204 E. Main St.
Before handing me the Buddha Spirit cocktail, the server at Peirano’s Restaurant apologized that they had run low on ginger syrup. I tried the drink and thought it was good as it was — plenty strong, the lemon and ginger flavors mingled with the vodka nicely, and the mint garnish made every sip refreshing.
Not three minutes later, however, the bartender came back to say she’d found more ginger syrup and wanted to correct my drink. I took her up on her offer to re-shake it, and after the addition the drink took on a sweet warmth that brought it full circle. My companion pointed over my shoulder and the bartender was waiting below for my approval; I gave a sincere thumbs-up.
Throughout the rest of our meal, the entire staff of Peirano’s Restaurant displayed this pride in their work — a genuine concern for their customers’ enjoyment. When I saw the menu online, I knew that they were aiming to be among the top-tier restaurants in Ventura County, and it’s obvious after visiting that they are well on their way.
It helps that the location is fantastic. Located in the historic Peirano’s Market Building (which formerly housed Jonathan’s), it’s right across the street from the San Buenaventura Mission. But after entering Peirano’s you feel completely transported. The beautiful wooden bar, aged brick walls, colored glass and artwork evoking Mediterranean coasts create a pleasant tension between feeling elsewhere yet looking out at the mission, which is so quintessentially Ventura.
While the Peirano’s building lends the restaurant the ability to feel hip without trying too hard, the quality of the service and food are products of sharp attention to detail. Just after settling into our seats, a basket of amber-toasted bread and rosemary olive oil were on the table before we could even look up to admire the vines snaking through the veranda above. The manager then checked in to see if we had any questions about the menu.
When our appetizer hit the table we were wonder-struck. Many say that a person eats with the eyes first, and with that in mind the tuna tataki was a favorite even before we ruined it with our forks. Thin slices of sunburst-purple watermelon radishes were arrayed around a generous mound of sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna, which was topped with yozu caviar and dressed with red miso vinaigrette.
The flavors were light and not forceful, with the red miso vinaigrette giving a delicate, earthy saltiness. Getting a slice of the cucumber soaked in mirin (a sweet form of sake) was a sweet and tangy treat, and the watermelon radish was really effective for palate cleansing before going back for more.
After our first course was whisked away, the manager checked back again to see if we’d enjoyed everything. Our server was very on-the-ball when she took it upon herself to make sure the wine we’d brought ($15 corkage) breathed while our entrees were being readied. She said our food would be out in 10 minutes; it came in seven.
My companion ordered the crusted salmon, and when it came a sharp pang of envy hit me in the stomach. Partly from the smell, but mainly from the gorgeous golden-orange caramelization that ran around the edges of the oven-roasted filet, a sign of careful execution. The muhammara crust was more a spread over the top than a crust, but this Syrian concoction of roasted pepper, black walnut and pomegranate molasses was a delicious balance of nutty richness against the sweet and tart pomegranate.
I got over my salmon-envy as soon as a simple twist of my fork freed the first bite from the braised short ribs I ordered, which were cooked in Rioja wine with organic acaí berries, cherries and root vegetables. This felt like a fun take on a French approach to this unglamorous cut of meat. The acaí became incorporated into the sauce and the cherries provided a welcome bright presence, making for a tasty and complex brown sauce that was a nice twist on the traditional continental flavored sauces usually served with this cut.
The dessert menu might be the last remnant of the fact that they opened less than a year ago. Among the four choices available that evening, the server recommended the molten dark chocolate cake with the mandarin-orange sorbet. While there was nothing to dislike about the cake or sorbet, it seemed that the dessert section has yet to get the same attention that the rest of the menu has.
On our way to our car, a cook fresh off the clock heard us raving about the salmon. “You enjoyed the salmon?” he asked. “I made that!” Obviously happy that his efforts were appreciated, I left thinking about the attentiveness I noticed all night. This restaurant is clearly here to play its A-game, and I’m guessing by the lively Saturday night crowd and my experience that it will soon be noted as a jewel not only of downtown Ventura, but of all Ventura County.