In 2002, I joined my father and stepmother for Wright in May, a weekend-long tour of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings in Oak Park, Illinois. When we weren’t touring the Home & Studio or Unity Temple, we ate at several high-profile Chicago restaurants, including highly-lauded Topolobampo, but I was most impressed with newcomer Naha.
Earlier this year, I was excited to discover that the Executive Sous Chef from Naha, Andy Brooks, decided to return home to Southern California with wife Jayme to open an eponymous restaurant in Ventura. Since moving to Los Angeles in January 1999, I’d never heard or read a positive word about the Ventura dining scene, but I was willing to stop short of Santa Barbara for the first time to taste if Brooks imported sophisticated Second City cuisine to this family-friendly seaside resort.
The restaurant was jut a block away from the 101, in a former Mexican restaurant. Chicagoan Tom NAHAbedian designed the high-ceilinged space. The name sounds strangely familiar. Hmm. The restaurant is spacious and comfortable. There’s a dining room with a view of the open kitchen. Beyond a high wall, a bar area serves its own menu and holds some high-tops, plus a couple tucked-away banquette tables, which is where we sat. For warm sunny days, which are frequent, there’s a nice outdoor patio.
Andy and Jayme are completely committed to seasonality, for both the menu and the decor. Since we’re in the midst of fall, a window ledge above our table held knotty gourds, little pumpkins and even maize. The Pilgrims would be proud of that last inclusion.
A basket arrived holding soft slices of twice-baked potato & cheddar bread. Any restaurant can serve butter with bread, but white bean dip mixed with pesto vinaigrette was a novel touch.
The Amuse Bouche consisted of truffled squash chunks blended with tomatoes and streaked with two kinds of oil.
Allison ordered from the regular menu, but I opted for the $35 Classics menu, featuring a choice of three Openers, Fillers and Rewards. I did double- and triple-takes at the bargain cost of the meal. Since the lamb entrée on the regular menu was $23 alone, I expected to receive minimized portions, but that was far from the case.
The braising liquid was intense, deep brown and delicious. Spaghetti squash is often bland, but not in Chef Brooks’ capable hands. I consider myself a trencherman, but I only managed to eat half of my sides. Chef Brooks and his wife are extremely giving.
The duck wasn’t pink, and didn’t feature the typical ribbons of fatty duck skin. The plate was ringed with wild blueberry jus. The dish also incorporated California walnut oil.
As a cinnamon roll, I wouldn’t have been impressed, and I expected so much more. Neither the orange whipped cream with orange zest nor the dish of caramel rum sauce could save the dessert.
Char-grilled gingerbread cake slabs were crispy outside from contact with the grill. The inside remained moist. The warm pear compote added a sweet fall touch, and the shot-glass of icy cranberry granita was nice and tart, with a kick from ginger.
With the check, we received a plate of complimentary mini peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, another nice touch.
The meal was an incredible bargain given the ingredients, generous portion size and affordable prices. Thanks to Andy and Jayme Brooks, Ventura is finally on my culinary map, and when fall turns to winter, I can envision a return trip to sample their next seasonal menu.