Cocovin Restaurant and Bar
4308 Tradewinds Drive, Oxnard
Two years ago, an internationally acclaimed chef took over a space in Oxnard’s tony Seabridge neighborhood and brought in something vastly different for the area. With a prix fixe menu that changed daily, communal dining and a price point that suited its exceptionally prepared and skillfully plated culinary masterpieces, James Chan’s Brasserie Communautaire quickly earned a reputation for exquisite farm-to-table fare and a dining experience meant to appeal to those who appreciate the experience, as well as the flavors, of haute cuisine.
Sadly, it was not to last. A little more than a year later, the space changed hands. Alan Nguyen took over and, with Chan acting as mentor and former Brasserie C sous chef Jorge Angel in charge of the kitchen, the menu was revamped to a more traditional (if still French-inspired) format. It also got a new name, Cocovin by Brasserie Communautaire, and a reputation for a decent happy hour.
The restaurant is undergoing changes once again. After a mid-summer shutdown, it aims to distance itself further from its impressive but short-lived predecessor. There are now vibrant, primary colors on the walls (although the black ceiling and the gorgeous modern chandelier remain) and Italian-inspired fare on the menu.
Arriving on a warm summer Wednesday, the restaurant — now simply called Cocovin — was busy if not packed. Despite the changes, the local clientele still flock to the space (although a server confided to me that customers miss the old happy hour).
The homemade bread brought to the table while we perused the menu was absolutely wonderful. Soft and a little sweet with a beautiful crust, it came with both house-churned butter and an olive oil/balsamic dipping sauce. It was a promising start to the meal, and our only complaint was that there wasn’t more.
Cocovin features a decent wine list, but I was more intrigued by the full bar. No house cocktail menu yet exists, so I ordered an Old-Fashioned . . . and was very happy with the choice. It’s fun to let a creative bartender’s imagination run wild, but I will never complain about a well-prepared standard.
The steamed clams and mussels on the appetizer menu were the perfect size for our shellfish-loving 12-year-old — and gave us a chance to sample this delectable starter. The very flavorful broth was creamier than I would have expected (no mention of dairy on the menu) but it was undeniably delicious. Once his generous slice of toast was devoured, our son happily finished off the broth with a spoon.
Our other son ordered the shrimp scampi, and the entire table was impressed by the large prawns that were nestled onto a bed of homemade fettucini. Perfectly cooked with ample garlic, every bite was a joy. The sauce for the pasta was delicate, allowing the seafood to take center stage.
My own pasta dish — ragu di funghi pasta — was disappointing by comparison. The sauce was tomato-based, and while there were plenty of mushrooms, the acidic paste overwhelmed their earthy flavor and left the gravy, overall, a little one-dimensional. The fettucini was also a bit of a letdown: The noodles were inconsistently cooked, with several underdone and glued to each other.
In all fairness, the mushroom pasta was an aberration. My husband’s salmon, served over an asparagus and fennel slaw and topped with a beurre blanc, was simply incredible. “I don’t think I’ve ever had better salmon,” he said after one bite. Tasting it myself, I was tempted to agree. Fresh vegetables, buttery sauce with a touch of citrus and fresh salmon, cooked just a moment past rare, offered the perfect complement of flavors.
A few take-aways from our dinner at Cocovin. It’s still a smart, chic atmosphere, with a nice harbor view. The chef excels at seafood, but needs to elevate the pasta game. The bar is lovely, and a few craft cocktails might be worth considering. And that bread was fantastic.
I can’t say that Cocovin is filling Brasserie C’s quite substantial shoes completely. But it’s an excellent effort, at a more reasonable price point, with food that is less conceptual, perhaps, but still very satisfying. If the few weaknesses can be addressed, I think Seabridge may finally have a keeper. Third time’s the charm.