Tropical treats in Downtown Ventura
By JR Grant 09/05/2013
Ventiki Lounge and Lanai
701 E. Main Street
In the mid-1930s a small restaurant called Hinky Dink’s was opened by an entrepreneur named Victor Bergeron. By the ’40s and ’50s the name had changed to Trader Vic’s, and America’s mid-century modern obsession with Polynesian decor and cuisine began. It seems therefore appropriate that a Ventura County entrepreneur named Scott Noble is capitalizing on the current retro popularity of that era with his new restaurant, Ventiki, on Main Street in Downtown Ventura.
Utilizing many of the classic drink recipes from Trader Vic’s (and his own creativity from his years of serving the bar at Tutti’s), owner Noble has hired creative Hawaiian chef Johnny Dilong to fashion and prepare a menu now serving as a unique addition to Ventura County’s growing list of international food and fusion cuisine alternatives. Of course, an entire article could be written about the many drink offerings (zombies, scorpions, blue Hawaiians, mai tai’s, etc.), and the bar here is important to the overall concept. This is, however, a food review, and all I can say is you will not be disappointed at the vast selection of old fashioned and new-fangled island alcoholic delights. (The generous pourings also remind patrons of the value of a designated driver!)
Of course the first offering at a Polynesian restaurant is the pupu (appetizers), and Chef Johnny has fashioned a mouthwatering assortment of possibilities. My favorite is the California Fresh roll, which is succulent blue crab, avocado, mint and mango wrapped in rice. Also delicious are the Kaluah pork sliders, served on a Hawaiian roll with pineapple coleslaw, with a tropical barbecue sauce. Perhaps the most perfectly presented dish (and palate-pleasing to the max) is the pepper seared tuna with jalapeño, sprinkled with feta, and a delectable garlic soy (or tamari, if preferred) coulis. It would not be difficult to simply make a satisfying meal out of the variety of pupu options.
But if you did, you would miss out on the cleverly designed and salubrious selections. A foodie friend always orders the seared tuna (served with steamed cabbage and sticky rice), a pleasant and perfectly cooked and presented dish. The hot weather seems inappropriate for my favorite dish: beef estofado: very tender chunks of flavorful beef loin cubes, nestled in a savory gravy with onions and carrots and served over a bed of sticky rice. This for me is comfort food at its most delicious. One surprisingly popular dish (which Chef Johnny has adapted from his Hawaiian heritage) is the loco moco, two fried eggs with Spam in the estofado brown sauce, also served over sticky rice.
A popular entree is the California poke bowl: chopped ahi tuna, avocado, crispy garlic oil and mixed with sushi rice. All dishes come out of the kitchen freshly prepared and creatively plated. The salads are very large and could serve as meals in themselves. Although not vast in selection variety, each dish I’ve sampled has been unique in texture, taste and combination. This is most evident in the Tiki chop salad, a delightful mix of chopped romaine and spring lettuces, mango, gorgonzola, bacon, tomato, cucumber, turkey, avocado and flavor- balanced with a creamy and succulent sesame ginger dressing. Even the half salad is big enough to split, so this fresh combination of ingredients is an ideal accompaniment to whatever strikes your fancy from the slightly limited menu. Limited, mind you, only in number of selections offered. The taste varieties and combinations of each dish more than make up for the menu’s limited scale.
This is a tiny location on the corner of Main and Fir streets with clever design and vintage decoration. If you sit outside you’ll be warmed by a glass fire-pit, and several strategically placed heaters. Inside is also a fairly small space, but the custom designed bar (handcrafted from Universal Studios) and many classic tiki decorations give diners and drinkers a fun illusion that just for a little bit they are basking in a tropical island paradise.
I’m sure Chef Johnny will create some appropriate sorbet (mango and ginger perhaps?) and dessert options as the menu fine-tunes and develops. For now, Ventiki is a terrific addition to Ventura’s downtown dining and night life scene.