In Good Taste
Eat, drink, lounge: blû orkid
By JR Grant 03/22/2012
76 S. Oak St.
When My Florist restaurant opened three and a half years ago on Oak Street, initially I thought a large floral provider had opened; I was very happy to discover a new dining/drinking option had debuted in downtown Ventura. Subsequently, I attended various functions there (the space is enormous) and always found owner David Lacy to be welcoming, congenial and supportive of many organizations that used his space for fundraising events. The food was good, if a bit derivative, and my only worry for him was the difficulty in filling a space that size every night.
One outstanding item on the restaurant’s menu was the bread: many different types, styles and tastes, each better than the previous sampling. I discovered that My Florist was actually baking the bread and rolls for many restaurants in Ventura County, a fact that those lucky restaurants didn’t necessarily share with their own patrons. With the reinvention of the restaurant part of the operation, and a new name — blû orkid — its menu tag line seems a most appropriate description: eat, drink, lounge.
The space is still huge, but the enormous chandelier in the center of the room, the reflected blue lighting, the large modern art decorations and table rearrangements, including a small sofa with matching chairs in the corner, create a more intimate feel than I previously remember. And the menu: a few rearrangements here and there with great presentation and service, and blû orkid is now very much a new, and most welcome restaurant option in downtown Ventura.
The Ventura crab cakes, carried over from My Florist, are tasty and slightly spicy served with a generous portion of chipotle aioli, as is the warm, molten, savory spinach artichoke dip, which is made from three cheeses, baby spinach, artichoke hearts and fresh cream, served in a small sourdough loaf. The one appetizer not to be missed, however, is the outstanding prosciutto, fig and goat cheese bruschetta: overly generous (in size and amount) chopped roasted prosciutto pieces mixed with the sweetened fig preserves and topped with little goat cheese nibbles and served on a fresh baguette slice. This is a decadent and divine appetizer.
If one goes to blû orkid for happy hour (4 – 7 p.m.), any of the above-mentioned appetizers make terrific tapas, as do the charcuterie plate, the brie plate, ahi Tartare and jumbo prawns. Happy hour prices are half off, making these delicious and more than reasonable small plates. The wine cellar is impressive and is also half off when ordered by the bottle.
There are other familiar items on the menu, but somehow it seems as though the food choices at the restaurant are more appealing and better presented. I have always liked the butternut squash soup; it is now served with a dollop of chili oil and a freshly toasted homemade mini marshmallow in the center. Wow! Really tasty and cleverly presented. Salads are fine and familiar, although the port-poached pear with mixed greens, candied walnuts, Maytag bleu cheese and locally grown berry vinaigrette is particularly outstanding. The chefs are a little too generous with the dressing; ask your server not to overdress.
There are many fine dinner entree items; I particularly want to mention the miso Meyer lemon salmon. This superior dish is brilliantly presented, and the combination of flavors is amazing: pan-seared Atlantic salmon atop jasmine steamed sticky rice, bits of citrus supremes, and a cucumber and radish salsa topped with a white miso Meyer lemon emulsion. It tastes even better than the description. Other enjoyable entrees include a magical prime beef shepherd’s pie (with lavender as one of the spicings), topped with horseradish whipped potatoes. One may also order chicken and dumplings, or what they call “Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf.”
Space prohibits mentioning the lunch menu (try the chicken Chinese salad wrap!) and also the breakfast menu (served weekdays till noon, and Sunday till 2 p.m.). The desserts are also terrific, particularly the bread pudding (of course — all those great breads from the bakery), but this vast selection, the attentive service and the new ambience portend a great future for blû orkid.