When you arrive in Ojai it seems galaxies away from the headaches and hassles of L.A., but, actually, it’s just over an hour from Los Angeles. It’s the smallest city in Ventura County with only about 8-thousand permanent residents, yet it has a half dozen of the best schools in Southern California, and many celebrities with families choose to live there because of that and it’s clean air and proximity to beautiful Lake Casitas, the Los Padres National Forest and other family friendly destinations.
For visitors it’s perfect for a weekend getaway. Perhaps the coziest place to hang your hat is Su Nido Inn in the heart of the city. From Su Nido you can walk to some of Ojai’s best restaurants and shops, especially the many thrift stores the town is known for.
The Inn recreates the Mission revival-style architecture, featuring one and two room suites built around a charming cobblestone courtyard complete with fruit trees and fountain.
Each suite has a Pacific feather bed atop a king size Simmons, so comfy the owner told me many guests choose to purchase one for their own home.
There’s a gas fireplace in each Spanish tiled suite. The bathrooms have both a free standing shower and tub. The toiletries are from Molton Brown, London…rarely found in smaller hotels. There’s also an LCD-TV with DVD to entertain you when the town closes up around 9 o’clock. The office has hundreds of films from which to choose, many recent releases. And anytime you feel like a cuppa, you’ll be pleased to see there’s a Keurig coffee machine in each suite, as well!
Many of the guests at Su Nido, which means your nest in Spanish, stay for extended periods of time, since the accommodations are so, well, accommodating. One man, I was told, spent five months at the inn, while his house was being built.
Rates run from around $200 to less than $300 a night depending on the day of the week and size of the unit.
From Su Nido, you can explore the town, which, even though it’s small, has a lovely museum, with a surprisingly extensive collection of art, Native American baskets, pioneer tools and photographs of Ojai’s early days.
There are a variety of restaurants in town from vegan cafes to upscale fine dining. One of the latter, probably the best, is Suzanne’s Cuisine in the center of Ojai. Suzanne is an amazing septuagenarian who’s operated her restaurant for 20 years, having moved to Ojai after living in Brussels and Paris. It used to be an old dilapidated house, she said, that took two years to convert into this charming place where you can either dine indoors or on the tiled patio overlooking a garden. You can even hear crickets that I’m sure are not part of the sound system!
The food is amazing, and even with a daily selection of specials, Suzanne is never content unless she’s added at least one more not on the menu. The food is an eclectic blend of Italian, French and California cuisine. Appetizers, in the $10 range, include an Eggplant Tart, stuffed with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and goat cheese served on a plate garnished with dabs of pesto and tomato puree.
The Grilled Vegetable Salad is simple but really yummy with grilled asparagus, green beans, roasted tomatoes and goat cheese, served atop a bed of greens.
There are over 20 entrees on the menu, not including the specials! I couldn’t sample them all, of course, but from the ones we did get a shot at, one of my favorites is the Fettucine with Portabella Mushrooms and asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and a goat cheese-truffle cream sauce. The pasta dishes are around $20-$27, and are enough for two to easily share.
The heartier entrees range from $25-$36. May I suggest the Miso Marinated Butterfish with a citrus ponzu dipping sauce and tobiko caviar (the roe apparently from Japanese flying fish). The fish melts in your mouth, and with the variety of flavors Suzanne has brilliantly combined, it’s a treat for the palate.
Suzanne is especially proud of her homemade desserts. If you’re a chocoholic you MUST try her special Belgian chocolate ice cream or sorbet. She told me she spent years perfecting the recipe, and believe me, it was worth the effort! But if you want something a bit less chilly, the most popular dessert on the menu is the Warm Chocolate Tart with White Coffee Sauce, and yes, it is served with a scoop of ice cream, so you’ll have your, shall we say, “cake and eat it too.”
Suzanne’s open for lunch and dinner, but is closed on Tuesdays, just to let you know.
And, of course, since you’re in wine country territory, if you’d like to sample some of the Ojai Valley varietals, you only have to walk a few steps to the Ojai Vineyard tasting room. Ojai Vineyards features 21 wines a year, the grapes coming from a variety of vineyards in the area and lovingly blended by owner, Adam Tolmach. For $15 you can sample six varietals, and should you decide to purchase a couple of bottles, they’ll waive the fee.
So if you’re looking to escape city life for a while, Ojai is close and yet so far away!
Su Nido Inn 301 N. Montgomery St.
Suzanne’s Cuisine 502 W. Ojai Ave.
Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room 109 S. Montgomery St.