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Trip Report: 5 days in LA, Ventura, Ojai

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Restaurants visited:
-In ‘n’ Out
-Chosun Galbee
-Jim and Rob’s Fresh Grill
-Suzanne’s Cuisine
-Movino
-Ozeki Sushi
-Wok ‘n’ South
-Luscious Dumpling
-Tea at the Biltmore
-Auberge

I’m a native southern Californian, currently living in Boston, and I just got back from a trip with my husband to visit the fam and friends in southern and cental CA. Central CA and Bay Area posts to follow. I took a number of photos, but can't seem to get chowhound to upload them right, so here they are on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericaamc...

On leaving for California, I had a list of something over 30 restaurants I wanted to try. For a 10 day trip. Obviously, I didn't get to check everything off my to-do list. My husband's list, on the other hand, was finished off on our first night in town, when, after we arrived late due to a delayed flight, we hit up IN ‘N’ OUT for a quick dinner. It’s not the best burger in the universe, of course, but there is a reason there are lines out of the parking lot. Personally, I love the buns, enjoy the burgers, and don’t care for the fries.

We spent the next day snowboarding in Big Bear, and the best thing I can say about the food at Bear Mountain is that by the time you eat it, you are so sore and exhausted that just about anything would be delicious!

That night, however, we ate at CHOSUN GALBEE. While I love Korean food, this was my first experience with real Korean BBQ (not counting a couple encounters at somewhat questionable pan-asian buffets), so I wished we had a veteran there to advise us. We ended up ordering bulgogi, chosun galbee short ribs, seafood pancake and job chae. This, along with the bountiful banchan, was more than enough for three people.

The meat was very good, nicely marbled and really good rich flavors. The seafood pancake was probably the best I’ve had, with a high ratio of seafood to batter and a real harmony between the different seafood flavors and the batter. Job chae is probably my least favorite Korean dish, and Chosun Galbee's version didn’t change my mind – it was bland and oily. The banchan included some really fantastic kim chee, good cucumber, and fish cakes, and five or six other things, all tasty. While it was a great meal, I don’t think I would eat here often – the prices really kept us from ordering as much meat as I liked (though of course there was more than enough food). I suspect I would be happier at one of the other options discussed on the board for Koreatown.

The next day we spent in Ojai. Lunch was JIM AND ROB’S FRESH GRILL. I’ve been living in or visiting Ojai most of my life, and I’ve usually enjoyed Jim and Rob’s for basic cal-mex. But since my last visit there, they’ve moved into a new building, and I think they’ve lost a lot of charm as well as flavor. I had a carnitas taco and a fish taco. The fish taco was disappointing – the fish was clearly not that fresh – but the carnitas was decent. Unfortunately, neither lived up to meals I’ve eaten there in the past, nor did my husband and mother’s meals.

After a hike up Sisar Canyon, we went to SUZANNE’S CUISINE. My expectations for Suzanne’s were pretty high, as it has a great reputation around town. I ordered trout, which was deliciously cooked and seasoned. Unfortunately, it was served on a bed of plain white rice. It was actually kind of distracting, taking a bite of trout and then the rice – just not a successful combination. Brown or wild rice would have been a much more complementary flavor, but I have to say that one of the reasons it turned me off is that I expected something more complicated or subtle from a restaurant with a reputation for "fine cuisine". Around the table it was the same story – the meat or fish was perfect, but the sides were a let-down. On the positive side, however, the space is gorgeous, a very pleasant place to eat.

We topped off the night with dessert and wine at MOVINO. I like Movino, it is always a good place to kick back with some wine, but I’m pretty sure their desserts are premade/outsourced, so we ordered the chocolate cheesecake rather than the souffle cake, and it was surprisingly good.

On Tuesday we headed down to Ventura to visit family, and due to a time crunch we ended up eating lunch at OZEKI SUSHI. The sushi was blah, the rolls were mediocre, with poor flavor/ingredient balance, and to top it off, the tempura ice cream had this absolutely terrible cakey batter that was thick and undercooked. I would have been happier if we stuck with nigiri and sashimi only.

That night, we went to WOK N’ SOUTH. Mongolian BBQ is my favorite made-up cuisine. I just love it, and I can’t seem to find it on the east coast. Wok n’ South is not the best I’ve had, but it is more than serviceable when you’ve got the craving. It serves up all the essentials (sesame pocket bread, lamb, cilantro, and garlic are my must-haves) in a no-nonsense, no-frills manner.

On Wednesday, we were back in LA to sightsee. We made a detour to San Gabriel to eat lunch at LUCIOUS DUMPLING. I wish there had been more than three of us, as I wanted to order everything on the menu. We settled on chive, pork, egg and shrimp dumplings, soup dumplings, pork knuckles and bok choy. The bok choy and the pork knuckles were both simply amazing. SO GOOD. The pork, especially, had this hint of five-spice flavor that was just right with the cool, chewy slices. As for the dumplings, the fillings were fantastic, but I prefer the thinner-skinned varieties. If I could go again (and I will, I hope), I would order the dumplings pan-fried, which I prefer for the thick-skinned dumpling. I would also try the soup, which looked great. An older couple next to us ordered two giant bowls of soup with sides of dumplings, plus three other orders of dumplings – all together, that’s about twice what we ordered for three people - and all I could think was, man, I wish I were that hungry!!

That afternoon, we made an attempt at sightseeing, but the MOCA was closed and it started to rain pretty seriously, so we found refuge and cucumber sandwiches at the BILTMORE. They serve a delightful full-on tea, complete with tea-cozies, champagne, and a wide variety of treats. The sandwiches were adorable, with all the right ingredient ratios. The tart shells were perfectly crisp and flaky. Cakes, scones, and chocolate strawberries were all great. The perfect escape for a rainy afternoon, and after all, the tea room is practically a sight in itself, with its ornate ceiling and arches.

That night, as if we hadn’t already eaten enough for three days, we had reservations at AUBERGE in Ojai. I guess this restaurant is under new management, and has been making some waves. I don’t usually care one way or the other about service, although it is nice if it matches the atmosphere of the place, but I definitely noticed that the waiters seemed over-trained and under-experienced here, as if they were new. That may have been due to it being a slow weekday night.

As far as the food, it certainly was a contrast to Suzanne’s. All of the meat was again, perfectly cooked. My husband claims that my steak was the best dish on the table, while I voted for the rich, tender pork he ordered. My mom’s lamb was also great, and it had a subtle and delicious Mediterranean spice blend. The side dishes were what made the difference - they were complex and, frankly, hit-or-miss. My mom’s grilled vegetables were well-paired to the lamb, while my bitter, burnt radicchio and sautéed mushrooms and onions did not go with my steak. The mashed potatoes studded with fava beans that came with the pork were good, but would have been better if the favas had been separate. We finished with a chocolate cup/soufflé thing, cooked while we waited and devoured immediately. It was incredibly rich and absolutely delicious. Even with the misses, I would pick this over Suzanne's.

Not bad for five days - highlights were definitely Luscious Dumpling and tea at the Biltmore. My only regret is that I didn't eat any ramen... one thing that is absolutely impossible to find in Boston!

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Luscious Dumplings
704 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776

Chosun Galbi Restaurants
3330 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Suzanne's Cuisine
502 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023

Rendezvous Court at the Biltmore Hotel
506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90071-2607

In-N-Out Burger
761 N San Fernando Blvd, Burbank, CA

Jim & Rob's Fresh Grill
1876 E Main St, Ventura, CA 93001

Movino Wine Bar & Gallery
308 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA

Auberge At Ojai
314 El Paseo Rd, Ojai, CA 93023

Wok'n South Mongolian BBQ
2835 E Main St, Ventura, CA 93003

 
 
 
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