La Cosecha Modern Cocina
450 E Harbor Blvd., Ventura

Hotel dining can run the gamut from fun to surprising, disappointing and more. I like hotel dining in my hometown because it makes me feel as if I am on staycation/eatcation. A sashay to the Crowne Plaza is great for people-watching. In the case of the beachfront high-rise hotel this usually includes bathing suits, surfboards and business suits. Staff members, trained to cater to tourists (happy/grumpy/demanding), are usually cheerful and helpful, which indeed they are at La Cosecha, the “rebranded” Mexican restaurant under the direction of Chef Luis Martinez.

Inside dining room

Here’s what I tried during a solo happy hour/early bird dinner and lunch, both with a lovely outdoor sideways view of the Ventura Pier and Pacific Ocean. Cosecha means “harvest,” and the menu lists the local farmers that the chef is sourcing items from, but I’m not exactly sure what came from where on my plate. Although the harvest theme didn’t really come through for me, the flavors did.

The house margarita is a bargain ($5) during happy hour and lasted throughout my meal (appetizer, salad and entrée). Pretty and tasty, the generous fresh orange and lime juices, organic agave nectar and El Charro Silver tequila in a hand-blown 8-ounce glass was nicely garnished with orange, lime wedges and a basil leaf.

Passable chips (not hot) and a so-so red salsa are complimentary; I requested salsa verde and pico de gallo, which were provided, gratis. My waitress recommended the coconut-crusted calamari ($6/happy hour) with a tequila/pineapple/jalapeño relish and chipotle aioli as an appetizer — a bit too much.

I settled on the chicken mole for my entrée and was told it would take 20 minutes, so I ordered half the Caesar salad, a nice twist on the original Tijuana invention with tortilla strips and pepitas adding a crunch. The creamy Caesar dressing on the side is fine for those who like it that way, but if you like a tried, true and tangy Caesar, ask them to toss it before serving.

The superb chicken mole arrived sooner than expected and was well worth any wait. The hard-to-resist flavorful mole sauce with a bit of a kick included cocoa, raisins, cinnamon, peppers and a whole lot more. Sides of picante pinto beans with bacon served in a red tostadita, tasty pickled red onion strips, rice and tortillas made for a filling meal ($17).

As you enter La Cosecha, tequila bottles (not saints) are displayed in niches. The list (ranging from Jose Cuervo to Alquimia organic) includes a dozen blancos ($9-15 per shot); eight reposados ($10-14); seven anejos ($12-30) and four extra anejos ($25-30). There are four each “white grape” and “red grape” wines by the glass; I inquired about mezcal and was told they usually have one, but they were out.

I returned for lunch a few days later and asked about the specials I’d missed on my first visit: mole verde; chiles en nogadas (poblano chile stuffed with pork picadillo, walnut crème sauce, pomegranate seeds) and/or tortilla-crusted swordfish. No problem I was told — so I tried the chiles en nogadas, as I wanted to see if that dish stood up to the mole.

The chiles en nogadas LOOKED amazing — like a little green hut decorated with walnut sauce and red pomegranate seeds. The entrée reminded me of a sophisticated Mexican version of the stuffed bell peppers my mom used to make when I was a kid, only a poblano chile stuffed with a pork (not beef) mixture. I told the waiter it wasn’t hot enough, but when I researched the dish, I learned it is traditionally served at room temperature with a cold cream sauce — who knew?

All in all, if you choose the right dishes — ones that show off the strong flavors of Puebla, Guanajuato and other regions of Mexico, with a California twist — you will probably enjoy La Cosecha.