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VENTURA MAKING A NAME AS A RESTAURANT HAVEN

 

By Michael Hepworth

 

It should not come as any sort of surprise that Ventura is becoming quite a restaurant town, and as more and more top chefs move here because of the proximity of local produce, the reputation will continue to grow. The local Farmers Market has been prospering for over twenty years with many of the original vendors still showing up. With the access to fresh produce and the diverse population, there has been a healthy increase in the number of ethnic restaurants such as Indian and Latin American that have cropped up recently.

However the explosion of quality has been highlighted by the 2008 opening of WATERMARK, a multi-purpose restaurant/nightclub called W2O that has already caused quite a stir in conservative Ventura . Housed in a historic downtown building with all the belle-époque style interiors in tact, one can only imagine the costs to get this place open. What you have here are rust and green walls and golden marble floors with copper inlays. Iron and mica chandeliers, amber glass sconces and an under-lit gold onyx bar illuminate the room. Booths are upholstered in rich brocade with cognac leather seats, and burgundy velveteen draperies soften the nine-foot high windows. An artisan also spent a couple of months restoring the outside façade to its original style, and the result is a building that really stands out, as well as retaining its original heritage.

When it comes to the food at Watermark, the early mixed reviews have been updated with strong positive feedback from the locals. The kitchen is tiny, putting a little pressure on Executive Chef Greg Kurtz and his staff. Overall the menu features staple American cuisine such as fish, steaks, and other meats such as Braised Beef Baby Back Ribs that are slow cooked for eight hours. That particular dish that I tried was accompanied by garbanzo beans, a very agreeable combination. Other signature dishes include a very popular Artichoke Ravioli with Muenster Cheese served in a black truffle butter sauce, and a Lobster Pot Pie served in a clay pot topped with a buttery puff pastry crust. There is a minimum of a 30 minute wait for this house specialty. Clearly the Watermark is a serious restaurant indeed, but the acoustics of the place makes the place very noisy, and maybe better suited to a party crowd or group event as opposed to a quiet romantic evening.

THE SIDECAR RESTAURANT is housed in a 1910 Pullman Car, and is quite a charming and attractive space, completely different to Watermark in feel and ambience. Chef/Owner Tim Kilcoyne earned his spurs at classy places like Melisse in Santa Monica , and he can be seen regularly scouring the local Farmers Market for fresh produce, and he prepares exceptional salads, literally the same hour. Sidecar is also considerably cheaper than Watermark, due to the fact that Kilcoyne runs a tight ship in the kitchen, and has much lesser overhead.

The restaurant has gourmet cheese sandwiches and jazz every Tuesday, and gourmet signature burgers every Thursday. All entrees use local produce, with the highest priced items on the current menu being just $26, Braised Short Rib with horseradish mashed potatoes and the Pepper crusted 8oz filet with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. They are also well known for their cheeses from all over the world, and the three top signature dishes are Bacon Wrapped Idaho Trout, Sauté of Wild Mushrooms and a Walnut Crusted Pork Loin.

The Sidecar has a solid reputation in Ventura , but is slightly hindered by the location which is off the beaten tourist route.  The well know consistent quality along with its unique environment has allowed the latest version to be in existence for about five years now.

BROOKS Restaurant is on a par with Watermark for price and quality, and probably has an edge right now having been around over a year longer. Chef Andy Brooks is a larger than life type who likes to come out and greet his guests, hardly surprising since his five course tasting menu ($60 plus $30 for wine pairings) is a huge hit locally. A very savory style of food ranging from the delectable Wild Mexican Prawns to Foie Gras highlights the menu, which features three or four specials every night. The Brooks three course classic menu ($33) has a choice of three starters, entrée and dessert, with main the main courses being Shredded Short Ribs (marinated for 24 hours), Scottish Salmon or Free Range Chicken Breast.

With two sous chefs in the kitchen to back him up, the quality at Brooks should come as no surprise. The service is also very smooth here, and the room comfortable enough to make either formal or informal dining equally enjoyable. What I really like about this place is the extremely creative side dishes to the main course, and includes such rarely seen treats like spiced pecans, sautéed collard greens, D’Anjou pear relish or toasted almond dried cherry Farro.

Ventura is also about local wines, and a number of wine bars have cropped up in recent years, and there are a couple that deserve special mention. They both sell or serve wines from local wineries where production is limited to a few hundred cases or even less in some instances, so when the wine is gone, that is it until the next year. PARADISE WINE BAR has only been open for 18 months, but it has already proved a favorite with tourists who voted it as the best place in Ventura to visit. They augment their wines with a growing cheese counter. Three wines that come to mind from my visit are the 2007 Breggo Pino Gris, 2006 Chronic Cellars “El Perfecto,” and the rather special 2005 Albini Family Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley .

WEAVER WINES have been around over three years, and is a larger space than Paradise   selling a vast array of wine boutique items such as books, apparel, glassware and other essential items for the drinking of wine. Numerous tastings take place here every week, and they specialize in wines from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County . Weaver is an excellent venue to gather socially after work, and with a cozy private area tucked away in the back, also a very romantic little hideaway right in the center of Ventura .

Fact Sheet

Watermark

Address: 598 Main St  

Phone: (805) 643-6800

Website: www.watermarkonmain.com

 

Sidecar

Address: 3029 E. Main St  

Phone: (805) 653-7433

Website: www.thesidecarrestaurant.com

 

Brooks

Address: 545 E. Thompson Blvd  

Phone: (805) 652-7070 

Website: www.restauranbrooks.com

 

Paradise Wine Bar

Address: 677 E.Main St  

Phone: (805) 641-9440

Website: www.paradisepantry.com

 

Weaver Wines

Address: 14 S. California St .  

Phone: (805) 653-9463

Website: www.weaverwines.com

 

Ventura Website: www.ventura-usa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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