Julian’s Restaurant and Bar
2433 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo
When Verona Trattoria closed at the end of February, regulars and locals knew that it wasn’t truly the end. The Perez family, who started the popular Italian eatery in the 1990s, had something else up their sleeve: a new location and a new concept for a new generation. Julio and Jerry (sons of Verona founder Pomposo) moved a few storefronts and revamped the name and the menu, opening Julian’s Restaurant and Bar last spring.
If you are picturing a Verona II, think again. There’s a full bar, for one thing, as well as live music and DJs. The traditional Italian fare has been replaced with “gourmet California cuisine.” While some of the Verona furnishings are being put to use, Julian’s feels more modern.
Arriving on a Friday evening, the restaurant was busy but not packed, with plenty of empty tables and booths inside and out. That wouldn’t last — 20 minutes later, Julian’s appeared to be the happening spot on the block. The room and patio filled up, the bar was standing room only and black-shirted servers were dashing about to satisfy all of us. Good for them: Old Town isn’t exactly devoid of cafes, and at just shy of four months since opening, Julian’s has a following.
Perusing the menu, we quickly discovered that “gourmet California cuisine” means some Italian, some Mexican and some standards. I guess that’s not un-Californian. I was surprised not to have a “curated cocktail menu” as advertised on the website. Perhaps I’m spoiled by all the local gastropubs and prestige bars, but I expected something showing Julian’s mixological prowess. Undaunted, my friend ordered an 805 (on tap), I asked for a Manhattan, and we called it good.
We started with the beer-battered artichoke hearts, which proved to be plenty for a party of four. Served in a creamy lemon, garlic and white wine sauce, the vegetables were plenty rich but not as flavorful as I would have hoped. The sauce, however, was delicious, and my friend remarked that it would be good over pasta.
My husband ordered the steak and enchilada combination. The chimichurri-marinated beef was absolutely delicious, very tender with a pronounced herb-and-garlic flavor. The enchilada was very simple: cheese with red sauce, and really quite small. With beans and rice the dish was certainly filling enough, but maybe the enchilada could have been a little less pedestrian.
Another dining companion also stuck to the Mexican side of the menu, ordering the enchiladas poblanas (essentially chicken enchiladas in a mole sauce). The chicken was a tad dry; the sauce was fantastic but a little skimpy — more of that tasty mole would have elevated the dish.
My other companion and I gave the Italian offerings a whirl. She tried the beef carpaccio from the appetizer menu — and it was universally declared the best dish of the night. Slices of rare meat were neatly arranged on a bed of fresh arugula and topped with an amazing Dijon dressing and olive oil. The tender, sweet beef, peppery greens and zippy sauce came together beautifully.
I took a pasta for the team, ordering the lobster fettucine. With a fragrant saffron cream sauce and fresh lobster meat sautéed in butter, this isn’t exactly a light dish, but it is quite good. It’s a big pile of pasta and very rich; expect to take home leftovers unless you’re really hungry.
When foot-high flames rising from a cart at a nearby table caught our eye, we knew how we were capping off our meal. The bananas Foster was prepared tableside (of course) and it was a joy to watch, with all the fanfare one would expect. If dinner and a show is what you desire, the traditional dessert made from bananas flambé and vanilla ice cream will fit the bill. Want something less theatrical? There are cheesecake, chocolate cake, tiramisu and cannoli.
Overall, Julian’s gave us good food and a good time. The menu isn’t revolutionary, but it’s solid, with enough of the old Verona’s flair to please its loyal fan base. Whether Julian’s will enjoy the decades-long staying power of its predecessor is hard to say, but judging by the buzz, it’s off to a promising start.