Published in the Ventura County Reporter, summer 2003
Thursday 24 July, 2003 Entertainment > Dining
in good taste
Guilt worth savoring
Jonathan’s is so good, it must be a sin
Illustration by Matt Foote
Jonathan’s at Peirano’s
204 E. Main St., Ventura
Entreés from $13 to $26
by Mark Storer
It’s a good thing that Jonathan’s at Peiranos sits directly across from the Mission; you’ll want to go and do penance there because the place is so good, you must be sinning.
My most recent meal began innocently with Jonathan’s extraordinary Martini menu. My wife ordered the Key Lime Pie Martini. Using vanilla vodka, Key lime juice, triple sec, brown sugar and even a little graham cracker in the bottom of the glass, the drink was full of flavors that simply don’t sound normal, and that was the point. Jonathan prides himself on original and quality ingredients.
The next time I go, I will try the Prime Rib Martini. Using rosemary infused vermouth and a horseradish laced olive along with the vodka, Jonathan blends a drink he assures me is meat free. The Martinis have become so popular that Jonathan and his wife Sharon have opened J’s Tapas next door, which is a Martini and wine bar with a menu designed to be a little lighter and go with the drinks, rather than vice-versa. On weekends, live jazz completes a scene that Jonathan calls “metropolitan, right here in Ventura.”
The appetizer course we ordered was simply first rate. Delicate mushrooms were stuffed with sausage and herbed cheese and served with bruschetta with feta cheese on top. The sweetness inherent in the quality blend of sausage meats along with the velvety texture of feta was inspired. The taste was out of this world, but the textures were so different and so delicate, I could write an entire article about them.
Jonathan also gave us a taste of a new item that, by itself, is reason to go to the restaurant. Deciding that freshness is better, and that doing it yourself is better still, Jonathan and his chefs now cure and smoke their own fresh salmon. Using a variety of intriguing ingredients including vodka, brown sugar, rock salt and various herbs, the salmon cures for three days and then is put into a smoker in the alley behind the restaurant. Cats and people alike, drawn by the smell, come wafting up the street floating on the fragrant aroma. The result is a fresh fish, cured and smoked without freezing or vacuum packing. Served with lemon zested crème fraiche and an olive tapenade, the flavors combine without being too salty or too sweet to allow the real salmon flavor to be enhanced. Order that with a cup of Jonathan’s famous crab bisque—creamy, smooth, a little spicy and loaded with crab—and you have dinner. We probably should have stopped there, but I had the small chopped salad and I hesitate to write about it. It was my experience and I want to keep it that way. Fresh greens, feta cheese, olives, sweet onions; enough said.
For an entree my wife Susan, ever the seafood lover, decided on halibut crusted with Panko bread crumbs, almonds and herbs, and served with an orange-cinnamon sauce. The fresh fish, the herbed crust and the interesting choice of sauces were beyond compare. Velvety textured sauce, fresh and flaky fish and the crust all combined to… well, to make leftovers for my lunch today, in exchange for which I told Susan I would make dinner tonight. I’m eternally grateful. As I write this, I still have a hint of the sauce on my tongue and I’m keeping it there.
I ordered the pork tenderloin special, served with a mushroom cream sauce and herbs. Now, pork can be tricky. It’s very easy to overcook and make it dry and tough. That didn’t happen here. Forgoing my knife, I cut right through the tender medallions using a fork with no trouble. The dish was infused with just a bit of sherry and that enhanced the flavors of the herbs, mushrooms and meat to make them just meaty enough and just delicate enough. Both dishes came with crisp sautéed vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes topped with grated Parmesan cheese. Wow!
Dessert was decadent, and I only walked three miles today, so I’ve got dessert guilt. The crème brûlée with fresh berries atop a heated, sugared crust is the best in the county. You must take my word for this; I’ve had many crème brûlées much to my shame, and I know a good one. This is it. Just to put the final stroke on it, Sue had Jonathan’s chocolate surprise, which is a sweet and chewy chocolate muffin that has—surprise—melted hot chocolate in the center served with vanilla bean ice cream. There is no way to begin to describe the freshness, the delicate flavors, the just-right amount of sweetness, especially paired with fresh cappuccino. It sends one into a kind of food paroxysm—I thought about calling a cab; I was too overwhelmed to drive.
The service and the ambience have all the same marks as the food, which is to say they are perfect. Jonathan and Sharon and their chefs, Richard Colgan and Jason Collis, have thought of it all. This restaurant may well be the real treasure of Ventura County dining. There are some great places to eat around here, but no one does it better, fresher, more eclectic and more focused on total customer satisfaction than Jonathan’s. Go there. Go there now.
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