Downtown Oxnard gets another nouvelle option

By JR Grant 12/16/2010

The Kitchen
529 S. A St.

As Oxnard explodes with commercial and residential development, more and more options for interesting dining are, thankfully, appearing. One of the most recent entrees into this scene is The Kitchen, located in the heart of downtown Oxnard on A Street. Proprietors Lydia and Kathy are enthusiastically offering diners a varied menu of sandwiches, burgers, interesting daily specials and an on-site microbrewing facility.

Recently The Kitchen managed to obtain the very last keg from this season’s Firestone IDA select beers. I was there one day before this event, and many savvy beer aficionados were being sure to make reservations so they would be certain to be able to savor the special keg tapping. In fact, there is always a brewing class offered at The Kitchen in order for customers to be able to sample the beer as it goes through its entire fermenting processes.

The look of the restaurant is sort of old world gentleman’s bar, with wood paneled and detailed walls with beige and tan accents and dark leatherette tablecloths. While the decoration and design are reminiscent of the previous restaurant in this location, the owners have used their previous restaurant experience to create a welcoming and warm dining area. (Lydia and her sister Kathy come from an Oxnard restaurant family: their mother Gerry Moreno owns La Dolce Vita in Oxnard’s historic Heritage Square)

The Kitchen opened Oct. 2 and is still developing its menu and signature dishes; my favorite sandwich so far is the Cuban: pulled pork, sliced ham, swiss cheese, garlic aioli and pickles on freshly home-baked bread. There was not quite enough aioli as the bread, while fresh, seemed a little dry. My companion opted for the smoked mozzarella, applewood-smoked bacon and tomato on the same-style baked roll; the flavors combined beautifully, although it also seemed a bit dry and unadorned. On another visit, I ordered the special sandwich of the day: grilled black forest ham with swiss cheese on the fresh roll. While there was lots of tasty ham (which had been grilled before being placed on the roll and then grilled again), the sandwich itself was very dry; I was offered some Dijon mustard, which helped, but the simple and unadorned food prep style, at least to my palate, seems lacking in the detailed presentation of comfortable chefs.

All sandwiches can be accompanied by a soup or salad; the salad is an unmemorable combination of greens and dressing, but the soups are usually very interesting and hearty. Recently, I had Manhattan fish chowder that was full-flavored and had just the right combination of fish, tomatoes, potatoes and celery. On a previous occasion the New England clam chowder was filled with lots of juicy clams and had exactly the right consistency and flavor.

The fries served with the sandwiches are OK, but for a real treat, opt for the fried green beans: crunchy, flavorful and not too heavily battered, these are possibly my favorite dish at The Kitchen. (I guess, somehow, I feel less guilty eating fried green beans than french fries!) The onion rings are also tasty, but seemed a little oily to me. The chipotle aioli is a good dipping sauce for any of these fried options, as well.

As a reviewer, I don’t like to pan new restaurants, particularly when they have interesting potential and the courage to open in this economy. Some of the menu specials at The Kitchen, however could benefit from closer supervision. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered the quiche special lunch; what arrived was an odd, bread pudding like dish with a creamy custardlike consistency and an undercooked sweetened pastry with ham and bacon kind of thrown in. It didn’t look appetizing, and the soggy, undercooked pastry didn’t help in the slightest. One can only hope this was a dish they were testing for their menu, but for me it certainly didn’t work

Some of the other entrees are very interesting at The Kitchen. The herb-rubbed salmon with rice and grilled local vegetables is tasty, although not quite interesting enough to set it apart or make it a memorable choice. The chicken Monterrey looks appetizing, and a companion of mine was very happy with the grilled vegetable plate served with a large portobello mushroom. (Top prices are only $12.95 for the entrees, but still I’m looking for that something special that draws me back.)

The sweetened raspberry iced tea is a great and very tasty accompaniment to any meal at The Kitchen. I wish it was home brewed rather than prepared from a mix and laden with high-fructose corn syrup. It is small details like this than can separate a great eating establishment from its competition.

I will go back to The Kitchen a few more times to see its progress. I admire the desire to add another interesting option for Oxnard’s developing restaurant scene. For now, though, I hope the kitchen pays closer attention to all those little details that make the diner long for their next experience at that particular restaurant.


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