The Annex at the Collection at RiverPark
550 Collection Blvd., Oxnard
988-7527 or thecollectionrp.com/the_annex
The Collection at RiverPark does not lack for dining options, although most of what you’ll find are chain restaurants. A new venture, however, has put the emphasis on locally owned businesses specializing in high-quality cuisine. The recently opened Annex is a food court for gourmets, with everything from locally roasted coffee (Ragamuffin) and craft brews (Bottle & Pint) to noodle soup (Love Pho) and Spanish tapas (Gasolina). You’ll find no McDonald’s or Sbarro here!
The hipster chic décor befits the high quality of the food offered by the various vendors (10 in all, plus a jewelry studio and handcrafted home goods boutique). Walking into the 16,000-square-foot building with my family during opening weekend, I noticed the vaulted ceilings, a refurbished industrial look, faux brick and a long bench reminiscent of a whale skeleton. Each eatery is nestled into its own space and decorated in a style suitable to the cuisine. PokeCeviche, for example, has tall, modern-looking plastic tables and stools, while Taqueria El Tapatio features rustic wood benches painted in bright colors.
Tim Kilcoyne is practically synonymous with Ventura County cuisine, and his burgers are legendary — placing an order at Scratch Sandwich Counter, his first brick-and-mortar location since the demise of Sidecar Café years ago, was a no-brainer. Unsurprisingly, his Scratch Burger — juicy beef patty, tender grilled onions, cheddar cheese and Kilcoyne’s own homemade ketchup — was exceptional, from the soft brioche bun to the fried-just-right egg we added to the sandwich. I’m not sure you can find a better burger anywhere. The grilled cheese is also served on a brioche bun, and comes pressed, almost like a panini. I wouldn’t call it a standout, but it was good . . . and made my 8-year-old happy.
On the far side of the Annex we found Seoul Sausage, which, like Scratch, is a new home base for brothers Ted and Yong Kim, who cut their teeth in the L.A. food truck scene and gained fame when they won Season 3 of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. Merging the hallmarks of Korean barbecue — soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil and garlic — into delicious sausages, it’s the perfect place for a bite when you’re craving something more special than a hot dog. Seoul Sausage’s full menu wasn’t available (it was opening weekend, after all) but it did have a sweet and spicy chicken sausage with an apple cabbage slaw and customer favorite, Korean fried chicken. The sausage came on a bun and had the perfect mix of sweet, heat and salt, with the fresh, crunchy slaw a lovely counterpoint in both texture and flavor. The fried chicken consisted of boneless hunks of breaded dark meat slathered in a delectable, tangy, sweet-and-sour sauce. It was rich and a bit greasy, but totally delicious: Asian bar food at its best. And while tater tots aren’t exactly a culinary revelation, the creamy Sriracha aioli that accompanied them was.
On the lighter side is the veggie and fish extravaganza of PokeCeviche. This build-your-own-poke-bowl spot features numerous types of raw seafood, tofu, a veritable garden of fresh fruits and vegetables, noodle and rice options and several condiments and toppers to choose from. Our bowl included ahi, shrimp, rice noodles, seaweed and Takis Fuego (yes, the spicy rolled tortilla chip). Everything was served ice-cold and exceptionally fresh, which is what you want in your poke. We also got an order of guacamole for noshing. Unorthodox, with a touch of furikake, and served alongside veggie chips instead of tortillas, but outstanding. Our one regret was that the Stubborn Soda machine, with gourmet flavors like lemon berry açai and black cherry with tarragon and without artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup, was not quite in service.
These three craft-food purveyors represent just the tip of the iceberg of what The Annex has to offer. The jury is still out on the elegant Gasolina, intriguing Pancake and Bottle & Pint (none of which was open during our outing) but judging by the fantastic food we did try, I expect a positive verdict.