Twisted Oak Tavern
30105 Agoura Road.
The Lab Brewing Company in Agoura has a new restaurant. Named for the large, sprawling trees that create a shady respite from the Conejo Valley sun, the Twisted Oak Tavern just opened this spring, giving the former gastropub a stylish facelift and allowing brewmaster Roger “Dr. Hops” Bott to focus exclusively on beer. Executive Chef Jon Peloso is fully embracing the farm-to-table concept and is giving patrons some truly inventive treats they can wash down with The Lab’s famous IPAs and Belgian ales.
We went there for lunch a few weeks after the soft opening in March, and I was struck by the view from the large windows that look out over a wooded glade — not something I expected after walking in from a strip-mall storefront! But those twisted oaks, memorialized in the name and the décor, are something to behold. It’s easy to forget you’re in urban Agoura just off the 101, and not nestled in a hillside pub. Seating is spacious and comfortable, with large booths and cushioned bar stools. The large metal fermentation barrels visible through glass walls are a nice touch, and a reminder that the brews are what made this place famous.
You could be forgiven for forgetting that fact: The large, lovely bar and craft cocktail menu nearly seduced me away from the 25-plus taps. But it is The Lab, after all — I wasn’t leaving without a pint of something. So we ordered a sampler and settled in to browse the menu.
Like most local gastropubs, the cuisine is a mix of salads, sandwiches and burgers featuring seasonal, local ingredients in surprising combinations. Compared to the rest of the menu, the “Smalls” list is a bit ordinary — fries, wings, some street tacos — but there was one item that stood out. Deviled eggs aren’t something I’ve seen anywhere else, and with a gourmet description (rocoto pepper aioli, hash browns and Applewood-smoked bacon) I was eager to try them. Beautiful they are: three delicate egg halves perched on tater tot pedestals, sprinkled with bacon bits, all sitting decoratively on a white platter smeared with spicy sauce. But the portion was tiny, more like an amuse bouche than an appetizer, and despite the bacon and chili, rather bland. Save your $8 for something more satisfying or another beer.
The beach tacos were much more successful. I went with the grilled fish (shrimp is the other option) and it couldn’t have been fresher, even if the seasoning was a little on the mild side. Topped with pico de gallo, queso fresco, chipotle aioli, cabbage and cilantro, and served with a deliciously tangy green salsa, they really hit the spot. Can’t think of a better dish to pair with a bright and bitter IPA.
The flatbread pizza is where things start getting more interesting, with an intriguing collection of ingredients: prosciutto and date with honey and cashews; sausage with Basque cheese; shiitake, Portobello and oyster mushrooms with a truffle cream sauce (my choice). No complaints about the dough, which is made in house with beer, and had a great flavor and texture. The mushrooms were in abundance, and not overdone, but somehow the dish underwhelmed me. More herbs or a more prominent cheese may have added a dimension the pizza seemed to lack.
The Twisted Oak excels at big, juicy burgers, and that’s due chiefly to the meat, Peloso’s own blend of chuck, short rib and pancetta ground on the premises. The pancetta brings a salty richness to the burger without masking the beef, and it’s a stellar combination. The chef’s imagination runs a little wild here — the brie and apple-butter burger is certainly novel — but based on what we tasted, he knows what he’s doing. We ordered the Forager, which was loaded with mushrooms, Taleggio cheese and herb aioli. A bit messy, but worth every dribble on the chin.
Stick around for dinner, and you’ll have even more surprises to consider: a milk stout-braised short rib, homemade pasta, rosemary apple cobbler (amazing), stout ice cream float. But the Hogzilla, a whole roasted pig’s head that comes to the table with lettuce cups, has become the signature dish, and is easily one of the most ambitious offerings on any menu in the area. I appreciate the Twisted Oak’s pioneer spirit, even if every recipe isn’t a triumph. Twist on, Twisted Oak —and save a Hogzilla for me.