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Spring Cleaning

Secret Garden's new owners revamp the menu but keep the lovely flowers.

May 13, 2000|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It seems appropriate that Secret Garden in Moorpark is blossoming anew at this time of the year after sitting dormant for several months.

And the renewal is reaching beyond the fabulous array of flowers at the restaurant's showy Victorian garden. New owners Michel and Laurea Bardavid are refreshing the restaurant.

Patrons familiar with the downtown High Street location will appreciate that little has changed aesthetically.

The Bardavids have made it a priority to preserve the restaurant's part rustic, part turn-of-the-century elegance. It's the cuisine, under the direction of chef Michel, that is changing.

Secret Garden was staunchly highbrow under its founders, Bob and Sandra "Alex" Sofsky. Its well-received menu was pricey to say the least.

Bardavid has chosen to implement a more moderately priced a la carte menu. His intent is to attract a clientele beyond the coterie of regulars that frequented the restaurant before the Sofskys closed it in October.

Bardavid--whose prior employers include the Sherwood Country Club, Boccaccio's and the Bel-Air Hotel--is quick to define his food as French-American.

"It has more variety than French California," he said.

His definition provides a broader offering of ethnic stylings, with influences ranging from Southwestern to Pacific Rim.

Bardavid's dishes emphasize an architectural flair and are colorfully dressed with contrasting sauces and fresh ingredients.

The term vertical describes some of the entree presentations, like the pan-seared Chilean sea bass. The fillet sits at the peak of a black bean compote and is completed with a salsa verde, finely cut tricolored tortilla chips and bell pepper coulis.

Seasonal changes in local agriculture and fishing will guide the regular menu and weekly specials. And you can expect Bardavid to push the envelope a bit in Moorpark.

"I won't go too crazy, but I would like to do some things a little more eccentric," he said.

Come winter, Bardavid said he will prepare wild game, including venison and boar. And when Moorpark is ready, he will offer foie gras, which many consider to be the ultimate luxury of French gastronomy.

But Bardavid thinks the ages-old delicacy is at least a year away.

"As soon as I have the clientele, I will bring foie gras to Moorpark," he said. In the meantime, he hopes to build a clientele with entree items ranging from $15.50 to $23.

With an entree order you have the option of complementing the meal with a generous baby green salad or soup of the day for $1.

An alcohol license is pending. When that comes, Bardavid will implement a wine list stocked with French and California wares. For now, diners can pour their own bottles of wine for a $1 corkage fee per person.

DETAILS

Secret Garden is in downtown Moorpark at 255 E. High St. Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: Tue.-Thur., 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.; Sun., 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday brunch: 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Call 552-9523.

Rodney Bosch writes about the restaurant scene in Ventura County and outlying points. He can be reached at 653-7572, fax 653-7576 or by e-mail at: rodney.bosch@latimes.com.

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