Lois Ivanoff, owner / operator of the Hollywood Beach Wine Company in Oxnard, California opened her wine bar/bistro in late 2012 then prodded along the same bumpy path we’d expect in any new restaurant. It’s had its ups and downs, and a few less than stellar reviews on Yelp after a very strong opening, so Lois made some changes. She consulted with Tim Kilcoyne, Chef’s Collaborative’s 2012 Sustainer Award nominee, and former owner of the famous Sidecar Restaurant and The Local Cafe in Ventura, California.
When it opened on November 11, 2003, The SideCar was the first restaurant in the region to offer farm-to-table fare via a menu that mentioned local growers by name. In June 2009, Tim was the featured chef for the first Outstanding in the Field dinner to take place in Ventura County. The menu of local snapper with beets and grilled pork belly with turnips was cooked amid the crops at McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo, California.
Ventura is emerging as America’s next great local food hub, and no chef has played a bigger role in that emergence than Tim Kilcoyne of The Sidecar Restaurant. Lois hired Tim to consult with The Hollywood Beach Wine Company on a new menu. The two worked together for several months before finalizing a solid menu. I’ve visited the Hollywood Beach Wine Company on five occasions – four times with the old menu, and once recently to try Tim’s new menu.
A relaxing atmosphere, the Hollywood Beach Wine Company boasts the masculine hallmarks of Old World design elements throughout the interior of the restaurant. Once you’re inside, you’re greeted by a comfortable, broken-in look and feel of textured walls, tumbled marble, and distressed, matte and honed finishes. It’s a romantic space, surrounding guests with deep, dark and regal colors and a rustic quality complete with hints of woven tapestries and Aubusson rugs, and rough-hewn beams lining the ceiling. The large picture windows and connecting patio provide a beautiful view of the Channel Islands Harbor just outside. It includes a bar, restaurant, and a private room for special events.
Bringing the best wines from Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles, Napa Valley, Oregon and Washington, as well as several select “old world” wines from favorite countries such as France, Argentina, Italy and Germany, Hollywood Beach Wine Company provides a relaxed atmosphere for wine tasting and wine education.
Lois founded Hollywood Beach Wine Company on a farm to table premise, which fits like a glove for Tim’s essence of California dining, known for emphasizing fresh local ingredients in his elegant recipes. In keeping with the Hollywood Beach Wine Company tradition, Tim’s menu includes traditional classics, comfort food and trendy ideas, using local farmers and fishermen.
We ordered a bottle of Scosso, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, from Four Brix Winery in Ventura, California to accompany dinner. This is a bold, heavy wine with a lingering finish with a hint of blackberries that pairs exceptionally well with a filet or flank steak. Del Franklin, a very talented and personable jazz saxophonist was performing on the patio when we arrived, providing the perfect accoutrement to dinner near the fire pit while looking out at the marina.
Small plates / Appetizers
The Griddled Garlic Shrimp with Chili Butter wasn’t exactly what its name intended it to be. The shrimp was fresh, tender and flavorful with just the right amount of garlic, but it lacked in the chili department, and tasted more like grilled garlic butter shrimp.
The Carrot / Ginger Bisque, packed with fresh, carrots and warming, tingling spice of ginger is a must, if it’s available.
The Pork Belly Tacos with Cabbage and Pickled Red Onion were overcooked, unfortunately. I heard the perfect description for pork belly once – it’s like pork-flavored butter with a slightly crispy crust if done correctly. The meat on the tacos we received was more like overcooked pork chops, charred on the outside and dry and hard on the inside. Needless to say, we weren’t impressed with the first course.
For the main course, we ordered Ancho Chili Marinated Flank Steak with a Chimichurri Sauce, Salt Roasted Potatoes, and Wilted Greens, and the Blue Cheese crusted Filet Mignon with a Red Wine Reduction, Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans.
I ordered the Blue Cheese crusted Filet Mignon, medium rare with mashed potatoes and green beans (left photo above), but it arrived well done, and the mashed potatoes were over seasoned with salt to the point they were inedible. Our server kindly replaced the plate with a perfectly cooked, medium rare filet and fingerlings instead of mashed potatoes (right photo above).
I ordered the Ancho Chili Marinated Flank Steak, medium rare with a Chimichurri Sauce, fingerlings, and Wilted Greens, but it also arrived well done (left photo above). It was replaced with a perfectly cooked, medium rare steak along with the filet. This wasn’t the first time we’ve encountered overcooked meats at Hollywood Beach Wine Company. From the previous menu during our last visit, our steaks were also overcooked, but we were aware that they were working on the new menu at the time.
Now that Lois and Tim have dialed in on a final menu and Tim has moved on, Lois will need to focus on perfecting its execution. Hollywood Beach Wine Company is a casual-upscale restaurant with prices to match. Servers should be intimately knowledgeable in the menu, and the kitchen staff will need to focus on the details. Plating is not always consistent (the replacement flank steak wasn’t plated the same way the first one was), and cooking techniques must be honed in order for this restaurant to live up to Lois’ expectations.
A gourmet experience is only as good as the quality of ingredients, preparation, presentation, ambiance, and service, combined. Some fine-tuning is needed, but Hollywood Beach Wine Company is well on its way to a successful execution with exciting potential for growth. With just a few minor adjustments, this place could be booked nightly as a favorite neighborhood gathering spot for locals, as well as travelers.
The service at Hollywood Beach Wine Company, while seemingly short-handed during some of our visits, never ceases to impress. The staff is exceptionally friendly and accommodating, however not always thoroughly knowledgeable in every aspect of the menu. Our server was not only accommodating and friendly, she made us feel right at home. We arrived for dinner service at 6:00 pm, and we were fortunate to be accommodated with a table on the patio. The entire restaurant and patio were bustling with guests that I suspect either had reservations or meandered in for a glass of wine with their dinner from the Wet Wednesdays event, featuring gourmet food trucks just outside in the marina complex.
The service by far made up for any indiscretion in execution, and I intend to visit Hollywood Beach Wine Company again in the near future. The overall experience was quite enjoyable, relaxing, entertaining and I felt it was money well spent.
And what has Tim been up to since launching the new menu at Hollywood Beach Wine Company? He’s launching a food truck called, Scratch Food Truck bringing the local, seasonal food the Sidecar Restaurant was famous for to the streets of Ventura County. Scratch will be part educational, holding monthly farm meals at various Ventura County farms, part community builder with its monthly grilled cheese jazz nights, supporting local talent, and part community support, offering sandwiches, salads and bowls at local farmers markets using ingredients from the markets themselves.
I wish both Lois and Tim the best of luck in their new ventures. It will be exciting to watch their businesses grow, and to see them engage with their communities.