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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | TIDBITS

Old Train Car Back in the Dining Business

The 90-year-old structure will house an expanded version of Rosita's Kitchen, which closed its Saticoy site in May.

June 20, 1996|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

That old, orange train car at 3029 E. Main St. in Ventura has just about chugged full circle.

Originally a Southern Pacific dining car, the approximately 90-year-old structure has taken on many identities over the years, as a circus train, a restaurant and dance hall, an antiques store, a motorcycle dealership, a hobby shop and, last winter, a holiday boutique.

And now the train is poised, once again, to be a dining spot, a much larger version of Rosita's Kitchen of Saticoy, which closed its doors just after Mother's Day. The new restaurant is scheduled to open around Aug. 1, pending several renovations--including the installation of a kitchen and possibly a performance stage.

Jim Nye, who with his wife, Cathi, manages the train car, said he received quite a few offers from business owners wanting to move into the nearly 3,000-square-foot car, but he was picky, wanting to maintain the sense of history behind it.

The train car is owned by Jim Nye's mother, Carol Nye, and his grandmother, Juanita Vavruche. It was Vavruche's husband, Jimmy Vavruche, who purchased the car from a circus owner for $10,000, brought it to Ventura and then plopped it down on Main Street.

"It used to be called the Deluxe Diner when it was first put here," Jim Nye said. "This is dead-on what we were looking for. We were looking for somebody who had an authentic, quality food and was willing to take a chance on making it a restaurant again."

Nye said he entertained offers from a Harley-Davidson dealership, a day spa and a plumber. He said he even considered dividing the train into mini-office spaces.

"It would have cost me a lot less and been more profitable than what I'm getting into," Nye said, "but this will give me a good place to eat, and I think it is more suited to this." The restaurant's owner, Rosa Sanchez-Agundez, was out of town and unavailable for comment, but Nye said the establishment will serve the homemade tortillas and other authentic Mexican cuisine Sanchez-Agundez was known for in Saticoy.

In addition, he said, Sanchez-Agundez will probably prepare specials that coincide with the themes of the rotating art exhibits at gallery one one one, the art house that shares the three-parcel lot with the train car.

"She is open to doing Cuban, Native American and other foods," Nye said.

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Napa's Rutherford Hill winery will provide the drink and Le Rendez-Vous Restaurant of Newbury Park will provide the eats for a five-course wine dinner Monday night.

The meal will open with Canadian Scallops Riviera (scallops in a tomato sauce with a touch of garlic), followed by fresh mixed vegetables with chicken in mayonnaise and then a white bean soup. The main course will be roast pork rack au jus, and, for dessert, chocolate pecan pie.

As for that last item, it's a specialty of Victoria Zanni, mother of Le Rendez-Vous owner Francois Zanni Jr.

"I have made it before and people have raved about it," said mom, who supervises much of the food preparation at the restaurant. "It is made with half and half and dark chocolate and is baked like a pecan pie."

The wine list for the evening will include a couple of 1993 Chardonnays, a 1994 Merlot, a 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1991 port.

Dinner will begin at 7 p.m. Cost is $53 per person. Call 498-1019 for reservations. The restaurant is at 1282 Newbury Road.

*

How successful was the Ojai Wine Festival '96? The June 9 event at Lake Casitas attracted such a large crowd--more than 3,200 people--that organizers almost ran out of wine glasses.

"Last year we had under 2,500 people, so I ordered about 3,300 glasses," said Austin Cline, festival chairman. "We went into what we had for our reserve."

Final figures aren't in yet, but Cline estimated the festival, put on by the Ojai West Rotary club, brought in $45,000 total, about $20,000 net. Funds will go toward the club's community projects.

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