Tierra Sur provides joy in every bite
By Allison Costa 01/21/2010
Tierra Sur Restaurant
3201 Camino del Sol
Lunch: $13 - $24
Dinner: $36 - $52
Many things keep me up at night. Like what college tuition is going to be in the year 2022. Or the laundry list of un-sexy and expensive home improvement projects that aren’t getting done around here. On the flip side, sometimes good restaurants keep me up as well. Every once in a while, after an especially wonderful meal, I just can’t wait to put pen to paper. This intro even wrote itself in my head sometime around 4:30 a.m. Tierra Sur Restaurant at Herzog Wine Cellars is one of those places. Writing about its food just might bring me as much joy as dining there did.
Herzog Wine Cellars is situated in an industrial park in Oxnard. Though it appears humble and plain on the outside, the interior is classy, crisp and stunning. Guests approach the restaurant through a long entryway, passing by a wine tasting bar, a private dining room, and bottles and bottles of wine. The dining area is blessed with an open kitchen, high ceilings and windows that are two stories tall.
The menus at Tierra Sur, whether you go for lunch or dinner, are concise and simple — each containing around seven or eight entrees. Chef Todd Aaron draws much of his inspiration from the Mediterranean, but mixes in elements from places like Tuscany, Israel, Mexico and even North Africa. He utilizes only local, seasonal produce, purchased from small family farms in the area.
From the beginning of our meal, the service was impeccable. Our server was knowledgeable about everything: wines, ingredients and the food preparation. When I was overwhelmed by the impressive wine list, she brought two cabernets to the table for a taste. Gathering that we were in the mood for a leisurely lunch, she offered to serve our food (which we had planned to share anyway) as a series of courses; and they kindly split all of our dishes at no additional charge.
The food was all perfectly paced, our water glasses kept full, and the bill was brought to us at just the right time.
Our first course was a puréed turnip soup, nestled in two crisp white asymmetrical bowls and topped with fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil. The soup was mild, like a potato soup, but with a thinner, lighter consistency. It was a fine example of a chef taking a fresh ingredient, cooking it carefully, and allowing it to truly shine without burying it under other flavors. It was soothing and simple, and as my friend said, “If a turnip could speak, this is the kind of soup it would want to be.”
We selected our second dish from the daily specials: pan-seared salmon with broccoli tempura, beets and a tangerine vinaigrette. The salmon was fork-tender, and the skin brown and crisp. The broccoli was exquisite — somehow the batter was thick and light at the same time, and the broccoli inside was soft but not mushy. The light pink beets were flavored with hints of vinegar and citrus, accomplished by spending four weeks bathing in a house-made brine.
Finished with a swirl of the tangy vinaigrette around the plate, this dish was a thing of beauty.
I knew that the other entree we ordered (our third course) was going to be a showstopper the minute I saw it on the menu: a bison burger served on brioche bread, topped with hickory smoked lamb bacon and a fried egg. It was everything I thought it would be and more. The bread was sweet and buttery and the bison extremely tender. Once we cut into it, the golden egg yolk happily infiltrated every nook and cranny. The bacon was unlike any bacon I’ve ever tasted — a dance between the sweet and smoky flavors. The burger came with an overflowing bowl of crisp, brown sweet potato fries and a spicy chipotle aioli.
Since every decadent girl’s gathering has to include chocolate, we closed our meal with a petite slice of flourless chocolate cake. It was light and fudgy, and would have gone well with a cup of coffee, but we were simply out of room. Plus, we were still finishing our wine: a fruity Napa Valley cabernet for me and a buttery chardonnay for her.
Like the winery itself, the whole restaurant is kosher. There’s no shellfish here, the dairy is kept separate from meat, and the wines are made without yeast. And, lucky for guests, Aaron makes many items onsite to ensure that they are completely kosher. This includes lamb sausages, handmade tortillas, house-marinated olives and even milk-free ice cream.
His creative use of ingredients makes for truly stellar food.
At Tierra Sur, no detail goes unnoticed and nothing disappoints. The service is unmatched and the food consistently top of the line, making this one of the best restaurants in the county. And I will sleep better at night, knowing it is there.
*Note that in honor of the Sabbath, Tierra Sur is closed Fridays, closed for lunch on Saturdays, and only serves the tapas menu, cocktails and wines on Saturday evenings. Sunday is the busiest day, so be sure to make a reservation.