Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Rita Moran, Restaurant critic, Ventura County Star.
February 6th, 2018
There’s always been an aura of serenity around The Ranch House restaurant in Ojai. Originating in 1953 in the home of the late Alan and Helen Hooker, it offered a small menu focused on the vegetarian fare they had come to appreciate while previously living in an Ohio commune.
That sense that life is a gift to be nurtured was reflected in the Hookers’ gradual transition from offering lodgings to like-minded people to helping guests appreciate the joy of fresh and simple food, grown at the site or in surrounding Ojai areas. Ultimately they opened their quiet restaurant where a stream flows through the sylvan setting. Alan was the original cook and his fresh and innovative style soon brought local folks and Hollywood stars to his door to sample and become fans for decades.
Today, with current owners Steve and Maria Angela Edelson acquiring the Ranch House three years ago, and new chef J. Richard Sejkousky joining the scene late last year, The Ranch House is again stirring the culinary pot in Ojai.
A prix fixe menu available for guests from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays offers diners the opportunity to select what they want from seasonal options, organic farm vegetables, homemade breads, desserts and main dishes that range from pork chops to filet mignon, barramundi to duck confit, and red beet fettuccine to risotto butternut squash.
I chose for my three items in the $45 category an appetizer, entrée and dessert, beginning with seared shrimp (two of them) joined with Fuji apple, baby arugula and crispy pancetta in a sage-brown butter sauce. Very tasty, if a bit tiny, it worked well for me since I had opted for the main dish of grilled filet mignon. A perfectly grilled filet, to my rare-leaning preference, was joined by chunks of white truffle fingerling potatoes and a touch of seasonal vegetables, with a red wine demi-glaze a perfect companion for the steak. It was definitely a standout in quality of preparation and flavors.
The tuna tartare appetizer option selected by one of my friends was teamed with herbs, pickled red onion, capers, garlic and lemon moistened by extra virgin olive oil.
My dessert of a small circular cheesecake topped with fresh berries was shared with my friends and we agreed that it was a fine conclusion to a satisfying meal.
Both the Moroccan spiced red lentil soup with cilantro and the creamed soup du jour were good, but the lentil soup was exceptionally well seasoned and tasty. It’s a regular on the current menu and well worth including as one of the three-items options.Salad-wise, the roasted carrots version was impressive, and not just for the long list of components. A “spicy Asian mix” including blood oranges, pickled fennel, toasted pistachios, pickled red onion, avocado and croutons, blended with blood orange vinaigrette, was definitely a distinctive dish. The other salad option was Little Gem, beginning with charred gem lettuce then adding pancetta, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese and chives in a creamy blue cheese dressing.
My friends were happy with their main dishes of seared barramundi and rosemary chicken breast. The first, centered with the barramundi described as “sustainable white fish” and offered in a generous portion, was paired with braided baby bok choy and seasoned with curried and infused carrot purée and miso ginger sauce. The chicken breast was presented in a creamy sun-dried tomato sauce with roasted artichoke hearts, plus flavor boosting kalamata olives and caramelized onion.
Among other appetizer options were beef carpaccio, roasted bone marrow and Classic Ranch House cognac-chicken liver paté. While our cheesecake dessert was not listed on the menu, probably replacing the pumpkin cheesecake mentioned, there were other options including creme brulée, flourless chocolate cake and chocolate truffles.
Our young woman server was outstanding, providing prompt and helpful assistance throughout the meal, and the tall, white-haired man who greeted us at the door and later bid us farewell, were both representative of the Ranch House’s welcoming atmosphere.
Seated on the roofed outdoor deck and warmed to the degree we preferred by tall space heaters, we had an extensive garden view that has always been one of the appealing elements of dining in the enduring restaurant.