PICTURED: Clockwise from top left: Brazilian seafood stew at Moqueca; Florentine steak from Paradise Pantry; Casa Bella’s steak and creamed spinach; filet mignon bites from Twenty88.

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com

Valentine’s Day falls on Sunday this year, and over the President’s Day holiday weekend. If you’re fortunate enough to have a sweetheart in your bubble, there’s going to be ample time to celebrate. Now that outdoor dining is on the menu once again, Valentine’s Day specials are popping up all over the county. But there are wonderful options for gourmet eats at home, too. Whether you’re dining in or out, consider these options for Feb. 14.


Casa Bella
391 E. Main St., Ventura
805-340-1118
www.casabellaventura.com

The stylish Casa Bella in Downtown Ventura (a Mexican-influenced sister to Midtown’s Prime) has the perfect Valentine’s Day option for beef lovers: the $99 “Best of Bella” four-course meal for two with 32 oz. of prime-cut ribeye plus your choice of appetizer, soup or salad and side dishes. There are numerous options: chorizo mussels, filet mignon chile relleno, Mexican Caesar salad, lobster bisque, balsamic Brussels sprouts and much more. Reservations are highly recommended for dining onsite, although getting your meal to go is also an option. Ribeye not your thing? No problem — the regular menu features a wide array of surf and turf specialties as well.

La Dolce Vita 1901
740 S. B St., Oxnard
805-486-6878
ladolcevita1901.com

One of the prettiest patios can be found in Oxnard’s Heritage Square, where longtime favorite La Dolce Vita will be serving up a multi-course menu of international specialties. Starters include salad, creamy tomato soup, LDV’s famous pumpkin ravioli and more. The five entrees on offer feature something for everyone, such as a grilled vegetable ravioli, baked salmon or Beef Wellington. Finish up with raspberry lemon tart, caramel apple cheesecake or tiramisu. Don’t forget the restaurant’s wine, beer and drinks selections, including the pink-hued Be Mine cocktail made with gin, mint and cranberry juice. Reservations are required for seating Friday-Sunday. For takeout, pre-order by Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Paradise Pantry
222 E. Main St., Ventura
805-641-9440
www.paradisepantry.com

One of the area’s best wine and cheese shops is a great place to get artisan eats to enjoy at home. It also offers truly gourmet from-scratch food to go — smoked trout caviar, upscale mac and cheese, super soups and more. Valentine’s Day Weekend features a special menu with cheese and charcuterie plates, pate, fish soup, Florentine steak, several desserts and much more. Limited quantities and very limited seating, so call ASAP for reservations or curbside pickup. 

Rabalais’ Bistro
861 E. Main St., Santa Paula
805-525-2109
rabalaisbistro.com

The bakery case at Rabalais’ Bistro.

Seriously satisfying New Orleans-inspired cuisine, Southern hospitality and a great patio right on picturesque Main Street in Downtown Santa Paula — a treat for any day; especially memorable for Valentine’s Day. Brunch is wonderful here, too, so consider celebrating early on Sunday. Another idea: Hit the mouthwatering bakery counter and indulge in some desserts to enjoy at home with your loved one. 

The Ranch House
102 Besant Road, Ojai
805-646-2360
www.theranchhouse.com

The Ranch House, Ojai

Fine dining in a setting straight out of a fairy tale. Twinkling lights, verdant landscaping, winding stone paths . . .  this is one of the most romantic restaurants in Ventura County, with some of the tastiest cuisine, too. The menu changes with the season, but you can count on it to always be fresh, inventive and delicious. This is likely to be one of the hottest spots in town, so place your reservations early — or plan on getting your meal to go.

Twenty88 Bistro
2088 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo
805-388-2088
twenty88.com

This Camarillo favorite specializes in California fusion and shakes up some of the best martinis in the area. The filet mignon skewers and goat cheese egg rolls are beloved by regulars, but there’s lots to enjoy at this popular bistro: delicately prepared fish, a bourbon-glazed pork chop, the famed six-hour braised short rib and to-die-for sangria. The gorgeous plating is guaranteed to impress. If a full dinner sounds like too much, consider a happy hour date where you can take advantage of the creative cocktails and the impressive small bites menu.


Wonderful Near the Water

Delicious food with a beautiful view is one way to stir up some romance, and both are easy to fulfill in these parts. We have not one but TWO scenic harbors with desirable dining options.

The Lookout Bar and Grill at Channel Islands Harbor.

 

Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor boasts a tastebud-tantalizing mix of cuisines, with everything from the freshest seafood and sushi (Sea Fresh) to rich and flavorful Brazilian (Moqueca) to spicy Indian (The Masala Twist) to good ol’ burgers and chowder (The Lookout). Watch the boats go by as you dig in, or, if you’re getting takeout, take a stroll before pickup. www.channelislandsharbor.org/dining/

 

Ventura Harbor Village has it all — lovely surroundings, interesting shops and fantastic restaurants. Many have created specials just for Valentine’s Day. Margarita Villa has a basket giveaway that includes a bottle of quality tequila, a bar kit and some other neat items — a great gift for tough-to-shop-for sweethearts. The Greek, with it’s fantastic waterfront patio, has the Sweetheart Dinner for Two: a four-course meal that includes a bottle of wine. Water’s Edge is offering a three-course meal with wine, plus special charcuterie and chocolate options. Anything red is 10% off at seafood market Wild Local during the week leading up to Feb. 14. Even ice cream shop Coastal Cone is feeling the love, with a Love Planet dessert featuring “starberry” cheesecake soft serve, cheesecake bites, pie crust, graham crackers and fresh local strawberries. www.venturaharborvillage.com/event/valentines-day-2021/2021-02-12/


Don’t forget the chocolate!

Rosebud Chocolates

Beato Chocolates
310 E. Matilija Ave., Ojai, 805-620-7589, www.beatochocolates.com

Ex Voto Chocolates and Confections
2646 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-9228, www.exvotochocolates.com

Newberry Candy
3130 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 805-552-7692, newberrycandy.com

Rosebud Chocolates
805-368-1504, www.rosebudchocolates.com

Tifa Chocolates and Gelato
Locations across Ventura County; tifachocolateandgelato.com

Top This Chocolate
1559 Spinnaker Drive, Suite 109, Ventura Harbor, 805-535-4167, topthischocolate.com