Photo by Peter D’Aprix
For a slice of northern Mediterranean in both cuisine and ambiance, Tutti’s Off Main in the heart of downtown Ventura is the place to go. For those familiar with Tutti’s when it was in Montecito, where it flourished for 19 years, don’t expect the same restaurant in its Ventura incarnation. This is a new Tutti’s, with its own personality. While Italian influence still dominates, the scope has broadened to include more northern Mediterranean as well as Italian influenced Americana.
Winston Sullivan and his co-owner wife Susan (half Italian and half Sicilian) decided to relocate in the former livery stables just off Main Street. The early California ambience appealed to them, and the courtyard offered a perfect location for dining al fresco. But its personality was entirely different from that of the Montecito location. A new culinary approach was called for. Well, not really new so much as adjusted: “Amer-Ital” morphed into “Amer-Med-Ital”.
First thing, they installed a wood-fired pizza oven. A seamless banquette is set along one exposed brick wall, bordered with tables for two or four. The courtyard wall is all French windows opening out onto the dining patio shaded with an expansive wooden trellising, orange and lemon trees espaliered up the support columns, and large pots with olive bushes. A dense rosemary hedge marks off the side boundary while a decorative stucco wall closes the end, complete with a built-in outside fireplace that provides a flickering ambiance and heat on cool evenings. Here, old California meets the northern coast of the Mediterranean, complete with ocean breezes and herbal scents.
The ambience carries through seamlessly in the cuisine. Open for breakfast and brunch (weekends), lunch and dinner, they are part café, part trattoria, and part ristorante. Montecito old-timers will recognize breakfast, with everything from good old bacon and eggs to brioche French toast, blueberry corn cakes, and golden polenta with maple syrup and butter. Lunch leans heavily to soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, ground Angus sirloin burgers, Cornish game hen, steaks, and fish dishes.
The dinner menu, on the other hand, is quite different. The chef who stayed on from Montecito does the breakfasts, brunches, and lunches—but the dinner chef, at the direction of Susan Sullivan, is exploring new ground in Ventura. As well as popular California cuisine and daily soups, there are “Tutti’s tappas,” dishes with more of an Italian bent rather than Spanish. They are presented in two groups: vegetables in one, seafood and meats in the other. For the “big plate” diner, there is the selection called “Big Plate Entrées.” These range from rib eye steaks with haystack potatoes to braised lamb shank, grilled pork chop over whipped sweet potatoes, rotisserie roast chicken, and spit roasted Cornish game hen stuffed with apricots, currents, and herbs. Grilled ahi tuna is presented with a gateau of roasted beets, goat cheese, and walnuts with tarragon beurre blanc. There is seafood cioppino, seafood risotto, and a variety of pasta dishes as well.
Like most new restaurants, Tutti’s Off Main has had some ups and downs over the last couple of years. But on my visit for lunch in mid-October, Susan and Winston appeared to have worked out most of the hiccups. I was served an excellent chilled poached salmon salad. The salmon was perfectly cooked—moist and tender, with no overcooking. A hint of parmesan found its way into each bite of salad greens. Three tender spears of asparagus and mixed baby greens embellished with a mélange of market vegetables made an excellent match along with the raspberry vinaigrette with just a touch of saffron lemon aioli. For dessert, the raspberry tort finger was a bit heavy on crust and low on raspberry, but the crème anglais eased what slight dryness that caused. Their lemon desserts are famous for those wonderful mouth puckering Italian lemon fillings.
All in all, a great place to eat any meal, meet friends, have a slice after a movie, or even hold a business event.