Great design in food and ambience
By JR Grant 04/26/2012
2088 Ventura Blvd.
It is difficult, sometimes, to comprehend new trends in food, restaurants and the world of cuisine. Particularly in Ventura County we seem to be most comfortable with the tried and true and finding innovative and creative dining opportunities can sometimes be a challenging prospect. In Camarillo, at the spot formerly occupied by Enoteca Toscana, Executive Chef Candace Hilger is now offering local diners a new look and culinary style that, thankfully, increases the opportunity for the adventurous of palate.
Twenty 88 is this new establishment (the name is simply the numerical address on that part of Ventura Boulevard), and from the crisp signage and logo on the front of the building to the austere yet comforting, sparse interior with clean lines, white walls, shiny black tables and white leather chairs, the first impression of this restaurant is hip, stylish and inviting. Even the faux alligator teal menus indicate that one’s experience in this establishment will be well-designed.
And now, to the food. Mostly, all sampled menu items live up to the creative and delicious design of the space. For the drinking and after-work crowd, there are the signature flavored martinis and a relatively small but impressive wine list. My hunger, however, overtook my thirst, and I first ordered a plate of truffle parmesan chips. Slightly crunchy and chewy at the same time, with more than a hint of flaked truffles and gobs of fresh parmesan, and sprinkled with Italian parsley, these very appetizing nibbles allowed me to focus on the other interesting selections from which to choose. A friend of mine is addicted to the panko-crusted crab cakes served with a lemon aioli. They are very good and fresh tasting, but I was blown away by my first small plate of “2088 Sliders.” These are certainly not your typical little baby burgers: fresh ground sirloin mixed with bits of prosciutto and bacon topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and provolone cheese, and served on a fresh bun from blû orkid. Magnificent, juicy and addicting; I could order another plate of these and be perfectly content.
The next small plate was ahi tuna tartare, served with citrus ponzu and wonton crisps. The dish is served as a square stack of chopped tuna, zucchini, avocado, local tatuma squash, and topped with a chopped mâche garni and mixed sesame seeds. The presentation was amazing, and the taste was delicate and almost decadent, particularly with the citrus ponzu. This is really a creative and delicious dish, and certainly matches the creative style and ambience of the restaurant. Most observed selections were equally creative.
One day at lunch, I chose the caprese salad, your basic mixed greens, mozzarella, sliced cherry tomatoes, basil and a rather tasty balsamic olive-oil dressing. The outstanding element in the salad was the polenta croutons. Wow, what a great idea for cubed and crispy polenta. This addition to what could be an ordinary fresh salad was a welcome touch. There is also a Waldorf salad that has the uniqueness of using candied walnuts and honey with a Boursin dressing. Little touches like that make a big difference here.
The entrees on the dinner menu are nicely varied; and as plates went by, I noticed they were well-presented and looked mouthwatering. I opted for the sweet potato gnocchi, which was simple, abundant and a particularly good blend of flavor as it was topped with a sage butter sauce, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. My companion opted for the small plate of truffle bacon macaroni and cheese (oh the truffles they use in this place!), which was very tasty and a good small-plate option. I’d like to return and try the pork loin with raspberry spaetzle and cherry compote, and also the sea bass, which says on the menu that it is served with sweet-chili green beans, pearl onions and crispy leeks.
The desserts are a great finishing touch to Twenty88’s menu. On my last visit, I had the cinnamon vanilla panna cotta, served in a giant martini glass and topped with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and raspberries. It was divine. The previous time I ordered a dessert there, it was a beautiful fleur de Sicilia crème brulée. Although I felt the custard was a bit overdone, the flavor though was right on the mark. Camarillo is lucky to have this hip and stylish new addition to the Ventura County culinary scene.