For the past 18 months, everyone in Ventura has been asking the same question after passing by the Crowne Plaza at the end of California Street. When will the renovations be finished? And just when we thought we could not wait anymore, our patience has paid off.

The Crowne Plaza has finally named their restaurant C Street and, more importantly, they found an imaginative executive chef in Nic Manocchio.

For Manocchio, the journey to the Crowne Plaza started, geographically, just a few miles south in Camarillo, but a million miles away in stature. Like most top chefs, Manocchio started in the industry at the bottom. When he arrived for his first shift as a busboy, they threw him into the kitchen as a dishwasher and left him there for eight months. Coming from a hardworking family, the 15-year-old Manocchio did not mind the labor involved but longed to work with food and eventually found his true passion in front of a stove.

Manocchio laughs, remembering his first day working in a pizza parlor. As his sister drove him to work, he was nervous that he might have to fling a pizza in the air, a skill he had not yet mastered. From then on, though, he moved up the ranks quickly and was soon doing prep work in a fine dining establishment. There was an internship at Capistrano’s, and then a job offer, all before he graduated from high school. After attempting college and deciding it was not for him, he made his way back to the kitchen and has never left. “That is where I felt most comfortable” Manocchio says. “I knew that was what I wanted to do and I knew I loved it because I was willing to give up the money I could make doing other things.

“The plate for me is a release and an outlet,” says Manocchio. “Food is like a language, and each culture has its own translation.” The menu, carefully and painstakingly shaped by Manocchio, shows his attention to detail and imagination. His menus use his personal lingo, inspired by the local California experience from both the sea and surrounding farms. He has invented such dishes as the spicy coconut-crusted calamari with a chipotle grilled pineapple salsa and luscious sea scallops sautéed in Santa Barbara chardonnay herb butter. He also prides himself on using local growers for the salads and creating his own Kahlua crème brulée.

Besides a renovated hotel, Ventura also got an exciting new executive chef. These days, Nic Manocchio also oversees the banquet facilities, held in a room on the top floor of the hotel with incredible panoramic ocean views. But the best part of the newly revamped Crowne Plaza is not the interior or even the view. The best part is the food. Even though it took a while to get to this point, it was worth it.