Sheila’s Wine Bar
330 N. Lantana St., suite 32

A friend of mine gave me a good rule about dining out that I’ve often employed, though not nearly enough. The rule is, if you can easily make at home a dish that you eat at a restaurant, for less money, choose home every time. It is a good way to save money, and it would also be a pretty good way to get restaurants to up their game with creativity, technique and ingredients. But Sheila’s Wine Bar in Camarillo would never have to worry about such a calculation among its customers.

If a good restaurant is an oasis, then Sheila’s is rolling hills and greenery amid desert environs. The wine list is superior, with good depth for the connoisseur and beginner alike, and the menu is full of exciting and fresh flavors, some exotic and some so familiar you’ll swear you had them before. Somewhere.

Owners Pablo and Bertha Medina are aided by their son, Ivan, who serves as the chef; and his Culinary Institute of the Arts training is at work every day with a diverse menu in an atmosphere of quiet softness. Service is always personal, kind and not intrusive. Pablo has mastered the art of coming to the table only once, at the right time — in between courses or bites — to check on you; and at your table, you create your own intimacy amid candlelight and quiet conversation. The decor is more like a refined wine cellar than a bustling restaurant, and that only adds to the pleasure of the dishes themselves.

A special: brined duck legs made into duck confit, shredded and then made a duck-filled ravioli in a rich broth with fresh carrot, green onion, sliced mushrooms and grated Parmesan

We decided on one of Ivan’s specials the night we went, a Friday when we got in without a reservation. He’d brined duck legs for several days and made duck confit, shredded it and made a kind of duck-filled ravioli in a rich broth with fresh carrot, green onion, sliced mushrooms and grated Parmesan. The savory flavors were lingering and comfortable and Pablo assured us that the duck’s time in the brine was the secret, along with the technique of cooking the duck in its own fat.

Baked brie with sliced apples and apricot chutney

One of Sheila’s best-loved menu items among regulars is the pizza. Thin crust with a number of unique ingredients. Sue and I chose prosciutto, caramelized onions and figs topped with arugula. I drank a glass of grenache with it, and for me it was like coming home. Those are familiar flavors, yes — but together, they combined sweet and savory, and the added flecks of blue cheese on the pizza created a tangy finish that bound it all together.

At this point, having thrown caloric caution on the trash heap of taking longer walks, we also indulged in a plate of baked brie with sliced apples and apricot chutney. The cheese is wrapped en croûte so it flows like lava out of its crusty confines, once sliced. There are few things as decadent as warm flowing cheese and bread with a sip of wine to taste.

The wine bar is, of course, the centerpiece of Sheila’s; and on any given night, patrons will sit and taste or sip a glass or bottle paired with some oven-fresh bread and a balsamic dipping sauce that, on a Tuesday, I’d call dinner. Or go ahead and order the incredible ahi tuna tartare about which nearly everyone at the bar raves. Bring a friend, order an apple-brie pizza and split a bottle of wine. It won’t really matter what you try — simply pick another night, pick a different bottle, a different dish and repeat.