The Oaks at Ojai
122 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
For $140 you can have a pretty rad meal for two with a good bottle of wine an upscale restaurant. You might be treated to an “amuse bouche” (a little taste) sent out by the chef. In olden days, a “palate cleanser” — often a lemon sorbet so you could continue to the next course, taste buds renewed, would separate each course of your meal.
The Oaks at Ojai offers a variation on this theme that includes all-day dining — with the pauses in between ranging from water aerobics to meditation classes to hikes and after-dinner activities.
Just imagine it as the longest three-course meal you’ve ever had. You can arrive as early as 6:30 a.m. and do a strenuous hike up Shelf Road to build up an appetite for breakfast — and leave when the evening program ends or the Jacuzzi shuts down (9 or 10 p.m.).
The amuse bouche, in my case, was a 7:30 a.m. stroll through Ojai that included a history lesson as we walked the Arcade and through Libbey Park.
The first course, or meal, was a tasty buffet breakfast consisting of broccoli quiche (sans crust), lovely papaya, mango and a low-calorie cranberry muffin. Coffee and herb teas are on hand as well. You can also request oatmeal, a hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese or nonfat yogurt.
The palate cleanser was an easy stretch class, thankfully to great jazz tunes (“Not that lobotomy music you hear in yoga!” our instructor joked).
Lunch was a terrific chicken/spinach salad with tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions and hard-boiled egg with vinaigrette dressing and a flavorful chipotle sweet-potato soup, hands down my favorite meal.
In addition to three healthy meals, healthy afternoon smoothies (Green Tangerine Dream had celery, cucumber, lemon, spinach, tangerines, fresh ginger root, green grapes and fresh mint), and veggie and hummus snacks are put out, and a mid-morning potassium broth is also provided.
Afternoons can be lazy or active. You can dip into the pool and take a water aerobics class. Or just lounge and read a book. There’s a eucalyptus steam, sauna, indoor Jacuzzi and showers in the locker room as well. (You are given a locker and a robe to use for the day.)
April is Pixie tangerine month in Ojai, and the chef has created dishes (low-calorie, natch) incorporating the tasty citrus fruit packed with vitamin C. Sadly, Brussels sprouts roasted with tangerine juice listed on our dinner menu were replaced with a red bell pepper filled with chopped asparagus and carrots. The turkey scaloppini with roasted potatoes was filling; dessert was a half-pear with a few almond and ginger slivers. The salad to start was not to my taste: out-of-season tomatoes and capers on lettuce with a balsamic dressing.
Fortunately, I partook in an afternoon cooking demonstration with recipes to take home that incorporated the fruit of the month.
We had a taste of the Ojai Pixie Treat Salad — kale with Pixie wedges (a definite favorite) and slivered almonds, yummy Pixie sweet potatoes, and dark chocolate spa bark with pistachios and Pixie dust accompanying a dark chocolate tofu mousse with a twist of Pixie.
After dinner evening entertainment varies — sometimes a lecture or a movie with popcorn (sorry, no salt or butter), for example, a collage art class or even BINGO!
If you want low-calorie (calories appear next to each dish on the menu if you are a counter), health-conscious meals with convivial, mostly female, company — women outnumbered men about 10 to 1 during my visit — the Oaks at Ojai makes for a nice change of pace. If you like wine with your dinner or salt on your veggies, then the Oaks at Ojai is probably not your cup of herbal tea. (You can have B.Y.O.B. wine in your room, however). The “no cell phones” rule is worth the price of admission in my book. People actually talk to one another.