Don’t Judge A Restaurant By Its Cover
The Cave – Ventura, CA
New American – Last Visit: November 2021
Following is the true tale of discovering a very good restaurant thanks to a passage in an engrossing novel, while making an embarrassingly expensive error when we returned for a second visit. Thus, the mystery of The Cave restaurant in Ventura begins.
Tracy had been reading the most recent Jonathan Kellerman novel (Serpentine) that mentioned one of the characters dining at a restaurant behind a wine store in an industrial area near Ventura, where he ordered the hamburger and Charcuterie platter. With Google’s help, super-sleuth Tracy deciphered it must be The Cave at Ventura Wine Company (restaurant behind a wine store in an industrial area …. check!). We emailed our friends in Camarillo and immediately set up a dinner.
In our dining experience throughout the years, some of the better restaurants where we’ve dined have been located in rather non-distinctive settings. The Cave was no different. Situated in an industrial park, The Cave’s rather plain exterior hides a cool interior (well, it is a cave) and some delicious cuisine.
Before entering the restaurant, Tracy and I, along with friends Steve and Adelaide, found ourselves inside the Ventura Wine Company, a warehouse retail shop featuring more than 1,000 wines, some of which would certainly find a home in our car for the long ride home.
There’s also an open kitchen, where the staff was working diligently.
After being seated, our server asked how we had found their restaurant, which is more than a tad off the beaten path (yes, in an industrial area…check!). Tracy proudly and happily relayed the story about her diligent research only to learn to her utter dismay that, unfortunately, The Cave was not the restaurant discussed in the book. According to our server, the Kellermans frequently dine at nearby Herzog Wine Cellars.
However, looking at the The Cave menu Tracy spied a Chef’s Choice Charcuterie and Cheese Board, further thickening this perplexing plot.
(We have a subscriber who is a neighbor of Mr. Kellerman, and we’re hoping she can get to the bottom of which restaurant he was writing about)
While waiting for dinner, we witnessed the device that dispenses wine samples for tasting. Because of Covid restrictions, it was not being utilized on this night. Our server explained the details, but since it was not in use, we failed to listen closely. Tracy and I would pay for that non-attentiveness a half year later. We did pay attention to the guitar player, however.
The room adjacent to where we dined is The Barrel Room, which can be set up for larger parties or events. We hear it’s a barrel of fun.
The starters set the bar high for the rest of the evening. I loved my Corn and Clam Chowder; House made … Boston style.
Tracy and Adelaide started with a very delightful Belgium Endive Salad (Belgium endive, imported gruyere cheese, Granny Smith apples and chopped walnuts in a lemon champagne vinaigrette).
Steven’s Butternut Squash Puree; seasoned Butternut squash with Goat Cheese also made the grade.
The dishes that followed were also cooked to perfection, including a tremendous Dijon and Herb Panko Crusted Australian Lamb Chops; with Sweet Potato Puree in a Mustard Cream Sauce.
Also delicious was the Short rib dinner; mashed potatoes, baby green beans and carrots …
… and a Gorgonzola Crusted Filet of Beef; 8 oz. filet of beef with mashed potatoes, baby green beans and carrots. The food photos here were tough to take. Remember, it’s a cave.
They also have some good-looking (and I’m sure good-tasting) pasta dishes. (below photo courtesy The Cave website)
On the way out, we did purchase a number of bottles of wine, including my favorite blend from the evening.
On a glorious autumn afternoon in late November Tracy and I returned for lunch with our four-legged dining companion Remi. We ate outside. This was her first car trip with us since her brother Frankie’s passing the month before. Yes, we are those kind of dog parents.
We noticed the wine store was featuring Opolo wines, so we decided to taste some with lunch, using the dispensing device that we had seen on our previous visit. Our server asked whether we’d been here before. I replied, “Yes, a few months ago.” She followed up with the question, “So you know the drill on how everything works?” In an answer I would shortly regret, I answered, “Yes, we do.”
She then asked us to put down a $100 deposit on our credit card for the wine tasting, and anything under that amount would be taken off the bill. Tracy and I looked at each other and laughed, “There is no way we’re going to spend anywhere near that amount.”
I had left my reading glasses in the car, so Tracy walked inside to get our wine. The wine machine (for lack of a better term) dispenses tastes in 1 oz./3 oz./5 oz. sizes with the dollar amount displayed below. Tracy purchased a 5-ounce pour and brought the glasses back to our table.
Our lunch was delectable, starting with that tasty Corn and Clam Chowder I remembered loving on our first trip here.
Tracy ordered the Crabby Patty Sliders; 3 sliders with warm crab salad on a brioche bun with spicy aioli and julienne romaine were spectacular.
So was the Ventura Cave Burger; half pound all beef patty, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, basil aioli with French fries.
Before paying our bill, we bought another bottle of the Beckman blend to go.
I went to pay the bill, and while perusing it, I saw that we had spent quite a bit of money for our wine pours. “There must be some mistake,” I said. “We only had two glasses.” Well, the only mistake turned out to be ours. I guess I should have listened more attentively on our first visit. Our five-ounce pour that we believed was only $6 total turned out to be $6 per ounce, so our two glasses of wine actually cost $60.
If only we had remembered what we and friends Kim and Mary had done at the wine store in Greve n Chianti on our infamous, car-destroying 2005 Italy trip, we could have saved lots of money.
The moral, which has seemed to escape me my entire life, is “learn to pay more attention to instructions.”
Remi, on the other hand, showed us she is a much smarter shopper and purchased a bottle of Prosecco at a nominal price. At least someone in this family listens.
Our foolish wine mistake aside, The Cave is a delightful and unique spot for lunch or dinner. The service was friendly and professional, while the food we’ve enjoyed here on both visits was top-notch. It also occasionally offers four-course winemaker dinners, which I’ll be on the lookout for in the future. With all the enigma surrounding which restaurant Kellerman was referring to in his book, dining at The Cave certainly turned out to be a Novel experience.
The Cave/Ventura Wine Company
4435 McGrath St UNIT 301
Ventura, CA 93001
Tuesday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday/Saturday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Ventura Wine Company
(also open) Monday 12 p.m. -6 p.m.
Parking: Free (lot)