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BEST BITES

The following are capsule reviews of some of the better restaurants recently visited by our critics:

MK’s is hot and cool. Hot in that it’s frequently packed, cool as an oasis on a summer afternoon. Some dishes are very, very good, notably the seafood Vera Cruz and the “grazing platter” of grilled vegetables, grains, soft cheese, chutney, salsa and perhaps a surprise or two. The bread is great, and when it’s dessert time you’ll go far before finding a better apricot cobbler. Only so-so were the chopped salad with sun-dried tomatoes and the fideo, vermicelli cooked in a chicken broth with vegetables. MK’s is at 139 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 640-8001. Breakfast 8-11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday-Friday; until noon Saturday-Sunday. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Friday; noon-2:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Monday. Meal for two, food only, $26-$58.

Downey’s is expensive, and sometimes it is worth it. The duck, no matter how it is prepared, is excellent. Add some of Downey’s outstanding appetizers, such as the grilled squab, and flawless desserts, the Belgian chocolate marquis, for example, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls--overcooked fish and undistinguished beef and lamb dishes. Downey’s is at 1305 State St., Santa Barbara, (805) 966-5006. Dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 5:3O p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $65 to $80.

Voila Cafe may be in an ordinary little California stucco house, but the food is anything but nondescript. This restaurant knows how to come up with a fine dining experience, including a wonderful Sunday brunch. Calling itself a bistro cafe, it serves a variety of interesting dishes accompanied by superb vegetables. Baked chevre is a salad of crisp romaine and raw vegetables with warmed, pungent goat cheese on top. Filet Madrid is steak in a sauce of red peppers, fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Summer pasta comes with onions, mushrooms, broccoli and big succulent shrimp. Desserts are spectacular. Voila Cafe is at 1095 Thompson Blvd., Ventura, (805) 643-9445. Lunch and dinner are served 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner for two, food only $27 to $46. Sunday brunch with champagne $16.50 per person.

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Sushi Marina may not look much like a traditional Japanese restaurant, but the sushi is wonderful, and the place has a kind of happy-hour energy even during the week. Soft-shelled crab is a wonderful appetizer, crisp, crunchy and delicate, and the teriyaki beef is as good as it gets. Non-traditional sushi rolls include the Philly, made with cooked salmon and cream cheese, and the dragon roll, a deft concoction of sea eel and avocado. Sushi Marina is at 120 S. California St., Ventura, (805) 643-5200. Lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner Monday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $22 to $62.50.


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