In Ventura, in the '50s and '60s, there were two "special" spots. One was The Sportsman, which proved in a recent visit to be just as good as I remembered it to be. The other was the Pierpont Inn.
In those days the inn was virtually the only hotel of any quality in the city. You might even have called it an oceanfront place, as the freeway had not yet come between it and the beaches below. The owners, in fact, battled construction of the freeway for some years.
It was not a successful fight; the inn's restaurant now looks out across six lanes of howling traffic. And that is just one of the reasons that the Pierpont Inn is no longer the place to go for that "special" evening.
If you're not looking out at the traffic from the front dining room, you are sitting in a room so drab it is almost indescribably boring. You might, of course, be in the bar area, which would not be so bad if the bartender would be consistent. One day he pours a reasonably decent drink; the next day he doesn't.
The food is equally iffy. The shrimp in the shrimp cocktail, at least once, came out tasting fresh and firm. But what they call a crisp chicken-stuffed won-ton appetizer was filled with a sort of dry ground chicken.
Entrees weren't much better. The steak au poivre was just another piece of meat drowned in an over-peppered sauce. The "famous" Pierpont Inn abalone steak, in all its expensive glory, turned out to be a mushy piece of seafood in a pasty breading. Hazelnut chicken, a boned breast in a crisp nutty crust, was sauteed in a Dijon wine mustard cream sauce that was lamentably thin. And although the scampi were fresh and nicely cooked, they were drenched in so much olive oil, garlic and spices that the poor things were just overwhelmed.
The best thing I've had here was served at lunch: the deep-fried seafood platter. The kitchen obviously took care to cook each item separately--and for a different amount of time. The result was that each piece of seafood was moist and perfectly cooked.
Desserts are probably the weakest part of the menu. Suffice it to say that they reminded me of those cream pies and cobbler-type things we used to get in line at the mess hall.
Going back to the Pierpont Inn turned out to be a major disappointment. I can't help wondering: Has the Pierpont Inn changed? Or have I? One thing I do know--these days Ventura offers diners a lot more choices than it did back in my youth.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Pierpont Inn, 550 SanJon Road, Ventura, 653-6144. Open seven days a week 7-10:30 a.m.; Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:45-9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Full bar. Major credit cards accepted, reservations accepted. Lunch for two, food only, $20-$38. Dinner for two, food only, $32-$55. Recommended dishes: jumbo shrimp cocktail, $7.50; seafood platter, $10.95.