Looking for the perfect croissant? It’s in Ojai
Here’s where to eat — and what to order — right now.
The entire bakery case at the Dutchess
Just after 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning, a line wrapped around the bakery counter at the Dutchess. On display at the Ojai restaurant and bakery were mountains of croissants, trays lined with heirloom tomato danishes, piles of chocolate croissants and croissants stuffed with ham, cheese and mustard. A platter overflowed with pickled chile and cheddar scones, alongside a whole citrus coconut chiffon cake, stacks of bagels and sugar-flecked morning buns. Faces pressed up against the glass surrounding the case. People pointed and their eyes widened at the breadth of the selection.
I ordered pretty much one of everything. It was going to be a good drive back to Los Angeles.
Pastry chef and partner Kelsey Brito obsessed over her viennoiserie program, spending about two months perfecting the croissants. She even tried making her own butter for the butter blocks that are a crucial step in making laminated dough for croissants.
The croissant is “crucial to my bakery case,” she said during a recent call. “And you know, when I eat a croissant, I want it to shatter into a million pieces in my lap and make a total mess.”
I flipped open my box as soon as I got in the car. I intended to eat my ham and cheese croissant while driving back to Los Angeles. Before I even started the car, I took the first bite: There was an explosion of pastry, with crisp shards showering my lap (mission accomplished, Brito). Then a flood of butter melted into Niman Ranch ham, melted white cheddar and a sharp and grainy mustard. The car didn’t move before I finished the whole thing.
Next, I dug into what Brito describes as her sacrilegious bagel. The bagel had a delicate, crisp exterior with a soft but just-chewy-enough middle and a slight sourdough tang.
“We took our baguette dough and shaped it like a bagel, boiled it like a bagel, and it was like the best thing ever,” Brito said. “Some people would say that’s not a bagel, and fair enough, but it is to us.”
Both the tops and bottoms of the bagels are dipped in Brito’s everything bagel seasoning so that every available surface is crowded with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, fennel seeds and dried onion. Each bagel gets a schmear of good cream cheese, pickled onions, a few halved Castelvetrano olives and whatever fresh herbs are available in the kitchen. Sunday’s bagel involved sprigs of dill, some basil and mint.
I suggest you arrive early. A friend who showed up later in the day missed all the croissants. Don’t be that friend.
This incredibly scenic path runs 15 miles from the Ventura shoreline to the charming town of Ojai.
Fried quail and naan from the Dutchess
The evening before my morning of laminated dough, I treated myself to a solo birthday dinner at Burmese-inspired the Dutchess, from the same restaurant group that includes Rustic Canyon and Cassia in Los Angeles. While there are pastries and counter service for breakfast and lunch, it’s a full-service, sit-down restaurant in the evening with curries, lamb biryani, fermented tea leaf salad and a full bar featuring house-made vermouth and bitters. I was halfway through dinner when I embarrassingly flung a quail bone onto the floor. I was trying to separate two bones in an attempt to capture every last scrap of meat when it caught air, flew in an arc and nearly landed on the next table. I’m still lamenting the missed bite.
“Good,” chef and partner Saw Naing said when I relayed my experience over a recent call. “I want people to use their hands and rip it apart.”
Naing said that in Burma, where the chef grew up with his Indian and Burmese family, quail was everywhere. “It’s a daily food for us,” he said. In Burma, he often ate the birds as a grilled street-style kebab. At the Dutchess, he dredges and shallow-fries his quail in a cast-iron pan.
He serves the quail over a pool of curry made from his own garam masala, onions, garlic, ginger and cream. Then he brushes the tops with chimichurri — his version of the Argentine sauce is full of cilantro, cooked down scallions, lemongrass and makrut lime leaves and juice.
The coating on the quail falls away in big tiles, crisp, sharp and a tad bitter from a good dose of fenugreek powder. The meat has notes of lemongrass and ginger. Naing soaks his quails in a buttermilk brine fortified with fish sauce.
I ordered some naan to soak up the leftover sauce on the plate, tearing away chunks to scoop up the rich curry.
“When I was in Burma, I grew up eating naan every morning,” Naing said. “It’s the only bread I eat.”
Naing brushes his flatbreads with honey and house-made ghee. On the side, there’s a ramekin of shallot, garlic and herb butter seasoned with garam masala.
Depending on when you visit, the tikka masala might be replaced with another curry. The quail might be goat. Order it all.
Where to eat
The Dutchess, 457 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, (805) 640-7987, thedutchessojai.com
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