1888 E. Thompson Blvd.
3301-1 E. Main St.
Surely some local league bowlers were bummed when the Ventura Bowling Center closed in 2012. But pretty much everybody else can be happy about Discovery having opened in its place. Called a “boutique bowling alley” by many, Discovery is a loungy venue where you can not only bowl — you can also play pool or shuffleboard, watch live music and sports, drink cocktails or local beer and wine, and eat what’s being billed as “delectable” and “farm-to-table” California cuisine.
The atmosphere is dominated by a clean, mid-century décor. After the attractive geometry of the WWII-era wooden roofing framework was exposed during renovation, designers played off it to a vintage effect with big and retro booth seating, industrial light fixtures, 1960s orange and blue hues, and a street-side patio with clean lines and boxy fireplaces that evoke the heydays of Palm Springs. The Americana vibe becomes more modern once you take in the ironic pop-culture-inspired paintings on the walls — one mural has the Big Lebowski cast posed to mock DaVinci’s The Last Supper, another has the iconic Neil Armstrong moonwalk image tweaked to place a surfboard and a cocktail in-hand. Others paintings allude to Kingpin, Mr. T, CHiPs, and Baywatch. Clearly a lot of thought went into curating coolness here.
The Juicy Lucy with ground beef and bacon,
topped with fried jalapeños, provolone and more bacon.
A happy-hour menu lists the food available from 4 to 5:30 p.m. For five bucks or less, you can order a few items from the larger selection of starters. The calamari with remoulade is great beer food; the big chunks of chopped steak are tender yet crispy. Crab fries with aioli are smothered with snow crab, as promised. As for starters available after 5:30, the goat cheese Nom Noms are rich little nuggets, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and served with mixed greens and balsamic glaze. The most popular appetizer, the ahi poke stack, brings yellowfin tuna and avocado together with Japanese components for a fresh and light starter.
The burgers at Discovery are first-class. The half-pound patties of 21-day aged beef are inch-thick and juicy, wedged between your choice of brioche or Hawaiian bun, and they carry a subtle fragrance of smoke from the mesquite-fired grill. The Juicy Lucy takes burger decadence to a new height. A ground bacon and beef patty is stuffed with smoked gouda, topped with fried jalapeños, more cheese (provolone), more bacon, plus green lettuce, roasted tomato and chipotle aioli. It’s easy to picture Guy Fieri’s cavernous mouth closing down on this burger on some future episode of Triple D (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives), which made the California burger more appealing (double bacon is swapped for bacon and guacamole). Lighter options include both ahi and chicken burgers, as well as the crab cake sandwich.
Pizzas, on the other hand, are just passable. The medley of asiago, provolone and parmesan cheeses is good, but the crust with the regular dough lacks much flavor — from yeast, browning or mesquite — and the sauce tastes a little flat. Ordering the wild mushroom pizza felt like a mistake, seeing as the “wild” mushrooms ended up being sliced white button mushrooms. At least some people will be thrilled to find Discovery offers gluten-free crust, and flatbread, too.
From the entree menu, which also includes steak plates and Chilean sea bass, choosing the crab enchiladas was definitely a mistake. Any flavor of snow crab was obscured by the thick blanket of cheddar and jack cheese that wasn’t supposed to be there. Bits of cotija cheese were scattered throughout, but neither it nor the tomatillo sauce could be tasted under all that cheddar. Meanwhile, the avocado cream didn’t make it to the plate, and the “pico salad” was just pico de gallo over otherwise undressed greens.
There’s a decent drink program here, though. The bulk of the wine list is from-the-keg, an emergent eco-friendly way of distributing wine, including 805 highlights like Au Bon Climat pinot noir and Brewer-Clifton chardonnay. The beer selection features a handful of tried-and-Duitrue California microbrews, available in 20-ounce glasses. There is a full bar, too (with good well selections), but the mule kung pao fell short on the menu’s promise to pour generously.
Discovery is a score for Midtown Ventura, no doubt. There’s loads of fun to be had for adults, though the lanes are plainly family-friendly. The venue looks awesome. And the front-of-house service is solid, too. This place will be a success, period. Hopefully that doesn’t make the management contented with the food, which could be better.