Published in the Ventura County Reporter, December 2003
The Best Dining Experience is the Personal One
By Mark Storer
It seems appropriate at this festive time of year to look back at the best places to eat in Ventura County. I wrote my first review for the reporter in December of 2002 and one year later, the simple fact is, I’ve found some truly tremendous places to eat here.
But it’s not just the food that makes these places so special. A friend of mine who works for a winery in Los Olivos once told me that by now, all the really bad wine has been chased out of the market. So it is too with food, though of course everyone has different tastes. Undeniably, one of the things that make a restaurant good is the atmosphere and I’m not talking about the paint. Restaurants have vitality and joie de vivre, if you will, because of the people who work there.
It is no surprise then to learn that the thing that makes Jonathan’s at Peirano’s special is Jonathan and his staff. Chefs Richard Colgan and Jason Collis along with the rest of the crew have what amounts to one of the best all around dining experiences in the county. A restaurant dedicated to providing the customer with the very best in culinary experiences, Jonathan’s atmosphere and menu are diverse, even eclectic and they are always trying new items that rise to the level of true creativity. Get to know Jonathan and his wife Sharon while you’re there. They love what they do.
One of the newer restaurants in Ventura is now easily one of the best. Maria Fiore opened up Café Fiore along with Chef Michael Young and the menu is incredibly tasty, the atmosphere is absolutely incredible and the wine list is as impressive as any you would find in San Francisco or Los Angeles. I have not yet met Maria or Michael but I intend to do so. They sent a message to me via e-mail through a mutual contact and the message was one of such greeting and invitation. It reminded me of the friendliness that exudes in their restaurant. Café Fiore has really added a layer of dining grace to Ventura that makes it special.
If you haven’t already, meet the Belvedere family. Ottavio runs his venerable namesake Italian restaurant in Camarillo that seems packed every night of the week. The food is wonderful, old fashioned Italian recipes, but it’s the family atmosphere that makes the place work. If you doubt this, cross town and dine at Ottavio’s son’s place. Ric’s is a little more upscale, a little more modern, and the food is also tremendous. But it’s the kindness and warmth of the place that makes you want to go back again.
Bill Seaberry runs the little sandwich shop in Camarillo called The Meltdown. Talking to Bill, you’ll find a man of many interests and passions. On his front counter is an autographed photograph of the band Kansas and this got me to talking to him since I’m a fan. He cares about his customers, wants to build not just a business, but a network of relationships. The best restaurants become part of the community and that’s what Bill is doing.
Go and meet Leah and Cheryl over at Paradise Wines on Main Street in Ventura. Talk to Serge Bonnet at Café Provencal in Thousand Oaks. Meet Toby at Pastabilities in Ventura or George at Landmark 78. Their food, their wine is all quite good and you won’t be disappointed. But meeting the people who make the food or sell the wine and getting to know them and why they do what they do is even more rewarding, and sort of like having family and friends around makes a meal taste better, knowing these folks makes the food taste better.
Long ago, I learned that following one’s passions is a necessity if one is to be happy. Being able to make a living with those passions is a double blessing. The restaurateurs and shop owners I’ve mentioned here are all passionate about what they do. They love to make customers happy and they work very hard to achieve that. It is to you folks that they raise their glasses and so, in the same spirit, this article is dedicated to them. Long life to all, peace and prosperity in the New Year; eat well, live well and dream big.
by Mark Storer