The last time I was at Landmark 78, the restaurant was a very different beast with a much more Cajun-fusion feel. I remember bright colors and popcorn shrimp, and — due to the restaurant’s brightly lit, eclectic décor — the sense that I was dining on a riverboat.
Needless to say, this was several years ago, and my personal history with the place pales in comparison to its actual history. When it was built in 1912, the Carlo Hahn House would have been considered passé — the Victorian style was so 19th century; Craftsman was the wave of the future — except that the single-family home was built to sit easily beside the Schiappapietra Mansion next door. Interestingly, the Hahn House (now known in the registry as Landmark 78) now serves not as a complement but a tribute to the stately home that was demolished in 1950 to make way for downtown parking.
All of this is to say, the place is heavy on atmosphere.
All to the good during a hurried day working downtown: Santa Clara Street is itself an escape from the city’s center, and to enter the quiet restaurant after the lunchtime rush had died down was (to borrow an awful cliché from previous historical writers) to sense that time was standing still. The interior of the two-story Landmark 78 still bears the mark of a family home, and the dim, pleasantly antiquated feel of the place made us feel like we weren’t in Ventura anymore.
And the staff at Landmark could back the ambience with good service and a solid menu of salads, sandwiches, pastas and appetizers (as well as a list of low-carb options that we respectfully ignored).
My friend Sheldon ordered the fish and chips and reported that they were very well done — the fish itself (too often ignored when deep fried in batter) was flakey, the batter perfectly crisp, and the steak fries complemented them perfectly. The entree came with a classic coleslaw and tartar sauce.
Jarrod called his the best steak sandwich he had ever had. The perfectly cooked New York steak arrived on a fresh-baked sourdough roll, the meat standing alone as a savory entree, but working well as a sandwich.
I, not being terribly creative, ordered that old standby staple, the well-done burger. Landmark serves up a special take with the relleno burger, featuring fresh green chiles and jack cheese, accompanied by a delicious cucumber salad. Conventional, yes, but I’m a picky eater and have been known to be very fickle and reject many a burger (far beyond being too “on the pink side,” I easily complain about the quality of the meat or the way it was ground). The burger was delicious, which proves that although the Landmark could have shared its lunch menu with many a downtown café (the menu being dependable, if not terribly experimental), the skill the chef exhibits proves that the restaurant has mastered all its gourmet selections.
One more word on the location: This landmark does appear on its fair share of unofficial ghost sighting lists in Ventura. The house exuded history, and all I’ll say is this: It didn’t feel like it wasn’t haunted.