SLATE Bistro and Craft Bar
4850 Santa Rosa Road
Happy hour, $4-15; regular $6-56
It was the day after Christmas when I decided it would be practically prudent to do a review for the first issue of the year at a new restaurant called Slate in Camarillo, an undertaking by the owners of the successful Blvd. Brgr Company, also in Camarillo.
Formerly home to Safire, the building is an enigma of sorts as the bar area, dining room and patio all bring their own distinct ambiance. The bar area has a low-key club feeling, illuminated with a vibrant purple against a white geometric art wall at the bar itself, a lounge area with aquamarine velvet couches and about a dozen tables with chairs and booths. This is contrasted with a dining room with 20-(or so)-feet-high ceilings and little noticeable art except for ornate chandeliers that stand out against the backdrop of concrete polished floors and black and white tables and booths of almost iridescent white. (The patio was too cold outside this time of year to explore.)
And so we arrived after a rather quiet Christmas holiday to find a rather quiet dining room, but a bar area bubbling with conversation and activity: We had come at 5 p.m., just in time for happy hour. With reggae playing softly over the speakers, we felt invited and found a spot on a couch in the lounge area — the hostess told us we could grab any spot in the bar area.
The bartender was the first to greet us with menus and another server tended to our basic needs, including clearing dirty dishes and refilling our drinks. For the happy hour menu, there were cocktails, wine and beer as well as an assortment of familiar dishes with a twist, such as the wild mushroom taquitos. We chose those, the Slate steak burger with fries, macaroni and cheese and pizza bianco.
It wasn’t but a few minutes later that our orders came out as we sat together on the velvet aquamarine couch under a flat screen TV (featuring a silent Nacho Libre) and a sparkling chandelier hanging over the empty lounge. My companion asked for ranch on the side and when a female server, who seemed friendly and warm, returned with it, I coincidentally went “mmmm!” a bit loud with the first bite of the pizza, a mouthful of warm egg yolk, salty cheese, fluffy dough, thinly sliced red onion and white garlic sauce coupled with fresh arugula.
Shortly after she left, a big party came in and sat across from us in the lounge, making it a little hard to hear my companion right next to me.
My companion had ordered the burger, and I was lucky to get a single bite. I personally didn’t discern the bacon tomato jam or jalapeño aioli or even the buttermilk-soaked onion rings, but what I can attest to is this: My dining partner is a man who takes pride in his barbecue skills and burger preparation and he approved. The bun, however, was “a little dry.” His suggestion: Add avocado. Despite any negatives, the burger and fries topped with grated Parmesan cheese were gone in a few minutes.
After the burger, we jumped into the silver cauldron of macaroni and cheese.
“That’s the richest mac and cheese I’ve ever had,” he said. No doubt, Slate’s homemade batch includes Gouda, Munster, sharp white cheddar and Parmesan cheese, topped with thin crispy onion rings. If you want that feeling of being stuffed, you only need one order of macaroni and cheese.
To wrap up our truly happy hour meal, we ate the wild mushroom taquitos. They came drizzled in a black bean puree, dotted with guacamole and served with a side of ultra creamy guacamole that made us wonder if it was store bought. Whatever the case, we ate it all. And I’m often very reluctant to get taquitos anywhere. These were a definite score.
Heading home, I thought of a small hole-in-the-wall bar I visited in Manhattan that could have been a replica of the bar area at Slate. At happy hour prices, I was overly satisfied and impressed with the offerings and quality. But in the end, I do believe that all experiences are enhanced by the company we keep. With that in mind, I had a superb time at a new place called Slate.