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EATS: in and around Ventura County | TIDBITS

Juggling a Mix of Menus

The new health-conscious Acorn Cafe tops the list of management duties for busy chef at the Ojai inn.


Rex Hale may soon need a map and compass to find his way around work.

The executive chef already oversees three restaurants, a banquet facility and room service at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. And as the resort grows, so do his responsibilities.

In early February a fourth restaurant, the Acorn Cafe, is scheduled to be added to Hale's daily routine.

"It's a lot of work," he said. "But it's a lot of fun."

The Acorn Cafe, part of the new $10-million spa that opened in late December, will be highly health-conscious, with the menu changing daily to accommodate guests who participate in a multi-day spa regimen.

"It's going to be a mixture of salads, sandwiches and soups--all spa-oriented with reduced fat and a lot of vegetables and a lot of different starches and grains," Hale said. "It's different, but not tricky. What's critical is really having the best ingredients."

In addition to getting the Acorn off the ground, over the past few weeks Hale has begun putting a healthier slant on the food served at the inn's casual Oak Grill.

The revised menu includes roasted vegetarian cannelloni with a red pepper and fennel sauce; pasta with chicken, broccoli, lemon and red-pepper flakes; a flat-bread sandwich of grilled Portobello mushrooms and onion sprouts; and a roasted turkey sandwich served with wild mushrooms and butternut squash wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted.

And just in case Hale doesn't have enough going on, the inn's formal restaurant, the Vista Dining Room, will undergo a full refurbishing (including new carpeting and new furniture) and a name change to the Maravilla. The place is expected to close at the start of February and open around the second week of March.

"We are going to do a daily-changing spa pre fixe menu there," Hale said. "Whereas the spa has more simple fare, the Maravilla will have more upscale, stylized food."

The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is at 905 Country Club Drive in Ojai.


Leeward Winery will host its annual "Winter Barrel Tasting" on Jan. 17 and 18. As has become a tradition at the Ventura winery, guests will have an opportunity to sample a current release of a particular wine and compare it to the taste of a newer version of that wine, still in the barrel.

The idea, said Leeward co-owner Chuck Brigham, is to show wine drinkers how the taste of a wine can change during the winemaking process.

"We're striving to show them what the wine is like on Jan. 17, 1998--what it will be like later is up to everyone's imagination," he said. "Most wines, you'll find, will be a little rougher in the barrel, a little more precocious, not as refined. But you see its potential."

Brigham and his partner Chuck Gardner will be pouring samplings of current release and barrel versions of Leeward's Napa Valley Merlot, its Edna Valley Chardonnay Reserve and a Pinot Noir from the popular Bien Nacido vineyard of the Santa Maria Valley.

"You want to mold the wine, like a piece of clay," said Brigham, of the barrel wine.

"We have the potential, and all we can hope to do is get as close to 100% of that potential as possible."

Nona's Courtyard Cafe of Ventura will serve appetizers and minestrone soup at the wine tasting. The tasting will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days at 2784 Johnson Drive. Admission is free.

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