PICTURED: Bolognese lasagna with ground veal, spinach, carrots, mozzarella and ricotta. Photo by Mike Nelson

by Mike Nelson

Bistro 13
4910 Verdugo Way, Camarillo

In this part of the world, you don’t walk into many restaurants that are bedecked with white linen tablecloths and napkins, and graced by soft lighting and easy-listening music — Sinatra, Bocelli and gentle instrumentals.

Nor are there many restaurants that tempt fate, as it were, with “13” in the name. Except that Bistro 13 is owned by Giovanni Tromba, a name synonymous with good dining in this part of the world. 

And this family-run Italian restaurant, located just east of Santa Rosa Road north of the 101 in Camarillo, is no exception. Our family’s recent visit was our first, and it will definitely not be our last.

We arrived hungry but not famished, so we passed on the tempting array of hot and cold antipasti, possibly because the bread rolls that came shortly after we were seated were huge and delicious. They resembled heart-shaped mini-loaves, soft and warm inside with a hint of garlic that set the tone for, rather than overwhelm, the offerings to come.

The rolls paired nicely with the mixed green salad (spring greens, cucumber, garbanzo beans and a mild balsamic dressing) and soup (a broth-based minestrone), either of which are included in the pasta and entrée selections.

And there are a LOT of selections, which took time to study. Multiple combinations of pastas and sauces are available, as are chicken, pork, steak and seafood entrees, enough to leave first-time diners like us a bit overwhelmed.

But no one is rushed at Bistro 13, where dining is a joy, not a race. We finally decided on three main courses, all fresh, high quality, tasty and generously portioned.

The Bolognese lasagna had ground veal layered with spinach, carrots, mozzarella, ricotta and perfectly-cooked pasta, surrounded by a pool of tomato sauce. I’m used to sausage or ground beef in my lasagna, but veal was a fine alternative.

Also ordered: Melenzane Magnifico, Sicilian-style breaded eggplant with mozzarella and ricotta, a satisfying combination tasting even more “magnifico” on a chilly night.

The salmon beurre blanc was grilled to an ideal degree, neither overdone nor under-cooked, and served on a delicious bed of saffron risotto and fresh spinach in a light butter cream sauce and capers.

We took our time, savoring the food and the ambiance, which wait staff in good restaurants will allow. The Bistro 13 wait staff was attentive without hovering or hurrying us along — much appreciated.

A kind server brought around a tray of desserts, which included huge slices of cake and cheesecake. But we opted for the house-made chocolate gelato (vanilla and pistachio are also available) and Torta della Nonna, a toasted lemon tart with

Chocolate gelato. Photo by Janis Nelson

almonds and powdered sugar.

Both were hits at our table. The gelato was smooth, chocolaty and rich without being too sweet, as befitting good gelato — or any good Italian dessert, for that matter.

And the torta? Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I swear I tasted Sorrento, the resort town south of Naples where the scent of grapefruit-sized lemons fills the air. Making the torta last beyond a few seconds wasn’t easy, but I managed.

Bistro 13 offers a fine selection of wines, primarily from Italy and California, which we hope to sample on a future visit (though maybe not all at once). The restaurant serves lunch Tuesday-Friday and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, and catering services are available.

We were delighted, as we neared the end of our meal, to meet owner Giovanni Tromba himself, who greeted us warmly and asked how we enjoyed everything. Delighted by our positive response, he encouraged us to sample his son’s new Ventura restaurant, Immigrant Son, on Main Street (“Benvenuto to Downtown Ventura,” Kateri Wozny, VCReporter, Jan. 16, 2020), which we shall.

Meeting Giovanni helped us feel right at home. And it let us know, beyond doubt, that Bistro 13 has all the necessary ingredients for a memorable dining experience: pleasant atmosphere, friendly and efficient wait staff and, most necessarily, great food. Yes, we will be back.