Beer-centric restaurant worthy of a road trip south

By Allison Costa 01/20/2011

Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie
29281 Agoura Road
Agoura Hills
(818) 477-4566
www.ladyfaceale.com
$4 - $17

Driving down the 101, I can almost taste the beer. I’ve been to Ladyface once before, so this time I know what’s in store: an amazing selection of craft beers on tap and a tantalizing mix of what they call French-Belgian fare and American tavern classics. As we take the Kanan Road exit (a half-hour south of Ventura), my mouth starts to water. I’m ready to indulge in both food and drink; so ready, in fact, that I’ve even got my designated driver cued up.

Though the restaurant, whose name was inspired by the nearby Ladyface Mountain, sits in a shopping center parking lot, once inside, guests might feel transported to a favorite brasserie in France. Dark wood floors, a few rustic farmhouse tables, and a long bar finished with a chalkboard menu set the tone.

On this particular visit, we started with the mac ’n’ cheese and the gougères, or popovers. The macaroni was comfort food at its finest, especially soothing on this cold winter day. The hefty shells rested in a creamy béchamel cheese sauce flecked with paprika and were topped with a sprinkling of crushed salt ’n’ vinegar potato chips, adding a bit of crunch and tanginess, a nice counterpart to the silky sauce and soft noodles.  

The popovers were flavored with a subtle hint of Gruyère cheese. Puffed up and tinted a nice golden brown, they exhaled a breath of steam when torn into, revealing a perfect hollow, and were moist inside.  On another visit we ordered the soft pretzels with dipping mustard, an ideal match for a tall pint of beer.

With our starters, we sipped the Picture City Porter and the Midnight Special, one of Ladyface’s seasonal beers. The porter is infused with notes of coffee and chocolate and goes down smooth with very little aftertaste. In contrast, the Midnight Special is a strong Scottish style ale. While the Ladyface brewers often age their beers in wine barrels, in this case, they took pieces of sauvignon blanc wine barrels and added them for a portion of the brewing process, imparting to the beer the subtle flavor of oak.

After savoring our beverages, and sampling some others along the way, we ordered more food from the menu: the fish and chips, the salade nicoise, and an order of the pommes frites. The ale-battered cod was crunchy on the outside and flaky on the inside, so delicious that it didn’t need the tartar sauce sitting beside it. The fries that came with the fish were nondescript, the antithesis of the pommes frites sitting on our table in their pretty little cone.

To top our frites, we chose the harissa spice seasoning, a red sprinkling with a flavor similar to paprika. For our dipping sauce, we ordered the herb crème fraîche, but found it a bit runny for dipping. Our server brought us the garlic aoili instead, which we enjoyed, as well as the red ale ketchup.

The salade nicoise starts with a layer of mixed greens and tops them with chunks of house smoked albacore tuna, green beans, ribbons of roasted peppers, wedges of hard-boiled egg, slices of fingerling potatoes, and bold black olives, finished with a mild lemon caper dressing. The tuna alone, with its intense smoky flavor, stopped me in my tracks; and once piled on the fork with the other flavors and textures, it became a satisfying symphony of tastes.

Understanding the importance of finding a beer you truly love, the servers at Ladyface are more than happy to bring you a taste if you are undecided. We sampled the Trois Filles Tripel — a fruity, bubbly beer that, upon first sniff, reminded me of white wine — and the Ladyface Cuvee, one of their small selection of wines on tap, the result of a partnership with Semler Vineyards in Malibu. We also sampled the Jumpin’ Juniper ale infused with whole juniper berries. With our entrees, I ordered the Great Divide Oaked Yeti, one of the decadent stouts from a list of guest ales on the beer menu.

We finished our meal with the brewer’s flight: a scoop of coffee porter ice cream, a scoop of saison granita (saison is one of the seasonal beers) and a scoop of blackberry cabernet sorbet. While the granita didn’t have much taste, the blackberry cabernet was our favorite, with its stunning good looks, vibrant color and the flavors of the fruit and wine shining equally.

Though the management at Ladyface loves its beer, it also adores a designated driver. Ladyface mentions the importance of designating a driver right on the menu, and offer free non-alcoholic beverages for those who step up to the role.

Ladyface is where your favorite microbrewery meets your neighborhood gastropub, where foodies and beer lovers can both delight. It’s the kind of place where you can pop in for a late afternoon beer, a great family lunch or a multicourse dinner expertly paired with handcrafted beer. It is well worth the road trip south, especially if you don’t have to worry about driving home.

Visit my blog: www.venturafoodhappenings.com or find Ventura Food Happenings on Facebook.

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