What comes to mind when you think of Oxnard? A wine trail? Fine dining? Spectacular ocean views? You’ll find that and much more in this charming town on the southern California coast. I recently visited there, staying at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel and Resort. Executive Chef Tim Hulbert, who’s resumé includes Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, greeted us with skewers of spicy sausage, fried Hawaiian bread and pineapple and challenged us to get all the elements in our mouths at once so we could savor the different flavors. Paired with a peach bellini it really hit the spot. We toured the newly renovated property and got a glimpse of the future as we were shown the new spa that is under construction. The hotel sits right at the water’s edge and boasts wonderful views and incredible sunsets. Chef Tim prepared a savory lunch, starting us off with an appetizer medley of mini quesadillas, calamari and Baja spring rolls. A creamy lobster bisque followed and for the entrée we were served grilled halibut, roasted chicken with Israeli cous cous and an Asian chicken salad. Dessert rocked my world. Cranberry bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. I wanted to lick the bowl.
Winemaker Joe Hurliman greeted us in the tasting room at Herzog Wine Cellars. Herzog is the state’s largest producer of Kosher wine. The funny part is, Hurliman is not an Orthodox Jew, so he can’t physically be around the winemaking equipment. Other staff members will bring him barrel samples so he can see where the wine is and make adjustments as needed. It’s also how he determines the proportions that go into his blends. He is exuberant, passionate and a joy to be around. After a full tour of this impressive facility, we tasted and enjoyed several of his wines. As were were leaving, manager Joseph Herzog came out to greet us. We were made to feel most welcome and I relish the thought of a return visit.
Dinner brought us harborside to the newly opened Hollywood Beach Wine Company. Owner Lois Ivanoff welcomed us into the place she just opened last year. Several of us stepped outside every few minutes to soak in the brilliantly changing sky as the sun began to set. I started off with a Caesar salad with plenty of anchovy filets, just the way I like it. We shared plates, I tasted fall off the bones ribs with a cherry bacon glaze, a bleu cheese crusted filet and the espresso and ancho chile pork tenderloin. Lois has the kitchen firing on all cylinders. A trio of desserts was a divine way to end a lovely evening.
The next morning, we made our way through town to La Dolce Vita, where owner/chef Michelle Kenney greeted us with limoncello champagne cocktails and then guided us through the preparation of spicy sausage in puff pastry, caramelized onion and fig bruschetta, asparagus and goat cheese mini fritattas and a chocolate molten spiced cabernet cake, tasting as we went. We sat outside on a bright sunny morning on her patio overlooking Heritage Square. Michelle opened the place with her mom years ago and has her hand in plenty of pies, also doing catering, cooking classes and offering live entertainment. I will share the bruschetta recipe with you. Trust me, they’re amazingly delicious and very easy to make.
- 3-4 ounces of thinly sliced tellagio, asiago or (for a milder taste) provolone
- 10 dried mission figs, halved lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
- 1 goat cheese log
- 1/8 cup dry sherry, marsala or port
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1-2 large Spanish onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 9 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (3-4 inches long)
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- baguette, thinly sliced (for gluten-free, substitute gluten-free crackers or sliced pears)
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Crumble the goat cheese into a medium sized oven-safe dish. Set aside.
- Put sliced figs in a small saucepan. Add sherry and a little water to cover. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Set aside.Dried figs will plump and absorb sherry flavor.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, rosemary sprigs, salt and pepper. Sautée, stirring often, for 10-12 minutes, until onions are lightly browned. Removed plumped figs from pot using a slotted spoon and add them to the onion mixture. Stir to combine. Remove thick woody rosemary stems from mixture and heap the caramelized onions and fig mixture on top of the cheese. Top with tellagio, asiago or provolone. Make ahead. At this point you can cover and refrigerate the dish for a day or two. When you are ready to serve it, let it sit at room temperature for half an hour before continuing.
- Just before serving, bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until cheese is hot and starting to bubble at the edges. Serve hot, surrounded by baguette slices or crackers. Enjoy!
Oxnard is an easy drive from nearly anywhere in Southern California. Enjoy this gem. I loved it.