The 2686 Kitchen
2686 Loma Vista Road, Ventura
643-7444
www.the2686.com
$3.50-$25


A dynamic duo is at it again, this time bringing their gourmet casual brand of culinary magic to a new Midtown Ventura eatery that has diners near and far hustling for a seat at the table.

The new restaurant, which opened in March, is The 2686 Kitchen, and the owners are Joby Yobe and Jorge Alem — locals, cousins and business partners with years of experience in the restaurant biz between them.

Yobe might be best-known for his Barrelhouse 101, while Alem started Ojai Beverage Company with Yobe over 10 years ago.

Both of those spots are on the pub-grub-with-a-twist spectrum. The 2686 Kitchen is a different concept altogether. Lots of veggies, interesting spices, entree salads and a more international style of menu with a California-cuisine sensibility. Along with homemade pizza there are Argentine-, Mediterranean- and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes — even a grilled cheese made with naan and a “loaded lasagna” that is perhaps an homage to Ventura Spaghetti Company, the previous occupant of the space.

The new owners have gone for an airy, open and casual aesthetic: lots of light, pale wood tables, white chairs and bright orange banquettes along one wall. A long bar with green stools is perfect for a quick bite or a drink. Right now, it’s serving up just a handful of draft beer and wine options, but a liquor license is in the works and Yobe and Alem intend to add additional taps and more wine as well.

The food, quite frankly, is wonderful. We started with the prosciutto-wrapped artichokes — Patterson Prosciutto Poppers on the menu — which were lemony and salty and just a bit rich from the gouda cheese; a great combination. The Loma steamed clams come in a delicious lager broth with bacon and lemon that, naturally, is best sopped up with crusty bread.

Our main dishes included the ribeye salad. Perfectly cooked slices of just-pink beef fanned out across fresh greens, tender and sweet roasted golden beets, goat cheese, candied walnuts and a touch of cilantro. The blackberry peppercorn vinaigrette made the perfect dressing.

The Milanesa Mendoza sandwich was enormous, with breaded chicken breast, cheese, sautéed mushrooms and heirloom tomatoes all stacked up on a fresh baguette and dressed with garlic aioli. A big mouthful, but a delicious one. We ended up taking half of it home. It came with deliciously crispy french fries. A spice market of toppings is available for these, including plain ol’ salt and pepper, chimichurri, parmesan garlic or a Middle Eastern spice mixture called za’atar. We tried the latter, and it was quite flavorful, earthy with just a hint of heat.

Pizza and macaroni are like manna from heaven for my kids, which gave us a chance to try these 2686 specialties. The restaurant’s homemade dough is great — not truly Neapolitan, but not too thick, either, with a pleasant chew. The mac featured cavatappi pasta in a house cheese sauce (lighter, whiter and less creamy than cheddar) with pancetta and a scrumptious drizzle of truffle oil. Good, and definitely more of a grownup’s idea of mac and cheese.

Yobe and Alem know a thing or two about restaurants, and it shows. Their latest endeavor hits a high standard right out of the gate, with fantastic international cuisine, good service and a comfortable, unfussy ambience. One of the easiest and most enjoyable culinary trips I’ve been on in a while — and no passport required.