Worldly tapas in Thousand Oaks

By Allison Costa 08/11/2011

TOI Tapas Bar and Lounge
75 W. Thousand Oaks Blvd
Thousand Oaks
373-8785
$6-$18


It was the menu that got me. Ingredients like braised pork belly and crab beignets don’t pop up on every menu you see, so I knew that this TOI Tapas Bar was worth looking into. Plus, the website talks about local ingredients and relationships forged with local farmers … all the right words to pique any foodie’s interest. A date was set, a reservation made, and next thing we knew, there we were … at the Best Western Inn?

Yes, TOI Tapas is located at the Thousand Oaks Best Western Inn, the newest eatery to sit in that location. Ready to dig into the enticing menu I’d studied online, we trudged through the hotel lobby and were quickly seated in the restaurant’s dining room. The space was dimly lit with a trendy-looking bar and a glowing pizza oven, yet we couldn’t help but notice that the tables and chairs were reminiscent of a hotel banquet room.

The menu at TOI is an overwhelming list — wood-fired pizzas and paninis, soups, salads, and loads of tapas representing cuisines from all over the world. Beer, wine and an extensive cocktail list round out the picture. Over the course of the evening, we ordered a few things at a time, and were pleased with the prompt and friendly service.
As we decided what to order, our server brought us a plate of the thickest slices of focaccia bread I’ve ever seen.

Fluffy, warm and topped with herbs, it happily absorbed the olive oil and balsamic we dipped it into. The chef also prepared us a refreshing amuse bouche — a single bite of finely chopped fresh fruit topped with a vibrant purple beet purée — a nice touch, and yet again, not something you see everyday.

Of all the tapas we ordered, the stars were the ahi poke tacos and the chicken pupusas. The crunchy taco shells were filled with seaweed salad and chunks of sweet ahi and drizzled with a spicy wasabi aioli. The pupusas were stuffed with tender shredded chicken, topped with a spicy jalapeño slaw, and finished with a mild red salsa. Both dishes were bold and flavorful.

The jumbo lump crab beignets were filled with crabmeat, topped with a green and yellow pepper relish, and finished with a creole remoulade. While the texture of the beignets was perfect, the bitterness of the green peppers overshadowed the whole dish. The roasted pork tenderloin tostones offered a rainbow of colors with a purple fruit relish and dark-green Creole mojo sauce. While the meat was tender, the whole dish came up short on flavor.

It is worth knowing that the portion sizes for the tapas err on the small side, each offering just enough for two people to share, sometimes just a few bites per person. For parties of three or more, you may want to order double of each dish.

Tempted by the looks of the wood-burning oven, we perused the pizza options on the menu. One is topped with andouille sausage and tasso ham, another offers grilled shrimp, micro greens and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Wanting something simple, we opted for the margherita, topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella. Though the freshness of the ingredients shone through, the pizza could have used a few more minutes in the oven. The outer crust was golden brown and chewy, yet the bottom crust was soft and drooped as we picked up each slice.

Wanting to sample some of the heartier fare at TOI, we chose the braised California grass-fed short ribs. The tender beef was sitting on top of a buttery celery root purée, accompanied by roasted carrots, turnips, onions and cauliflower, and finished with a balsamic butter drizzle. This rather autumnal dish was comforting and well-executed.

The dessert list at TOI is just as impressive as the rest of the menu, including options like Oxnard strawberry shortcake and a Belgian brownie with caramel gelato. Upon the recommendation of our server, we chose the New Orleans-style beignet with vanilla bean affogato: three tiny beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar served with a small dish of vanilla bean ice cream, over which we poured a shot of hot espresso. As the ice cream melted with the espresso, we dipped the beignets into the thick syrup.

Though it’s still finding its way in the local culinary scene, it is clear that with its use of local ingredients and its broad, worldly menu, TOI Tapas is not your average hotel eatery.   

Visit my blog: www.venturafoodhappenings.com, and check out my new food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com.

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