Brooks: Chicago Alums Return Home to Boost Ventura Dining Scene [CLOSED]

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Restaurant Sign Ventura

The family name is front and center at Brooks.

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.


Soup Ventura

The Warm Purée of Chestnut Soup ($9 value) began as a small pile of smoked duck and dried cranberries in the center of my otherwise empty porcelain bowl. Our waitress poured hot soup over the “salad.” Maple cream accentuated the creamy tan soup’s flavor.

Seafood Ventura

Our waitress lifted the lid on a cast-iron pot, releasing an inviting aroma from a heaping pile of Limoncello-Steamed Northern Mussels ($12). The yellow broth contained oven-dried tomatoes, lemon and thyme cream. Expertly-cooked mussels co-starred Pecorino and herb-dusted bread, which were ideal for soaking up the curry-like nectar.


Lamb Ventura

Brooks plated Slow-Braised Volcano Lamb Shank ($23 value) with an earthy wild rice & garnet yam pancake and spaghetti squash seasoned with brown butter, thyme and parsley.

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.

Duck Ventura

Allison ordered Sonoma County Margaret Duck Breast ($26), quarter-inch slices of perfectly cooked (for my taste) duck breast, plated with large couscous pearls cooked with butternut squash and rimmed with white baby turnips.

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.


Dessert Ventura

Warm Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding ($7 value) was the evening’s only disappointment.

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.

Cake Ventura

Grilled Gingerbread Cake ($7) (with) Warm Pear Compote (and) Spiced Cranberry Granita was another story.

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.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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