Bella Victorian Vineyard Tasting Room,
Boutique and Bistro
2135 Ventura Blvd.,
Food $7.00 – $12.00,
Wine $12- $16
Curiosity. That’s what drew me there. I had been hearing about the new bistro menu introduced in early June, and the arrival of a French chef who had wowed diners at Sheila’s Place in Oxnard. And since I love wine and I love food, this seemed like an ideal destination. But on a recent visit to Bella Victorian Vineyard Tasting Room, Boutique and Bistro, situated on Ventura Boulevard in the heart of Old Town Camarillo, it is apparent there are still some kinks to work through.
From the outside, this place is pleasing to the eye, with a beautiful brick facade and an enclosed patio with wrought iron tables. The interior is dark and nicely decorated, with hints of the Victorian era and romantic music playing in the background. There is a dark wooden bar for wine tasting and for watching Chef Gaël Lecolley at work. In another section, there are a selection of wine, wine related gadgets and books, and a large selection of lingerie displayed on tables and table top mannequins. While tastefully done, it was a bit surprising.
I’m told the aim is a romance theme, a carryover from the wedding business at the private estate and vineyard.
There are two things you need to know before heading to Bella Victorian in search of wine. First, currently only red wine is served (The whites should be available in late August.) Second, because it is a tasting room, you technically can’t order wine by the glass, only flights of wine. But if you are really enamored of a particular wine and want a glass, you may have a half glass, and then follow up with another half glass.
The flights of wine consist of a trio of two-ounce tastes of different wines. The three large glasses, each with a sample of dark red liquid, arrive at the table resting in a pewter wine tree. The presentation is grand, enough to excite any red wine lover. We started with the Artisan tasting flight, and later moved on to the Bella tasting flight. The progression of the wines made sense, and we enjoyed sniffing, swirling, tasting and comparing them. The table favorites were the 2006 pinot noir from Santa Barbara County, a 2006 Paso Robles syrah, and the 2004 Kimberly cuvee from Napa.
While many may pop in to Bella Victorian simply to taste wine, the bistro also serves lunch and dinner. The menu consists of a selection of small plates, salads, pizzas, sandwiches and specials on the weekends. We started with the baked brie, and the presentation was stunning: three small square white dishes, one with a square of buttery yellow baked brie, another with golden brown roasted cloves of garlic, and a third with dark purple berry compote. Unfortunately, the brie was undercooked, only thoroughly melted around the edges, and barely warm to the taste. When spread on the freshly toasted and oiled bread with a smear of garlic and the compote, it was at least a nice addition to the wine.
Upon reading the menu, I quickly homed in on the leg of lamb sandwich with garlic aioli, roasted peppers and feta. It seemed to be calling my name. Unfortunately, what arrived at the table was not lamb, but the Black Angus prime rib sandwich instead. A disappointment, yes; but we ate it anyway and enjoyed it. The meat was pink, moist and flavorful, sliced thin and stacked high on the thick bread. It was enhanced by a spicy chipotle aioli and sweet caramelized onions. We chose the mixed greens salad as our side, and while a nice light addition to the hearty sandwich, it needed a splash of vinegar or freshly ground pepper to give it some personality.
Next, we tasted one of the personal brick-oven pizzas. The thin and crispy crust was spread with a subtle tomato sauce, layered with a generous portion of thinly sliced imported prosciutto, and topped in the center with a pile of arugula dressed with olive oil and parmesan. When we spread the arugula on each slice, the combo of the flavor — the saltiness of the prosciutto, the peppery flavor of the arugula, the smoothness of the olive oil it was dressed in, and the bite of the parmesan — worked magically together.
Our server was warm, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines. But it was hard to overlook the error of our sandwich order and the poor service the group next to us was receiving. They waited and waited for their food, their attempts to express their frustration were mostly brushed off, and then they were asked to move their table and their seats to make room for another party.
The only server for the tables on the patio seemed a bit overwhelmed, and his Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops seemed out of place given the attempted Victorian romance theme.
All in all, Bella Victorian is a young little place with great potential. Perhaps all it needs is more time — time to grow and time to determine what exactly it wants to be. I look forward to checking back after it’s worked through some of the growing pains.