The French Bulldog
2433 Ventura Blvd.

Earlier this year, the lights at JJ Brewsky’s in Camarillo went dark … only to come back on again a short time later when The French Bulldog opened in the same space. This former brewpub and sports bar has been born again as a shiny, new gastro tavern.

In an article on the Bon Appetit website, the term gastro-tavern is explained thusly: “The Brits have gastropubs, the French have gastro-bistros, and now we have gastro-taverns — smart, casual spots serving excellent drinks and modern takes on American (and global) comfort foods. Think of them as burgers-and-beer joints for the foodie crowd.”

Complete with a new look, a few changes in ownership, and a passing of the guard to Chef Gaël Lecolley (last seen at the Bella Victorian Vineyard Tasting Room), The French Bulldog does seem aimed to please foodies and French-fry lovers, beer guzzlers, wine sippers and martini mavens alike.

Tall ceilings, low lighting, large booths and dark wood are accented with shiny corrugated metal siding and a floor-to-ceiling sheer curtain that defines the space. A private dining area that just may remind you of that Pottery Barn-inspired dining room you covet (you know the one) is open on two sides to the main dining room, the site of The French Bulldog’s Thursday night chef dinners.

On a recent Saturday night, the place was bustling, live music was playing, and we tucked ourselves into a roomy dark booth. The menu at The French Bulldog reads like a drool-inducing food magazine with splashes of classic French cooking (like mussels and fondue) and wine country fare (osso bucco over polenta, and fish and chips battered in Firestone Ale). Throw in some other teasers like lobster risotto, house-smoked salmon flatbread, a Kobe burger on sourdough, and yellowfin sashimi with garlic chips, feta and jalapeño, and you’re starting to get the picture.

Throughout our meal, the service was excellent. Our server was animated, friendly and prompt; and when she was unable to answer some of our questions, she had no problem heading off to find the answer for us.

Our meal began with the lobster mac and cheese and an old-school favorite, a wedge salad. Though listed as a small plate, the mac and cheese was ample enough to be an entree — with abundant chunks of succulent lobster and doused in a parmesan cream sauce. It was served in a miniature cast iron pot accompanied by a few slices of toast that had clearly taken a ride around a well-seasoned griddle, picking up hints of bacon and buttery goodness along the way.

Like an old friend who’s always waiting with a hug and a pep talk, the wedge salad is comforting in its familiarity: iceberg lettuce, a mix of sliced tomatoes, Applewood-smoked bacon, knobby crumbles of Maytag blue cheese and house-made dressing.

As we enjoyed our starters, we chose drinks from the menu — an Imperial Green Flash IPA and a glass of Hahn pinot noir. While the beer list offers an average selection of beers, the cocktail list will blow your mind. Martinis and mixed drinks are infused with fresh herbs, local fruit, ginger, cinnamon, syrups, agave and more.

In a sandwich kind of mood, we chose the Cuban sandwich and the open-faced filet mignon sliders. Where the former was big and hearty, filled with ham and carnitas on a ciabatta roll, and glued together by Swiss cheese, the latter was daintier and served on squares of buttery brioche, each topped with a thin slice of filet. Where the Cuban was finished with the tangy flavors of mustard and pickles, the sliders were finished with a brighter than bright lemony lobster hollandaise, elevating the dish to an upper echelon of taste. The only miss? The addition of slices of portobello mushroom to the sliders seemed unnecessary and interfered with our enjoyment of the beef.

Not surprisingly, the dessert menu is also full of tempting options like crème brulée, beignets and tiramisu. Wanting just a small bite of something sweet, we ordered the chocolate truffles. A few minutes later, three craggy truffles arrived on a dashing, rectangular white plate. Clearly handmade, the truffles were dusted in dark cocoa powder, lovely in their imperfect appearance, and truly reminiscent of the more savory truffles for which they are named. They tasted as divine as they looked.

As the ganache melted in our mouths, we savored the rich chocolate, took a last sip of wine, and agreed: we like when restaurants are reborn.

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