Om Fusion of Thai
710 N. Ventura Ave.
Om Fusion of Thai in Oak View isn’t hard to miss — it’s just up from the Big Buddha Cafe, with its enormous namesake looming over Highway 33 — the colorful building has a parade of elephants stenciled around the top. The parking lot is tiny, to be sure, but you can probably find something on the street — although you may not need to, as Oak View residents are likely to take advantage of the proximity and stroll over for a bite. Om Fusion is something of a local favorite, and it’s easy to see why.
For one thing, it’s a charming place to enjoy a meal. Several container fountains greet you just outside the entrance, Thai statues flank the doorway, another fountain and a colorful altar can be seen just behind the counter, and foliage abounds. The dining area isn’t very large, but windows all around let the Ojai sun shine through — the feel is more airy than intimate. This homage to a tropical oasis, Thai style, is perfect for the area, where dry, triple-digit heat is the norm in the spring and summer. Come on in, have a seat at the counter, order a Singha and nosh on some fresh, light spring rolls — that’s the vibe this place gives off.
Those spring rolls, by the way, were excellent — as were our other appetizers. The fried wontons were crisp, golden, enormous and beautiful — like a cluster of blossoms — and were enormously popular with the under-10 set. (My ravenous offspring devoured them almost immediately; I’m assuming they tasted as good as they looked.) The beef satay was also delicious: the garlic, ginger and spices in the marinade really came through without overwhelming the succulent meat, which had just the right amount of chew to it. I was confused by the gelatinous, rather bland, somewhat orange-colored peanut sauce; was it a casualty of some culinary hybridization experiment gone wrong? Luckily the satay didn’t need it.
We wanted to experience the “fusion” as well as the “Thai,” so we tried both Bangkok standards and a few dishes hailing from other parts of Asia. The Thai items are by far the more successful. The red curry was well-balanced, with chili, garlic, coconut milk and curry coming through in equal measure. You can actually see flecks of spice in the sauce, and the spiciness comes through without being the main attraction. My one modest complaint might be that it could have done with more chicken and vegetables, but it’s hard to argue with the flavor. Loved the pad Thai, possibly the best I’ve had in the area. They aren’t shy with the spices here, either, and the savory goodness lingers. We enjoyed washing these dishes down with a super-strong, super-sweet Thai iced tea (if you’re not a beer drinker, this is the way to beat the heat — outside or on your plate) that had a pronounced smokiness; positively addictive.
Less impressive were the teriyaki and kung pao (both chicken; you can have your choice of meat on most menu items). Neither was bad, per se, but their flavors were indistinguishable. If it weren’t for the presence of peanuts in the kung pao, we would not have been able to tell the two dishes apart. The teriyaki lacked that hint of fruity sweetness, and the kung pao lacked punch. To the chef’s credit, though, all the food had a freshness to it that I could appreciate: the meats were never overdone, the vegetables (many from Ojai’s extensive Sunday farmers market; here’s to buying local!) were crisp-tender, and the sauces had a lightness to them. So the preparation was fine; the non-Thai recipes might need some tweaking.
The service is timely and courteous. Other diners we spoke with mentioned coming in solo on occasion just to sit at the counter and chat with the staff — always a good sign. Prices are modest, with seafood dishes running around $16 and everything else less than $12. In addition to Chinese and Japanese specials, there are a few Indian-inspired dishes as well. Regulars recommend the Thai samosas; despite my reservations I might try them on my next visit. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike should have no trouble satisfying their hunger.
Om Fusion has charm, soul and flavor in spades. Stick to the Thai portions of the menu, and your taste buds will chant happily all the way home.