Ojai, which in Spanish means ‘Valley of the Moon’ is one of those under-the-radar destinations that everyone who knows about but is torn whether to keep for themselves or share with others. The excellence of the food served at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa’s (which recently underwent a most tasteful $70 million renovation) signature restaurant, Maravilla, just adds to that dilemma.
Located a short 90 minutes (w/o traffic…at least double that with) from LAX , the sleepy town of Ojai was most famous for being cast as the mythical Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s classic 1937 movie “Lost Horizon,” although the real inside story is that due to the length of the movie, all the Ojai scenes were cut.
By the end of our first day there we found out the local Ojai residents include Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Larry Hagman, Malcolm Macdowell and everyone from Anthony Hopkins to writer-producer David Zucker has recently snatched up property. The latest buzz is that Jerry Bruckheimer just bought a $25 million spread there so I guess it’s OK for me to let the “secret” out!
My DInner at Maravilla was Simply Mahvelous!
After fighting rush-hour traffic, we were more than ready for a relaxing dinner in the warm, welcoming dining room, complete with fireplace. Although the seasonal ala-carte menu tempted me with upscale comfort-food offerings such as Kobe Beef Slider & Truffled Potato Bouquets; after one peek at the special wine-tasting dinner for $150, there was no turning back.
Our evening opened with a little gift from the kitchen, a few sips of yellow heirloom tomato gazpacho. Taste buds, Ready, Set, Go!
Not yet content to begin for real, the Chef sent out another amuse bouche. This time a petite salade, fresh from the local organic farm. Comprised of tiny beets with their rail- thin, leafy stems still intact, teensie weensie radishes the size of cheerios, and gorgeous fluffy lettuce–but where was my wine?
The next course shone, Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with Ruby Grapefruit and Serrano Ham nibblets splashed in a sweet basil foam. Oh, here’s our sommelier, bringing a 2004 Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc from Faith Vineyard, which paired perfectly with the salty ham and citrus.
The Alaskan Sable sported a delectable crisped skin, accessorized byHen of the Woods ‘shrooms, baby chard, with some Fois Gras and Cranberry Beans creatively completing the mix. Provocatively matched with a Whitcraft, Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, 2004 to which my dining partner and I gave an enthusiastic double thumbs up.
When the Niman Ranch Lamb Loin came with it’s tasty trappings- Sicilian pistachio,sweet and sour eggplant and a small swish of smoked butternut squash, there was no doubt left that the Chef deserved all the kudo’s we had read.
Save room for the dessert–which also includes a pre and post offering. “Pre” was a zingy little palate-cleanser of Chocolate, Wasabi and Lime, which cleared the way for dessert-proper. A deep, dark, dense warm chocolate mousse served with interesting side-kicks of pear sorbet, candied pear and hazelnut. Sipping my glass of Barreto Cellars, Vintage Port, Lodi 2003 I thought,”hmmmmm, a girl could get real used to this”– and the little”Post” take-home box of fresh baked macaroons and tropical marshmellows.
Service at Maravilla is exactly as it should be… Everywhere, knowledgable, fun, friendly yet highly professional, without any of that hovering nonsense that can be so annoying. Indeed, it seemed like our waiters were real people who truly loved their jobs and took personal pride in making sure their guests to had a wonderful time. We did.