A perfect blend of aesthetics and cuisine
By Michael Sullivan 07/17/2014
1497 E. Thompson Blvd.
It was just six months ago that I was wandering the streets of Paris in awe of the culture, the art, the social life. In this city of romance, intimate conversations between two or three for hours at a time, sipping wine or coffee, is a way of life. In fact, for me, an American, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Parisians get anything done with so much time devoted to leisure and developing the cultural mind. But as time slipped through our fingers in those 10 short days, I realized that Paris isn’t just a place, it’s a lifestyle.
Flash-forward a couple of months and I was in somewhat of a daze, missing my time in Paris, when I drove by Ventura’s Café Nouveau, which in French means new coffeehouse. With the instantly recognizable arch of the Métropolitain (the mass transit system in Paris) sign standing proudly outside the café’s doors on Thompson Avenue, I knew I would be remiss if I didn’t give this place a shot.
Now, I am ashamed to say, this was my first time to Café Nouveau. It’s been a part of the foodie scene for the last 10 years, located in a cute 1920s Spanish-style bungalow, enshrouded in heavy foliage, though it did have to shut down for nearly a year after a fire broke out in the kitchen. After 10 months to repair, it has been reopened over the last year and I just personally never took the time to check it out. Well, that was regrettable as this place is really a dining destination in Ventura, unique, relaxing, and it just has inviting vibes.
It was a Monday afternoon when I got my first glimpse inside — hardwood floors, several tables, niche dining areas, quaint and cute — nothing too unusual when you make a home into a restaurant. Outside, though, that’s where it was at. I don’t actually recall too many coffeehouses in Paris having so much foliage; I was feeling more of the rich greenery of Costa Rica. I suppose I was getting the best of two fascinating places I had visited in the last several years.
The cuisine is described as reflecting California’s eclectic heritage and sunny climate, and it’s a rather spot-on description. For lunch, my companion and I splurged on the sweet corn cake tamale, the ahi avocado rolls and the spicy chicken poblano. And when I say splurged, I mean — this was truly a decadent meal.
First out was the corn cake. Dense and sweet, this patty of sweet corn meal was fried just enough to keep it hot inside with just a light crisp outside. Served with fresh avocado, pico de gallo and covered in a creamy, tangy salsa verde and sour cream, this dish could have been a meal on its own. The slight crunch with the creamy texture of the cake and the salsa and avocado balanced with the acidic pico — it would be Goldilocks’ perfect appetizer, if she were from California.
Our ahi avocado rolls and spicy chicken poblano arrived just as we finished our appetizer. The ahi avocado rolls came wrapped in a fried tortilla, along the same lines as a chimichanga, with thick chunks of pan-seared ahi, avocado and sesame seeds, served with julienned zucchini, red and white onions, over rice — we assumed it was saffron rice. Again, as with the corn cake, the crunch of the tortilla with the hearty ahi and creamy avocado were perfectly balanced. Plus the wasabi mayo sauce gave it that extra umph we were looking for.
My dish, the spicy chicken poblano, was the heartiest dish, so much so that it took me three different mealtimes to finish it — seriously. A roasted poblano chile filled with tender black beans, corn and chunks of grilled chicken, covered in a warm smoky ancho chile sauce with a hint of cilantro, atop a purée of sweet potatoes with peppers and onions — it was lunch and dinner combined. The chef executed an array of flavors and textures that worked well together, though next time I might try for something a little lighter for lunch. Thankfully, Café Nouveau serves breakfast all day as well as offering different dishes for dinner.
This Café Nouveau surely hit the spot. I reminisced about Paris, daydreamed about Costa Rica and then was happy to be at home here in California. It was the perfect way to spend a Monday lunch break, and any other day of the week, especially when one is not in a rush.