The ever-eclectic Safire Bistro
Something for everyone
By Ron Russ 10/25/2012
4850 Santa Rosa Road
Summing up Safire Bistro in Camarillo with a few paragraphs is not an easy task. The question is, what is the real Safire? Is the Safire that I know an entirely different version than the one you’ve experienced? Is it an upscale dining establishment or an approachable business lunch spot? Should you expect a seductive seafood platter followed by a seared filet mignon or a wood-fire pizza and affordable bistro fare? We shouldn’t expect that this traditional American restaurant will weave in Asian and Mediterranean influences, or should we? The answer to all of the above questions is an emphatic, yet somewhat perplexing, YES!
Safire may be a bit of a culinary chameleon, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it suffers from an identity crisis, because the people of Safire know exactly what they’re doing. This is where I need to give a nod to Executive Chef Christopher Bryan and Owner/Operating Manager Jim Foley. The traditional American dining choices, peppered with an out-of-the-box approach to seasoning and different cultural infusions, provide an exciting tightrope for your acrobatic taste buds to walk. Just by scanning the crowd at Safire, you’ll see the wide range of appeal. You’ll notice the energetic date-nighters, the family dinner groups, the girls-night-out martini crew, the single-malt-scotch-drinking businessmen, and even the local retirement community crowd (which I like because if I’m going to enjoy a thick slab of juicy, medium-rare prime rib, I prefer to do it sitting near someone who still dresses up for dinner).
I believe that there are hundreds of small decisions that can make or a break a restaurant. I left with the impression that Safire takes these strategic decisions very seriously. The layout of the bar area is open and elevated with just the right amount of energy spilling into the dining room. The lighting is perfect for achieving an elegant ambience and the décor of the restaurant is old-school hip. On weekends, you’re likely to hear live music from the bar/entry area, which takes the energy up another notch. The wide-open, visible kitchen allows you the opportunity to see chefs working to prepare your meals, as opposed to some restaurants where food is shoved through a slot by a cook who may or may not be wearing a shirt. Safire also goes a step further and offers items like the Petaluma Farms free-range chicken for the conscious carnivores, local produce, and even vegan and gluten-free menus to cover all of the bases. Do you see a theme building here? They really did think of everything.
I was impressed when fresh-baked-that-day bread arrived at our table seconds after sitting down. We elected to start our meal with the Safire salad, which proved to be a cool palate pleaser made up of local bibb lettuce, chickpeas, tomatoes, shaved Parmigiano and a light Dijon dressing. For our second course we decided to wake our taste buds up with the fried Spanish olives. These salty, pimento-stuffed green olives are dusted and fried to crisp golden-brown deliciousness and served with creamy garlic aioli. We then enjoyed the pan-seared polenta cakes, which we later awarded “surprise dish of the night.” This dish (playfully resembling seared scallops) was a jazz concert in my mouth. The charred, yet moist polenta was served on a bed of wilted spinach, earthy wild mushrooms, warm tomatoes, Parmesan and truffle oil. The zesty, rich, bitter, and acidic combination of flavors can only be summed up by the term “stupid good.”
Scanning the menu further, shock came over me when I realized that the miso black cod that I once shamelessly licked the plate of was not gracing the menu! It was explained that they had just switched to a seasonal fall menu and the black cod was replaced by the pan-seared corvina seabass with thai-chili pineapple broth. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to a seasonal menu, because, ultimately, I support a restaurant that takes care in using in-season ingredients. We chose to give said seabass a try along with the tangerine and balsamic glazed lamb shank. The seabass was a bit of a disappointment as it was considerably overcooked and the broth lacked balanced flavors. The Lamb Shank, however, was fork-tender and nicely seasoned. The accompanying creamy orzo, sautéed spinach, pearl onions, tomatoes, mint and natural jus gave the fall season a “Welcome Home Party” in my mouth.
To close out a great meal, we were delighted to find the “Just a Taste” dessert menu. This creative offering gives you the chance to enjoy a dessert without going overboard and hating yourself afterwards. We cracked the crisp top of the mini vanilla bean crème brulée and proceeded to unabashedly scrape every bit of smooth custard from the ramekin. To sum things up, Safire Bistro is definitely one of Ventura County’s finer restaurants, and I encourage you to find your Safire, whatever that may be.