Sunday, October 25, 2009
A SLEEPOVER IN OJAI
Sometimes when spending time in Ojai, I feel as if I’ve stepped into the enchanted valley where Brigadoon was nestled. Ojai Valley is a jewel box filled with gems such as lavender fields, orange and lemon groves, music under the stars and pink moments off the Topa Topa mountains. The people are warm and friendly. The charming town offers fine dining and great shops, all with an artistic flair. But the dazzling, many-faceted diamond amid all these jewels is the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, an oasis of heavenly beauty and earthly delights.
In August I shared a birthday with President Obama, and Richard planned a romantic getaway at the Inn. The Inn itself is a stunning reflection of California’s Spanish mission heritage. Our elegant room had a dark wood four-poster covered with lush linens and pillows, a stucco fireplace and luxurious fabrics in yellows and blues. Our large balcony overlooked the Inn’s manicured, 18-hole golf course. A cheese platter with fresh crusty bread and fruit was waiting for us.
After cocktails in the Inn’s pub, we dined under a vine-covered trellis on the terrace of the Inn’s Oak Grill restaurant. Our table faced the Topa Topas and, as we sipped our Cambria chardonnay, we were treated to a fleeting pink moment. For those glorious few seconds, the mountains turned a lovely shade of rose before they subtly turned blue-gray as the sun faded behind the horizon.
Executive chef Jamie West’s menu is comprised of ‘starters’ that are interesting blends of California cuisine and old favorites, from ahi tuna tartar with avocado, crispy wonton and a ginger soy dressing to chilled jumbo shrimp cocktail. His entrees are ‘grill’ favorites with a twist, and range from USDA prime NY steak with mushroom bread pudding, grilled asparagus and a cabernet sauce to oven roasted natural chicken breast with mushroom barley risotto, swiss chard and cider bourbon glaze.
I started with a chilled cantaloupe, mint, pineapple blended soup with lavender infused honey, bits of pineapple and a dollop of crème fraiche. A taste of liquid ‘sherbet’ to tease the palette. Richard chose the farmer’s market salad of greens with Granny Smith apples, candied walnuts, goat cheese, pickled red onions and apple cider vinaigrette. A tangy and fresh combination of tastes and textures.
The sky was dark and the terrace lights glowed, as did the candle on our table when our entrees arrived. Because I had been dreaming of lobster, I chose for my main course the butter-poached Maine lobster tail on a bed of lobster risotto, crisp pork belly and savory cabbage. This was so delicious that lobster and risotto now fill my culinary dreams.
Richard decided to switch his wine choice to a Melville pinot noir when he chose the natural Kurobuto pork loin with a port wine reduction for his entrée. The pork, seared on the grill, came with garlic mashed potatoes, red cabbage and gala apple chutney. When I tasted the dish, I decided I could just pour the port wine sauce in a glass and sip it like, uh, port. Pork Port – the new after dinner ‘aperitif.’
To finish the meal, we shared the crème brulee with that Oak Grill “twist”… a cookie underneath and a bit of cinnamon gelato on top. Delicious.
Back in our room and before crawling into that big four-poster, we curled up on the cushioned bench on our outdoor patio and gazed at the stars. The perfect end to a perfect birthday. Complete with a Brigadoon moon.
The next morning -- coffee, rolls and the NY Times out on the terrace...