211 E. Santa Clara St.
Happy Hour pricing: $4-$12
(half off regular prices)
The folks at The Tavern really want you to stop in to see what this new bar and restaurant is all about. So much so that they are offering what is arguably one of the best happy hour deals in town, every single day of the week from 5 to 8 p.m. During happy hour, all food is half off, cocktails $3 off, beer $2 off, and house wines only $5 per glass.
Only open for a few weeks now, The Tavern sits in that big old house you’ve probably seen on Santa Clara Street, where Candlelight Kitchen and Bar used to be. Since its days as Candlelight, the space has gone through quite a transformation, from edgy and modern to comfortable and rustic. White tablecloths and funky light fixtures have been replaced with dark walls and wooden finishes.
Old books in the foyer hint at an old library feel, little nooks are filled with comfy couches and chairs, and large rounded booths offer a great spot to linger over a few cocktails. In addition to the main dining room and bar area, another room offers a fireplace and comfortable seating, while yet another room is dedicated to video games. (A Wii game console is available for those who like to drink and game.)
When we stopped in, most of the tables were taken, so we chose seats at the end of the bar. The large chalkboard wall, listing all of the wine, beer and signature cocktails, immediately caught our eye, as did the menus printed on thin pieces of wood with singed edges.
The Tavern cocktail list boasts drinks like a Maple Manhattan made with rye whiskey, maple syrup and a toffee-salted rim, and the Bathtub Gin, flavored with cucumber, mint, jalapeño and agave.
The beer list is equally impressive; and though they only offer bottled beer, it is an interesting mix of local brews like Telegraph White Ale and Figueroa Mountain Hoppy Poppy and harder-to-find beers, such as my personal East Coast favorite, Magic Hat #9. The wine list offers around 12 wines by the glass, a mix of California and South American reds and whites.
From the cocktail list, I chose the Burro, an icy cocktail made with vodka, fresh ginger, ginger beer and ginger syrup, served in an icy copper mug. It was cool and refreshing and not too sweet, with the warming spiciness of the ginger lingering throughout. My companion opted for a beer, the Island Brewing Company Blackbird, a dark and delicious porter that comes in a hefty 22-ounce bottle.
To go with all this drinking, The Tavern menu offers an impressive mix of dishes like fried chicken po’ boys, buttermilk bacon biscuits, chorizo braised in cider, sweet potato tater tots, and a spicy shrimp salad with glass noodles, kaffir lime and lemongrass dressing. In addition to these smaller dishes for sharing, it also offers a few larger entrees like roasted chicken and grilled salmon.
Tempted by the bargain happy hour prices and unable to choose, we ordered a handful of the small plates.
One of our favorites was the Prince Edward Island mussels — bathed in a spicy broth of coconut milk, red curry and cilantro and served with large wedges of grilled bread perfect for dipping. The Kennebec truffle fries were the perfect munchie: finished with truffle oil, herbs, sea salt and parmesan.
The fried mozzarella (fried curds of cheese), is served with a spicy tomato sauce and a garlic basil sauce, while the mini corn dogs are served with a spicy tavern mustard and a green chili aioli. With all of these sauces and broths for dipping, we had a blast munching, drinking, and hopping from one dish to the next. The only dish to disappoint was the pork belly tacos — though the pineapple pico de gallo was refreshing and sweet, the pork belly was tough and overcooked.
After finishing my cocktail, I ordered a glass of the house red, a cabernet from Chile. It was the perfect pairing for the spicy mussels and dipping sauces.
After we packed up our leftovers to go, paid our very low bill (a mere $42!), it was time to head home. The band was just getting set up, and many people were just arriving (they are open until 2 a.m., after all), making it oh-so-tempting to sit back down at the bar and order another cocktail. But there’s always next time.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com, where you’ll find info on our new Eating Ojai Tour, gift certificates, and info on upcoming special events.