1123 skinny Photo by: DK Crawford

Get your skinny on at Oxnard's Café Nefola

By Allison Costa 11/23/2011

Cafe Nefola
1651 S. Victoria Ave.a, #120
$3.95 - $7.95

“From fat to fit — this is it.” That’s the tagline on the menu at Cafe Nefola, a new health-conscious eatery in Oxnard’s Seabridge Marina Center. With a healthy menu built around fresh local ingredients, Cafe Nefola makes the perfect neighbor for the bustling 24 Hour Fitness Center next door, the perfect place to stop for a pre-workout smoothie or a mid-day salad.

So here’s the setup at this casual, takeout-friendly place: guests order at the counter, moving down the line, custom building their own salads and sandwiches, selecting from a smorgasbord of fresh bread, veggies, fruits, nuts, cheese and dressings.

Cafe Nefola boasts using as much local produce as it can, but the details were a bit vague when I pressed further about what exactly was grown locally. I was assured though, that anything that can be sourced locally, is, all the way down to the mayonnaise (made in Oxnard) and olive oil. The bread is all freshly baked by a local bakery, including a molasses-based squaw bread, soft egg bread, and zesty jalapeño cheddar bread.

Since the dishes are all made to order and customers still seem a bit confused about the logistics of ordering their food (How many veggies can I choose for my sandwich? How many proteins can I put on my salad?), service can be a bit slow. I ordered for our group of four, and by the time I sat down (about 20 minutes later), some of the first paninis we had ordered were already cold.

Cafe Nefola offers a nice selection of fruit smoothies. A bit overwhelmed by all the choices we had to make, we asked for suggestions on flavor combinations, settling on one mango and banana smoothie and another made with blueberry and pineapple. Refreshing and tangy, they gave us a nice boost and were a fine pairing for our healthy dinner.

The first sandwich we built had a base of jalapeño cheese bread, was topped with jack cheese, sliced tomato, green onion and cilantro, and was finished on the panini press. The bread was delicious but the toppings a bit sparse. I also didn’t see that mayonnaise was an option until the sandwich was already being pressed; and it definitely could have used some sort of sauce to add a bit of moisture. As I tasted it later on, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of regret, as though I had somehow failed in my ability to build the perfect sandwich.

We also had a wrap sandwich filled with arugula, chicken breast, Parmesan cheese, tomato, peppers, pesto sauce and a squeeze of mayonnaise. (I learned my lesson on the previous sandwich.) Our favorite sandwich was a variation on the tuna melt, my husband’s idea. He had his heart set on sourdough bread, but they only had one slice left. So he opted for one slice of sourdough and a slice of egg bread. He topped it with tuna salad, onion, tomato, cheddar and the unusual addition of kalamata olives. (The cheese cost extra, as they considered it a second protein.) The olives really made the sandwich, and almost helped us overlook the fact that the cheese wasn’t fully melted, despite two turns in the press.

When it came time to order our salad, we found the menu a bit confusing to navigate. We persevered with patient guidance from our server and built ours with a bed of locally grown Ventura greens, shredded beets, cucumber, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette. It was a delicious combination of flavors (I patted myself on the back for that), but a bit underdressed.

While I waited in line, the woman in front of me suggested a brilliant idea — that they offer some pre-designed sandwiches and salads for those of us who didn’t want to create our own. And I thought to myself, yes, if the menu were less confusing and they offered some of their own creations (in addition to the option to customize your meal), Cafe Nefola really might be on to something.

And herein lies the beauty — especially in this day and age of fast food and obesity — that right here, in Oxnard, lies a restaurant where you can build your own plate, choose exactly what is in it, and only add the fat and calories that are worth it to you. For those counting Weight Watchers points or watching their carb intake, the ability to be in control of what goes in your meal is invaluable.

And Cafe Nefola has arrived just in time, when we should all probably be paying closer attention to what’s in our food and where it comes from, even if it makes us a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps we should all, including yours truly, step out of our dining comfort zone more often so we can feel better and maybe even fit into those skinny jeans hiding deep inside our closets.

Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com, where you’ll find information on our new Eating Ojai Tour, gift certificates for the holidays, and information on upcoming special events.

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