Bob Chiarelli, owner of the New Jungleland Cafe in Thousand Oaks, and his chef, Michel Lerond, aren't afraid to experiment with their pastas.
Their recently modified dinner menu includes angel hair pasta with calamari, Thai fettucine (sauteed shrimp and spinach in a yellow curry sauce), spinach fettucine in a light tequila creme sauce, fettucine with Italian chicken sausage, and linguine with shrimp scampi.
This emphasis on pastas is a new approach for Chiarelli, who opened his restaurant near the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in August. The restaurant is now open for dinner nightly and brunch on Sundays. Until last month, the cafe was open for lunch, and the slant was more toward heavier dishes.
"Our original menus had egg dishes, the type that have hollandaise sauce or heavy cremes, such as eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine," said Chiarelli. "Frankly, we would make the creme sauce fresh each day and people weren't purchasing it. We decided to get rid of the sauces and go to lighter fare and increase the pastas."
The cafe, named after the Jungleland animal park that formerly occupied the Arts Plaza site, also has a nice selection of crepes, including spinach with cream sauce and Swiss cheese, chicken, ratatouille, and seafood.
Entrees include chicken paupiette (sliced, boneless chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto, basil and mozzarella); filet of salmon with mustard sauce; and chicken Jerusalem (sauteed skinless chicken breast with white wine, artichokes and mushrooms).
Appetizers include escargot, stuffed mushrooms, and crab cakes. For dessert, diners will find tiramisu, tartufo, several gelatos and other Italian sweets.
The restaurant is at 2310 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.; 496-7121.
Suzanne's Cuisine of Ojai tied for second in quality of food among restaurants in the Santa Barbara-Ventura area in the just-published 1996 Zagat Survey of Los Angeles/Southern California Restaurants.
The 10th annual Zagat ratings were based on a poll of nearly 5,000 restaurant-goers throughout the region.
Suzanne's, co-owned by Suzanne Roll and Sandra Shinall, received a rating of "extraordinary to perfection" in the food category. The restaurant also received a "very good to excellent" rating for service and decor.
Downey's, in Santa Barbara, was given the area's top rating for food. In a three-way tie for second, Suzanne's was named along with the Stonehouse Restaurant at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito and La Super-Rica in Santa Barbara. La Super-Rica was rated as the top dining value in the area, and the Stonehouse Restaurant tied with the Four Seasons Biltmore of Santa Barbara for best decor.
The restaurant at Ojai's Wheeler Hot Springs was rated "very good to excellent" in the food, decor and service categories.
Chef Phyllis Kidd, a regular finalist in Ventura County cooking contests, has operated a personal chef service out of her Mira Monte home for more than a year.
Through this business, which she calls What's for Dinner?, clients hire Kidd to prepare a series of gourmet meals to be frozen and reheated when needed, or to prepare a meal and serve it hot.
She said it has become popular among her clients to give her services in the form of gift certificates. This, in turn, led Kidd to start another business this month.
Through her "A Tisket-A Basket" business, Kidd creates customized gift baskets in which to package the dinner gift certificates. Baskets, of course, are also sold on their own. "You tell me a little about the [recipient] and I'll personalize the basket," said Kidd. "Maybe I'll put in champagne, fresh grapes, flowers, balloons." Call 655-6046 if you're interested.
Leo Smith is a regular contributor to Ventura County Weekend. Write to him at 93 S. Chestnut St., Ventura 93001, or send faxes to 653-7576.