for the four people in my party. It pained me to wave my share away.

And, so, as I sat there with my menu in hand, all I could think was “please, please have a main course salad option.”

Element’s Executive Chef Beau MacMillan maintains the philosophy that food should be appreciated for its simplicity and purity. He crafts seasonal menus that emphasize fresh ingredients, predominantly locally sourced. Yet, that doesn’t mean his food is boring. On the contrary, he does an impressive job of creating flavorful dishes that require little fuss to the natual ingredients.

Not only was there something for me to eat on the menu that was vegetarian AND kosher (enough) for Passover without any adjustment, it was also delicious! I ordered the egg white frittata with mushrooms, green onion, butternut squash, sage pesto and toaste pine nuts, a combination so enjoyable that I’m certain I would have ordered it anyway, dietary constraints or not. My non-Passover observing (and non-vegetarian) friends were equally impressed with the morrocan orecchiette pasta with rock shrimp, chicken, chorizo and morrocan cream and the filet steak cobb salad. They also devoured the ahi tuna crostini as a starter to share.

Though I imagined the desert to be unbearably hot, there was a cool breeze as we sat on the restaurant’s indoor/outdoor terrace, enjoying the food and sipping on rose. The glass walls were open, with a view over the resort’s pool and the arid landscape in the distance. I took out my camera in attempts to capture the moment on film, but I wished I could stay in that peaceful spot forever – or at least until after Passover had ended.

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain
5700 East McDonald Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
(480) 948-2100

Sherry Stolar

Sherry's most memorable experiences have always been when she puts herself out of her comfort zone - she loves the challenge of a new place, a new culture, new people. First bitten by the travel bug during an internship with NBC at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, she then lived in London for six months, using the city as a base for exploring Europe. Following her graduation from Cornell University in 2007, she moved back to the UK and continued traveling extensively. An expired visa brought her back to the US a year later, specifically New York City, where she lasted in the hustle of the corporate world for two years before taking a leap of faith and moving across the country to Napa Valley to pursue a career in the wine industry. Currently, her day job is with a wine marketing agency, and she is also working towards a Diploma with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, from which she already holds an Advanced Certificate. In her spare time, Sherry loves to cook, specifically with vegetarian, healthy ingredients. She continues to explore new places whenever possible, even if it's something as simple as a weekend away or visiting a vineyard in the wine country she currently calls home, which she blogs about at

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