Pacific by NoRu
394 E. Main St.
After noodling around on the website for this delightful new “coastally inspired” restaurant, which opened in late December, I was very much looking forward to a visit.
Pacific by NoRu has a great back-story. Opened by two surfer friends — Ren Weigang, born and raised in Hawaii, mans the kitchen, and James Norton, busy working the front of the house that night, is a local Ventura guy who has traveled the world. Over a nice bottle of wine at Ren’s kitchen table they discovered a shared passion for “honest, local, organic food” and shortcomings in the Ventura culinary scene.
The dynamic duo offer interesting dishes that burst with flavor in a relaxed atmosphere. Not only was everything I tasted delicious and satisfying, but each contained a unique and interesting mélange of ingredients that tasted better than my photos convey.
A few great things about Pacific by NoRu (some sort of amalgam of the owners names).
1. They did an awesome job of redoing the interior and semi enclosed patio that faces Main Street in the heart of downtown Ventura. The bar is stunning, I like the wooden tables and paintings and photographs by local artists add to the cool vibe.
2. They have an amazing happy hour (begins at 4 p.m. and lasts until 6:30) that also is in effect on weekends. When was the last time you saw a $3 glass of drinkable wine on a menu? The same house wines are a most reasonable $6 during later hours. Awesome!
3. The owners feed the terrific, cheerful wait staff so they are familiar with the menu and can knowledgably recommend dishes. And the hardworking kitchen staff seemed genuinely happy when I complemented them on the way to the loo. Happy kitchen, happy customers!
Open only for dinner, a friend and I popped in on a recent Saturday night for an excellent leisurely meal that ended up lasting two hours. Including three happy hour drinks (two wines, one beer), the bill added up to a most reasonable $58 (pre-tip).
We began with tasty roasted garlic and arugula pesto to spread on hot sourdough bread for $3.
Next, one of the special appetizers that night (I hope they add this to the regular menu) and my hands-down favorite dish, a red curry ground lamb kebob that burst with flavorful spices served with a lemon relish and green curry aioli and a mélange of tiny sprouts, capers, edamame and tidbits of roasted cauliflower. This labor-intensive dish went down easy. “Tasty and fresh” were two words that kept coming up from my dining companion. I concur.
From there, we looked over the salads and debated between the heirloom tomato and burrata salad (who doesn’t love burrata?) or the arugula with local goat cheese balls and roasted beets. We settled on the later, with good additions of corn kernels and chopped pistachios — plenty for two and perfectly dressed, lightly.
We could have stopped there, but decided to share a main course and agreed on sake-glazed salmon. A fragrant wedge of white rice specked with scallions and norimake added to the salmon topped with a finely chopped cucumber relish and generous portion of plump mushrooms on the side.
“This is one of the best places I’ve eaten at in a long time!” my globetrotting dining companion declared.
Also on the menu (and there is lots more): Mary’s chicken and soups of the day (suggested by the waitress as another strength of the chef) — red lentil with coconut cream or tomato basil that night. Charred pumpkin with cumin spice, yogurt, chimichurri and pomegranate called out from the starters list; another main — fusilli bolognese comes with kale chips! A nice Asian influence is evidenced in many other menu items, due to the chef’s Hawaiian culinary history.
There was no room for dessert — perhaps another time. The lilikoi cheesecake sounds good or s’mores for kids at this family friendly place.
The tasty, dry sauvignon blanc for happy hour was from Tarrica, a small Paso Robles family owned winery. The wine list is fine, bottles mostly in the $40-$50 range and up. There’s a $15 corkage fee. Craft mules were popular at other tables.
Being sound sensitive, the music that night was as eclectic as the menu, ranging from mellow to a persistent drum beat that was only a few annoying minutes in an otherwise perfectly delightful and delicious evening.
While others may not agree with me — eating and music are subjective — the decibel level outside was low enough not to be a deal breaker that night or on, what I hope will be, future visits.