Saturday, February 18, 2006


ojai valley inn spaA few years ago I visited the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa at the suggestion of my friend Irene and her parents. I had a wonderful stay and was looking for an excuse to head back. My trip to Santa Barbara provided one, as well as a great opportunity to check out the resort’s just-completed $70 million renovation.

ojai valley inn golf courseThe Ojai Valley Inn occupies 220 acres in the hills above Ventura (40 minutes from Santa Barbara and about 80 minutes from LAX), and it is a spectacular facility. It is home to a world-class spa (top left) and a fantastic golf course (right) designed by George Thomas and William Bell. You might not recognize their names, but Bell and Thomas built some of California’s best tracks in the 1920’s and 30’s including PGA stops Torrey Pines and Riviera Country Club, the ultra-exclusive Los Angeles and Bel-Air Country Clubs, and my favorite, Stanford.

Everything was as I remembered, only better - especially the food. Ojai recently hired Andy Arndt (formerly at mc2), and he has transformed the cuisine. We had a great casual lunch outside at the Oak Grill and an even better dinner at the more formal Maravilla.

maravillla foie grasOur meal at Maravilla started with a sublime kuri and butternut squash soup. Its flavor was enhanced by vanilla bean, white truffle and lobster oil. We then got more adventurous with the Kobe beef “slider.” This fun dish is a mini-burger complete with a small fried egg, watercress and tomato on a sea salt brioche. Very unusual and very delicious. We returned to the refined with our next appetizer: foie gras (left). The foie gras was grilled, served on an apple tatin and topped with wonderfully earthy chanterelle ice cream. It was amazing!

maravilla apple confitFor my entrée, I had Colorado rack of lamb. It was served with baked pears and potato cakes. Lisette had butter-poached pheasant with glazed turnips. We then split the refreshing apple confit for dessert. As the picture (right) suggests, it was made with baked apples, fillo dough and vanilla ice cream.

A nice surprise at Maravilla was their selection of local wines by the glass. I started with the Costa de Oro Chardonnay from Santa Maria. For the foie gras I savored a late harvest Viognier from nearby Ojai Vineyards. And, for my lamb I had a Syrah, also from Ojai Vineyards.

The level of service matched the food. They split the soup and appetizers for us and allowed us to mix in selections from the tasting menu. And, best of all, the cost for this outstanding meal was quite reasonable.

If you are looking for a relaxing getaway, I enthusiastically recommend the Inn at Ojai. There are many activities besides golf and spa treatments (hiking, biking, tennis, fishing, painting), and the service is commendable. Packages make the rates more affordable.

Ojai Valley Inn: 905 Country Club Rd, Ojai, CA (805) 646-2420