Itook my son, Teddy, to Lorenzoni's for dinner the other night. Teddy's a good person to take out to eat because, while he takes his food very seriously, he always leaves plenty on his plate for me.
It was dark when we got down to Ventura Harbor, so we couldn't enjoy the view much; we couldn't even see it. The whole complex of shops and restaurants was deserted and a bit forlorn. I felt as if we had shown up at a party after everyone else had gone home.
But Lorenzoni's was a pleasant oasis--albeit a small one. The food preparation area seemed larger than the dining area, and we couldn't help having the impression that most people buy their food here and take it elsewhere to eat.
Teddy and I shared a lovely Mexican corn chowder--full of fresh kernels of corn and shreds of red pepper--in a hot and satisfying broth. Lorenzoni's is big on melted cheese, and a lot of their sandwiches are "melts." The tuna melt came with the reassuring guarantee that it was "dolphin free," so I felt obliged to order it. A generous portion of tuna, covered with melted Cheddar cheese, tasted good but struck me as more of a casserole than a sandwich.
The arrival of boxes of fresh-baked bread as we were eating our meal made it clear that our timing was off; sure enough, both our sandwiches were made on somewhat stale bread. There was nothing stale, however, about the delicious pasta salad--a perfect blend of pasta shells, tomatoes, olives, zucchini, green peppers and fresh, sweet tarragon. I loved it. I also loved the muffins, which could have passed anywhere as classy desserts.
The owner of this place can really bake. There is a whole case filled with freshly baked sweets that you won't want to miss. They go well with the coffees, which can be ordered in a myriad of flavors, from the ornate espresso machine. Even the sugars came in exotic guises.
I figured that Lorenzoni's would be more cheerful in the light of day, and I went back with my friend Elizabeth just to prove that my hunch was correct. In the sunlight, the harbor, with its blue and white boats and glistening green ocean, was enchanting. Off in the distance were the golden hills of Ventura. If this was a tourist spot, I wanted to be a tourist.
I ordered scrambled eggs with avocado slices, served on a fat chunk of sourdough bread. Although the dish was somewhat plain, I was perfectly happy . . . until Elizabeth slipped me a sliver of her sandwich. The Lombardo special also came on sourdough bread, but there its resemblance to what I was eating ended. Chopped marinated olives and sun-dried tomatoes were covered by a fat slice of fresh tomato and then a blanket of melted mozzarella. I looked greedily at the huge half sandwich still left on Elizabeth's plate, but I was doomed to disappointment. Elizabeth is the one person I know who hates to give away any of the food on her plate. I stared longingly at the Lombardo; the only thing Elizabeth offered me were her happy comments as she ate. Where was Teddy when I needed him?
I had to console myself with a snickerdoodle--a sweet, perfectly delicious, chewy sugar cookie with a light dusting of cinnamon. I didn't offer Elizabeth one bite.
WHERE AND WHEN
Lorenzoni's, 1575 Spinnaker Drive (in the Ventura Harbor), (805) 658-2228. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday. No alcoholic beverages, parking lot, no cards, lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12-$20.