Traveling By Tastebud


Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer – Email:

Where will you go this summer?

Perhaps some of you are already off on adventures — satisfying wanderlust, rescheduling plans and reconnecting with loved ones too long missed. No matter what excursions you do (or don’t) have on your itinerary, know that you can travel far and wide via the wonderful restaurants found within our county borders.

And thus, Ventana Monthly is pleased to present this month’s theme, the World on a Plate.

Time and space and budget mean we can’t journey as far as we might have liked . . . kind of like regular travel. But I still think we’re giving you a decent tour through the area’s options for international cuisine.

And what better way to start than with coffee? Bonito Coffee Roaster (Cover Story) is a wonderful Ojai outfit, run by an owner born and raised in Nicaraguan, who understands coffee culture and flavor deep in his bones: its growing, harvesting, roasting and the way the final product acts as a glue to create communities. He brings that extensive knowledge and experience to every bean he imports (from farmers he knows personally) and roasts so that Bonito Coffee can produce one of the finest farm-to-cup brews in the area.

Also in Ojai you will find fine Italian restaurant Nocciola. If you’re picturing pizzas and meatballs, think again: Chef Pietro Biondi takes as his inspiration the sophisticated flavors of his native Piedmont, in northwest Italy, and spins them through a kaleidoscope of locally sourced ingredients, California-inspired fusion and his own creative passions. The result is extraordinary cuisine where every dish is a masterpiece of texture, color and taste.

Leave the Ojai Valley for the coast of Oxnard to find yourself at Moqueca in Channel Islands Harbor. The traditions, flavors and energy of Brazil are deliciously alive here, singing both on the platters of savory seafood, meat and pasta dishes (prepared by its Brazilian-born chefs) and in the very air of the restaurant itself, where smooth Brazilian jazz and cool ocean breezes dance a succulent samba.

The good times roll in Santa Paula at Rabalais’ Bistro, where Cajun and Creole cuisine reign supreme. Its fried chicken, jambalaya, beignets and bakery case are the stuff of legends; its exceptional service the very definition of Southern hospitality. Dig into the restaurant’s founding, vision and staff with us this month.

From Central America to South America, Europe to New Orleans, the culinary journey we bring you this month is as diverse as our own region, with its vibrant cities, tranquil hillsides and wave-swept beaches. I hope the spices and spirit of Ventura County’s many and varied cuisines will bring some zest to your life as well as your palate.

Bon appétit!