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Critics' Choices : Our reviewers cook up a short list of their favorite area restaurants

June 15, 1995|David Goldman

Its location, tucked away just off the beach in Ventura, may be obscure, but the tiny, rustic room that is Juro' Cho' Sushi is a superb setting for the mouthwatering sushi and fish dished out by chef-owner George Lee. The wooden bench at the sushi bar--crowded with locals--is great for sipping sake while awaiting the supply of warm, sticky rice to catch up with the flashing hands and knives of the sushi chef.

At no other place in the region does the rich yellowtail collar come so gently off the grill and with such succulence, basted with teriyaki sauce. And I rarely tear myself away without trying the lovely crunch of the Hanalei roll--salmon, yellowtail, tuna, onion and avocado--deep-fried in a light tempura batter.

The melt-in-your-mouth dish? Give me the hot-and-cold sashimi, a gorgeous piece of bluefin tuna, seared momentarily on the grill with a touch of butter, then lathered in a sweet sake and soy sauce, with a bit of salsa.

* Juro' Cho' Sushi, 1054 Seaward Ave., Ventura, 652-0382. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$38.

****

Tuck's Point is so New England-authentic that it even serves--straight from the East Coast--traditional Sunbeam rolls. When the Sunbeams are slathered with large chunks of fresh lobster in a mayonnaise and celery sauce or filled with fried whole clam bellies, you've got a real Down Easter meal.

Boston baked beans are made from scratch, and the Boston clam chowder is equally authentic, jammed with clams and potatoes, rich and creamy.

But lobsters are the thing here. They are brought in several times a week from--where else?--Tuck's Point, Mass. They're large and so sweet I don't even use butter.

The fresh seafood here combines with a view that blends into the sparkling Ventura Marina and its sailboats, a fittingly nautical setting to dine by.

* Tucks Point, 1567 Spinnaker Ave., Ventura, 644-2644. Dinner for two, food only, $18-58.

****

The building's a nondescript, converted house on the main drag in Ojai. When Suzanne Roll, an enthusiastic but amateur cook, opened Suzanne's 2 1/2 years ago, she'd never been in the restaurant business--a combination that is usually the kiss of death. But her food. . . .

Try the crab and corn cake in a lemon-cream sauce; it's large and firm, lightly breaded. Or the pork tenderloin--moist, tender, always cooked just the way you ask for it. Side dishes are excellent, notably the cabbage, cooked with butter and a few sour cherries. Or those little zucchini flowers, stuffed with a creamy, mild goat cheese.

For dessert, try the warm chocolate tart with white coffee sauce. It's crusty on the edge, soft and rich in the middle, not too sweet with a slightly burnt flavor.

Best of all is bouillabaisse, a rich broth with fresh fish and shellfish cooked to succulence, accompanied by grated Gruyere cheese, sharp rouille and garlic toast.

* Suzanne's Cuisine, 502 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 640-1961. Dinner for two, food only, $16-$78.

PERSONAL FAVORITES

I've got to confess, I really go for the simpler stuff. When I want real American food--and a bar and red-leather booths and wood-paneled walls--I head for The Sportsman in downtown Ventura, a restaurant that hasn't changed much since it opened 45 years ago.

Try the large plate of liver, breaded and grilled, smothered in fried onions, never overcooked. Or three beautifully grilled center-cut lamb chops--and the best filet mignon in town. Besides, where else can I hear stories from Hank, sitting next to me at the bar, a retired barber who's been coming here since the mid-1950s?

At La Gloria, near the Transportation Center in Oxnard, colorful pinatas hang from the ceiling and the aroma of fresh corn tortillas is everywhere. Part of an adjoining Latino market, La Gloria's food is as authentic Mexican as it gets. Meats--barbecued pork and roasted goat, supplemented by their own juices--are superb, as is the gordita , a fried ball of corn masa filled with barbecued pork ready to be cracked open and spiked with hot sauce.

Papagallo's in Ojai has the best Peruvian seafood this side of the Equator (for a complete rundown, see this week's Restaurant Review).

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