La Plage Cafe
429 E. Port Hueneme Road
Some of the best things in Port Hueneme seem to be in the same place. On the corner of Port Hueneme and Ventura Roads, in the most unassuming strip mall, you’ll find Jimi’s Tattoo and Body Piercing (a VCReporter “Best of” winner three years in a row), the excellent Thai Village Restaurant (with an amazing barbecue pork made from a recipe originating in the Thai owner’s hometown), and now La Plage Cafe, offering gourmet breakfast and lunch in a sunny, charming, and unpretentious atmosphere. There must be some magic in the air here.
Chef/owner Veronique Spanier only opens her bistro five days a week, and for just three hours at a time. The restaurant is rather small, and on a busy weekend fills up quickly. And there’s no set menu — just a chalkboard listing the specials of the day, which you might have to leave your seat to peruse. Nevertheless, she has managed to build a reputation for delicious food exceptionally prepared, displaying a largely French influence with a flair for originality. This isn’t just a bacon-and-eggs place; La Plage is an outlet for creative dishes that seem to start in Spanier’s native France but make detours at stops around the globe.
Take, for example, her chorizo and calamari omelet — a local favorite. The omelet itself is puffy and soft and perfectly prepared, with a hint of herb in the mix, very much in the French tradition. But when it’s folded around seasoned calamari and diced chorizo and accompanied by sliced avocado and a handful of fresh greens, it takes on the essence of Mexican, California and Spanish cuisine all at once. These flavors all work together, too, in delicious harmony — which is exactly what fusion is all about.
A native of France, Spanier has lived and worked around the world, with a hefty spell in Hawaii. The islands serve as inspiration for her Loco Moco — a beef patty served over rice with gravy and fried egg. This Hawaiian specialty is another customer favorite, so it often sells out, as it did the day we dined at La Plage. Even so, we had many other interesting options at our disposal, including several crepes, omelets, a few salads and croques monsieur and madame.
Spanier had recommended her beef bourguignon, simmered for hours in red wine, so we gave it a try. This was absolutely heavenly: tender, savory, deeply flavored. And with a fried egg on top, it made for a hearty brunch. Like many of her dishes, it was served with a simple white rice — an unexpected choice, but one that offset the powerful beef flavors nicely.
I’m a sucker for a savory crepe, and ordered one with spinach, mushrooms, prosciutto and goat cheese. It was a wonderful, light combination, which seemed simplicity itself but was surprisingly filling, especially with the delicious greens and fried potatoes. Even better, though, was the ratatouille omelet served with house-cured duck, which might best be described as a duck prosciutto. The eggplant, tomato, pepper and onion concoction was fantastic, and with the strips of duck on top . . . ooh là là.
I should note that La Plage takes its time with preparation. We were seated right away, but had to wait a while before our food was served. It’s a modest kitchen, well-run but with a small staff (all very attentive and charming, as is Spanier herself), and La Plage states right on the menu board “Not fast food!” The wonderful results are worth it, however, and the fresh bread and butter and bite-sized squares of croque monsieur that she offered with our coffee helped take the edge off our appetites somewhat.
We saved just enough room to share a chocolate croissant at the conclusion of our meal — largely inspired by the golden-brown goodies we saw on the counter the moment we walked in. It did not disappoint. Fresh, soft, flaky and buttery — Spanier is as handy with a baking sheet as she is with a skillet. I’ve heard that her French pastries are the best you’ll find outside of Paris; and if that croissant was any indication, those rumors just might be true.
La Plage is not fancy, but it is gourmet … and the somewhat higher price point compared to your average breakfast joint attests to that. A slower pace gives diners a chance to sit, relax and savor in the French style. And when the food is this good, you don’t want to rush. So bring some friends, an appetite and a generous spirit. Patience is a virtue at La Plage, one that will be well-rewarded.