Nested on the corner of Ann and Thompson streets and swiped with a large Z that Zorro himself would envy, Café Zack, a cozy 1930s bungalow restaurant, is a longtime favorite of Ventura natives. So when the owners recently decided to update their menus, they knew that any changes would have to be carefully finessed.
“We absolutely had to keep Zack’s Tostada Salad and the Grilled Chicken Pesto on a Baguette on our lunch menu,” explains Hector Gomez, one of the owners. His chestnut eyes glimmer as he tells me about some of the new additions to the menu and the responses they’ve received from regular diners.
The Kobe Beef Burger decked with bacon, grilled onions, cheese, and a tomato aioli and the Zack’s Roast Beef Sandwich with roasted bell pepper, Swiss cheese, and fresh horseradish are getting high acclaim, he says. And an ever-changing Ravioli du Jour keeps the lunch menu exciting: “The Rosemary Chicken Ravioli with roasted garlic sun dried tomato sauce was a hit, as was the Lobster Lasagna with roasted tomatillo and cilantro cream sauce.”
On the dinner menu, the new best seller is the Rack of Lamb served with a fresh mint, port wine reduction. “Our chef (Gomez’s brother-in-law Salome Cervantes) is creative and makes all of our sauces from scratch, and his temperature (on meats) is perfect,” says Gomez. For that reason, both the Choice Filet Mignon served three different ways and their signature Slow Roasted Wild Boar Shank in a rich demi-glace stayed on the menu. Other favorites that Zack’s kept around are the creamy Seafood Curry and their Lobster with Sweet Corn appetizer.
Café Zack created its new menus to showcase seasonal ingredients at their peak. “We only serve our caprese salad once a year when the tomatoes are freshest,” says Gomez.
Their caprese features jewel-toned fresh heirloom tomato slices, fluffy bufala mozzarella flown in from Italy, freshly sliced basil chiffonade, and a balsamic reduction.
Another seasonal highlight, the Soup du Jour is served for both lunch and dinner. On my last visit to Café Zack, the Roasted Butternut Squash soup was thick and warming, with a slight aroma of whipped hot chocolate.
A surprising twist on the dinner menu is the use of seasonal produce with foie gras. “Last week our chef served it with fresh blueberries and peaches with a port wine demi-glace,” says Gomez. There is also a new fish special served nightly, which the chef pairs with homemade compound butters. Recent dinner services have featured sea bass and Norwegian salmon, which Gomez tells me was served with a sun dried tomato or chipotle chili butter.
For dessert, Café Zack is perhaps best known for the rich slice of decadence named Zack’s Pie—a pecan crusted bittersweet chocolate bliss served on a bed of caramel and topped with whipped cream. But now there are tempting new desserts, such as a Pear Marzipan Tart, Raspberry Raisin Bread Pudding served a la mode, and Peach and Cream Cheese Empanadas.
One feature of Café Zack that Gomez vows will always remain the same is their philosophy on service. “The customer must be 100% satisfied,” he says proudly. A regular, overhearing our conversation, chimes in, “Stellar service!”
They’ve just renewed the lease for another 15 years and procured permits to redo the patio seating area. “We want to stay here forever,” says Gomez, who runs the restaurant with the help of three brothers-in-law and three nephews. “We’re not here to get rich. This is our job, and we love what we do.”