Following the White Rabbit to Filipino fusion
By Michael Sullivan 08/23/2012
221 W. Fifth St.
When it comes to ethnic dining in Ventura County, the suspects are fairly standard —Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese. Of course, there are a few others here and there, but for the most part, diversity in cuisine isn’t easy to come by. So when the White Rabbit opened in Oxnard, I had to jump on it — no pun intended.
On a Thursday afternoon, it had a small but decent crowd, though the ethnic diversity of the crowd spoke volumes on locals’ desire for something new and fun, which is the vibe of White Rabbit. With polished concrete floors, a long wooden table in the center of the room for communal-style dining, a pool table and a sleek dining patio set for relaxing with a cup of specialty tea, it’s got a hip, clean vibe that is quite inviting. If you like the modern, industrial look and feel of Chipotle, White Rabbit isn’t too far off.
The menu is simple — a choice of five types of meat, or a soy-based pepper steak — that comes in soft tacos, burritos, quesadillas, rice bowls or carne fries (meat atop French fries and Swiss cheese). Ordering at the register — cash only at the moment — I chose the pork sisig burrito while my companion chose the soft tacos with pork sisig, pork tocino and the beefsteak. For our sides, we chose pork lumpia and cole slaw.
My most difficult decision, however, was a drink. Fascinated by the long list of black, green and oolong teas, and a choice of boba (which my companion likened to sweet, chewy caviar without the salty burst), miniboba, lychee jelly, mango jelly or aloe bits, I was stumped. Luckily for me, the staff is wonderfully friendly and accommodating, letting me smell the various teas and giving me samples of the jelly. I opted for the Sri Lanka tea with boba — the aloe bits were just a bit too like taking a bite out of an aloe vera plant, and the lychee jelly resembles the flavor of a pear but much more aromatic, similar to jasmine. The textures of both simply weren’t appealing — crunchy and slippery. Boba is more like a gummy bear, and I have been a sucker for gummy bears since I was a little one. (Note: if you aren’t a heavy caffeine drinker, be sure to ask about which teas would be best for you, lest you want to stay up until 4 a.m., regretting that oh-so flavorful tea.)
Our orders were up in a flash and gone almost as quickly. The soft tacos were small double-layered corn tortillas with a scoop of meat and vinegar cole slaw. The beefsteak, true to its description, fell apart in our mouths with a distinct citrus marinade. The pork tocino — cured braised pork, wok-fried — was sweet and soft. The pork sisig — deep-fried pork belly, chopped and pan fried in a medley of onions and jalapeños — was chewy and reminiscent of jerky meat. For both the burrito and the taco, it gave the dishes a nice bite. Though for my burrito, which came with very pungent garlic fried rice, a fried egg and Swiss cheese, I needed a little bit more punch. So a big squirt of readily available sriracha hot sauce really perked up the flavors. My favorite was the overly simple lumpia. Minced sweet, moist pork, wrapped in lumpia wrappers, then deep-fried (think mini-egg rolls), the crunchy texture of the roll combined with the buttery texture of the pork — it’s like a meat lovers’ bon bon.
While the atmosphere and the menu are simple and clean, the story of how the White Rabbit came to be enriches the experience. The owners of the family-owned and -operated business decided upon the name because of a popular candy in the Philippines — a soft, chewy candy called White Rabbit. When the family opened the business, they wanted to garner customers familiar with the candy who would follow the White Rabbit to their storefront. What’s more, the family opened the first store in L.A. last year — the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. The eatery is also mobile, via food truck, and most recently opened in Oxnard less than two months ago.
To sum it up, the overall experience was quick, convenient and inexpensive, and gives one a taste of Filipino culture. Not ideal for a romantic dinner or a huge feast, but it’s worth the trip to try something unique — and to let one’s taste buds experience something different than the usual suspects.