Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Matt's 40th birthday weekend - Ojai, CA

Ojai, Oh my
I’d never heard of Ojai (pronounced ‘Oh-hi’) before my buddy rented a house there for her husband’s birthday. And who knew that an hour north of LA the mountains dipped like roller coasters and blew a dry, desert air that brought on symptoms of summer nostalgia and inner calm?

Arcade wins:
Ojai’s arcade, a line of shops and restaurants about two miles from the house, brought us to Barrel 33, a former tasting room under new ownership where we chatted and sipped wine...but where were our appetizers?

Our order:
-Proscuitto wrapped dates with goat cheese
-Goat cheese stuffed mushrooms
-Nibble plate of cheese, chocolate and nuts

Roll out the Barrel: After about 20 minutes we finally got our goodies and the waitress explained that the kitchen had run out of proscuitto, so they went to the store for more. Wow! That was way more ambitious than just telling us they were out...worth the wait.

Stuffed mushrooms were also done to perfection and even the “nibble plate” had delectable choices like Manchego, along with simple, but noticeable touches like toasting the nuts.

Ask the locals: We decided on dinner at home since our rental had a six-burner stove (along with an outside grill), so we asked the waitress (a 35 year local) where to find fresh meat and fish. She pointed down the road, so we hiked a few blocks to the mini-grocery store with a decent meat counter and then zigzagged across the street to Sea Fresh Market.

Fish course:
Blackened shrimp with brown butter
Grilled halibut marinated in olive oil and garlic

Meat course:
Filet mignon, rib-eye and strip steak – everyone chose their favorite cut: grilled medium rare and topped with a thin slice of gooey, pungent blue cheese
Crispy oven potatoes with roasted garlic and grated parmesan
Grilled asparagus

Banjo belligerence:
After dinner (and many, many glasses of wine), the men-folk took out some instruments: a guitar and banjo. So I decided to lend my own voice. I felt inspired by this quiet town, so I crooned an impromptu song:

Ojai, oh my
Ojai, oh hi!

Yeah, it was pretty annoying, the first (and fiftieth) time I sang it...time for bed.

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