469 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
The sign of a successful restaurant, in my book, is one to which you want to return. Despite a somewhat limited menu (with items to go or eat outdoors on the patio), I see many revolutions back to Ojai Rôtie in my future, fate willing.
If you like picnics — and flavorful food and chicken and awesome sourdough bread — then you, too, will fall in love with this new spot from Ojai-based Chef Claud Mann and business partner/longtime L.A. restaurateur Lorenzo Nicola.
My friend Anne and I popped in just a week after they opened and about half an hour before the 5 p.m. dinner start time. We hit the “wine box” (opens at 3 p.m.), a tiny building that houses wines on tap and by the glass from bottles, and serves from the window. We were lucky to meet sommelier Emily Johnstone, who has put together an admirable and interesting wine list that features some recognizable varietals along with some great unknowns, including a $262 Syrah, Côte-Rôtie AOC from France. Not to worry, wines are $9-$15 per glass, and there are many by the bottle in the $30-$40 range along with beer, cider and non-alcoholic beverages.
Anne chose the Land of Saints Chardonnay, Santa Barbara — she loved the oaky quality. I was equally pleased with Rosé of Grenache, A Tribute to Grace. We had a relaxed chat over our glasses of vino while waiting for the restaurant to open.
Here’s how it works: You order at the counter and a darling, helpful, friendly and youthful staff swiftly serves your meal and tends to other questions or needs. We chose to share the pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free rotisserie chicken enhanced with the awesome and colorful “rub de Ojai rub.” (Tumeric? Garlic? Whatever it is, we both loved it.) It comes a la carte ($12/half, $19/whole) or as a meal ($13/$19/$29 depending on how many are sharing). The meal includes two “picnic sides” along with delicious bright pink pickled turnips, whipped garlic (much like that served at Lebanese chicken rotisserie restaurants in Hollywood/LA) and grilled Lebanese flatbread.
“Picnic sides” to choose from include pommes rotisserie with lemon pepper aioli; skinny cucumbers; delicious caramelized cauliflower with pine nuts, golden raisins and baby kale; and a perslane tabooli that’s more greens than bulgur. I really wanted to try the marcella white beans (since my mom’s name is Marcella) but I will hopefully return with her for that another time. And darn, I missed the house-cured olives as well — they got a rave online review. Yes, chicken is the main attraction, but with so many other sides, sandwiches and salads, even a vegan can happily fill their belly in the mostly outdoor dining venue. (There are less than a handful of indoor tables.)
Three salads on the menu include “lorese” (Johnny’s organic mix, rotie chicken, avocado, sumac onions — there’s the Lebanese influence again), lemon and mint. Mint also appears in the flavorful “fatouch” salad we shared — little gem leaves with a tangy and tasty lemon olive oil dressing, fresh mint and croutons made from Claud Mann’s amazing sourdough bread — now available here six days a week.
At dinner, after I’d drained my rosé, I asked if I might have a half glass of the Red Blend Luc Lapeyre, Minervois, Languedoc (very reasonably priced at $9/glass). Since I was the designated driver, my wish was kindly granted and it was a good discovery.
Desserts are simple — sticky and sweet baklava that your creative Lebanese aunt would have conjured if she moved to Ojai (lavender and lemon) and lovely dense, moist chocolate brownies with walnuts that your other aunt, who married into the family and won over with this recipe, would have contributed to the family picnic.
I’ll be back, Ojai Rôtie, and my friend Anne also plans to return! Now that the word is out, I only hope there’s room at the outdoor banquet for one and all.
Note: Ojai Rôtie opens at 5 p.m. and closes once the offerings run out. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.