Ojai - A Little Piece of Heaven
Off the 101
Text and Photos by Beverly Cohn
ust a one-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, lies this little oasis
and one of the oldest town in Ventura, called Ojai - a soothing retreat
from the assaults of every day Los Angeles living and the Ojai Visitors
Bureau wants you to experience it for yourselves.
Toward that end, Janis Flippen, assisted by Ruth Ballin,
invited a select group of journalists to specifically experience a new
attraction called "Eating Ojai Tasting Tour." Brainchild of
Allison Costa, of Ventura Food Tours, the attraction is in its infancy
and while there is potential for success, some kinks will have to be
ironed out before it becomes viable. For example, the restaurants participating
in this program will have to be trained in serving proper portion sizes
to accommodate the number of "tasters" as there must be ample
food to go around, which wasn't always the case. That said, here are
some highlights of the tastings:
One of the house specialties of the AZU restaurant
Azu Restaurant & Tapas Bar is a mother-daughter
operation that also features live music in the back room. The outstanding
dish was definitely the figs wrapped in bacon.
If you love corn tamales, then you definitely want to
head over to La Fuente that serves these deliciously sweet treats all
year round. Their most popular tamale is cheese and pepper and at $2.75,
they sell around 400 - 700 a week, which is bumped up to 7,000 weekly
Left: Yolanda Vega is ready to serve some delicious
corn tamales; Right: Standing near his bean roaster, which roasts 25
pounds of coffee beans at a time, Kent explains the two-pop process,
or second crack, the second one signifying that the beans are almost
In its 17th year, Ojai Coffee Roasting is known as the
watering hole of Ojai and coffee lovers gather there every day to experience
the brew of the day. The most popular? Dark Papua, New Guinea. In addition
to a variety of coffees, Kent offers Panini sandwiches and a selection
of house salads using farm-fresh ingredients.
Left: Leticia Salinas getting ready to serve Chile
Relleno Con Carne de la Abuelita; Right: Ruben runs the Tequila bar
that boasts 150 varieties, ranging from $5.00 to the most expensive
Selección Supremo, which aged for eight years, sells for $67
Jorge ( George) Alem runs the family business
which goes back four generations to his great, great uncle.
For lovers of authentic, refined, healthy Mexican food,
with recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers to their daughters
and granddaughters, Los Caporales, owned and operated by Leticia and
her husband Ruben Salinas. The two dishes served in the tasting were
Chile Relleno Con Carne de la Abuelta and a very delicious soup, Nectar
de los Dioses or food fit for a God. Leticia told us the recipe, straight
out of granny's kitchen, is made with pinto beans, meat of your choice,
and garnished with tomato, cilantro, onions and Mexican cheese. For
tequila lovers, Ruben runs the Tequila Bar that boasts 150 varieties,
ranging from $5.00 to the most expensive Selecciton Supremea which is
aged for eight years and sells for $67 a pop. The restaurant's welcoming
environment, coupled with friendly service, is a "down home experience"
to be enjoyed.
A very knowledgeable Jorge (George) Alem of OBC (Ojai
Beverage Company) prepared a tasting of three of his 800 beers. Fourth
generation in the ale and spirits business, he explained that unlike
wine, where you can use your olfactory senses to experience the taste,
beer requires four ounces to be consumed to get the full flavor.
Three of the 800 varieties of beer - including domestic
If beer is not your cup of tea, also on hand are 4,000
different spirits and 1,000 varieties of wine - something to satisfy
everyone. If you'd like to toast in Scottish, try "Slainte"
- (Here's tae ye.)
The Knead Baking Company is a family affair, run
by (L-R) Bobbi and her two daughters, Leah and Rachel who are holding
their signature cheesecake tart.
Rickey V, General Manager of Casa Barranca
Wines, (House by the River) pours one of the wines selected for
If you love home-baked breads or have a nagging sweet
tooth, head over to the family-owned Knead Baking Company and do try
the unique, delectable cheesecake tart or any of their cakes, pastry,
desserts or breads.
Our host pours from one of the wonderful wines he selected
for the tasting which included a Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, and a
Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes used in their wines are processed in
Ojai and most are certified organic which means no pesticides or chemicals.
A definite stop for connoisseurs of fine wine.
Susan and her partner Beryl Schwartz own and operate
the lovely Feast Bistro. Formerly a bookstore, the restaurant offers
indoor or outdoor dining. She and Beryl settled in Ojai because, "We
couldn't afford Santa Barbara."
This dreamy asparagus soup is made with cream and
lemon sage and is quite a delicious treat.
This outstanding meal began with a delicious, creamy
asparagus soup, followed by an arugula and fennel salad with tangerines.
The main course was Superior White Fish, which really was superior,
served on a bed of couscous. While there is a catch of the day, which
is their best seller, the Superior White fish is brought in once a month
from Chicago. Cooking for 26 years, when asked about her inspiration,
Beryl said, "Mom was a good cook and could make anything taste
good." How does she handle stress? "Sometimes when things
get real hectic, I think about the guy who sells hot dogs off the freeway.
He has no overhead and makes a good living and that can always be my
fallback position." (She laughs)
With all this eating you will surely need a place to
rest your head at night and have a choice of nine B&Bs. I was fortunate
enough to stay at the historic "The Lavender Inn," the only
full service B&B in Ojai.
Owner of The Lavender Inn, a very loving
Kathy Hartley sits in a lavender chair in one of the several lush garden
areas on the property.
This beautiful spread is
typical for the afternoon Wine & Cheese hour and today it
consisted of mushroom bruschetta, along with prosciutto, cheese,
grapes and paired wines.
Under Kathy Hartley's loving leadership, "The Lavender
Inn," a historic property built in 1874 that was originally a school
house, is not just an incredibly charming destination with attractive
rooms, beautiful gardens, sumptuous breakfasts, and afternoon wine and
cheese snacks, it is also a hotbed of activities including the Ojai
Culinary School and participation in the Clean The World program. But
undoubtedly the most heartfelt undertaking is InnCourage, an annual
retreat dedicated to underserved women with mostly breast cancer. The
women are treated to three days of pampering which includes organically
prepared food, massage, makeup lessons, wig styling and scarf tying
for those who have lost their hair. It's a healing gathering where women,
guided with a therapist, can discuss the challenges they are facing
in coping with their disease. Although somewhat subsidized, when the
funding runs out, Kathy puts in her own money - putting her money where
her heart is.
The rooms range from $130 and each holds its own unique
charm. But for a really special occasion, think about the 1,000 ft.
Provence Cottage, a beautifully decorated accommodation with a private
entrance, huge living room and bedroom each with French doors leading
to a private garden. Of course there's a fireplace for those cool evenings
and at only starting at $285, it's worth every penny and a treat you
won't soon forget.
Recipients of the Small Business Award, former city
slickers Laurie & Eric Kreis treat these beautiful animals like
they were their children and gave them names like Ellie Mae, Elmo, and
If you would like to experience an alpaca up close and
personal, a must stop is the very unique El Paca Pastures, home to 12
of these quite beautiful, mild-tempered animals and one llama who protects
the herd from predators. Run by Eric and Laurie Kreis, before entering
the cage, we were asked to get into a quiet, Zen-like state and not
to make any sudden movements that might scare them and cause them to
spit. We were invited to feel their fleece, which is softer than cashmere
and hypoallergenic. The alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in the
spring, and the fleece is used in an assortment of products from socks
Some interesting facts about these beautiful animals
is that have strong herding instincts and get distressed if any one
of them is separated from herd, all defecate in the same spot which
is turned into compost, and they protect each other from danger by emitting
a special sound signifying danger and rarely, if ever, engage in any
kind of warfare.
In summarizing Ojai, it's both a spiritual haven and
a nourishing destination for music and art lovers as the community is
home to artists, musicians, and health enthusiasts. It is also a Mecca
for outdoor activities, including being home to one of the top 25 golf
resorts in North America on the property at the Ojai Valley Inn and
Ojai's reputation for tranquility began decades ago
when it was pictured as Shangri-La in the seminal 1937 film, "Lost
Horizon." There is definitely something in the air that will distance
you from your daily stresses and definitely lower your blood pressure.
For further information, contact Ojai