I have visited the Ranch House restaurant (South Lomita Road, Meiner's Oaks, near Ojai) several times over the past 25 years and returned again last night. As always, the setting is verdant and unique with some of the table scattered up a hillside in lush foliage.
We had to insist on getting one of the garden tables as we were directed to an ordinary table under an overhang which was called a "garden table", even though several more secluded and scenic table were empty and it was 8pm, assuming no great rush was expected this late on a week-day evening.
Wine orders were solicited immediately before being offered the menu or recitation of daily specials. I personally find that irritating and in bad form. Then bottled waters were solicited as well, again before seeing a menu. Bad start.
The menu looked intriguing and pricy, as always remembered. Daily specials were offered verbally with no mention of their prices, which again I think is bad form. Surely in today's ease of printing, one could offer these in a handout form so as not to rely on ignornace, memory or rote recitation from the waitperson.
We both chose the "wild mushroom strudel" as an appetizer - and were quickly disappointed with their handling of the filo dough - dry and tasteless, and probably a result of making food too "healthy". I expected a real strudel with homemade crisp, light but substantive pastry, rich with butter. Instead, these were small triangles with some sort of duxelle farce of indistinguishable origin - but I guess were mushrooms at one time.
Companion ordered the daily special duck, I had the flat iron steak which they were claiming was their house specialty. Sauces sounded good but were uninteresting and not really complementary to the underfly meat flavors in both cases. They tasted and felt like some one has too much time with a hand held blender instead of really crafting a true complementary sauce. Made me glad I did not order the gazpacho. Entree's were over $30.00 and appetizers around $7.50.
Side dishes were a few, but flavorful patty pan squash and a baked potato for me and rice for my companion. Nothing heroic here to command the prices charged. Food was okay, nicely presented, plentiful in quantity, but nothing inspired or raptous to even play off the setting.
The best part of the meal was simply getting McConnells' coffee icecream (which we could have picked up at a store for half the price) because it is what it is - really good ice cream.
And this continues to sum up all other prior experiences at this very lovely restaurant: beautiful setting, ordinary food which sounds better on the menu, and more expensive than the food deserves.
This is a place for romantic atmosphere, if you don't let it get ruined by the food. And buy a carton of Ben and Jerry's at the closest 7-11 rather than adding on the costs of their desserts.
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