Fine Italian cuisine in bucolic SoCal
Olivella, the signature restaurant at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, is a destination within a destination. The Southern California resort popular with Hollywood celebrities, politicians and well-heeled families and couples, debuted its new eatery in 2015. That it focuses on local, seasonal California cuisine should come as no surprise, but that it also features Italian-influenced fare is a fresh concept (and done very well at that).
Olivella has the warm sort of environs that make you want to stay and linger, to look around and enjoy the place like one might do at a large gathering at a friend’s home in northern Italy. All around there are sounds of low-level chatter and people savoring their meals and their companions.
The 240-seat Ojai restaurant features a variety of intimate dining spaces with comfortable seating, unique art and custom-designed lighting. The soft lighting from the round Tuscan-style forged iron chandeliers is a nice, subtle touch complementing the overall dining experience.
If you wish to eat outdoors, Olivella’s dual patios offer alfresco dining with glimpses of the Ojai Valley’s legendary and romantic “pink moment” sunsets.
Within a minute of being seated, the waitstaff quietly brings fresh baked rolls to the table, pours a small dish of olive oil and asks if you’d prefer one of three types of water (bottled, sparkling or iced). In general, staff members are friendly and knowledgeable. They don’t hover but appear just when you need a water glass topped off or a napkin replaced, and they give you as much time as you need to make your menu choices and to enjoy your meal.
Chef de cuisine Andrea Rodella has created a unique dining experience by preparing Italian cuisine with California flair and incorporating techniques inspired by his Italian heritage (he grew up in Northern Italy). He describes Olivella as a “California Italian kitchen.” With an abundance of Ojai Valley ranches, orchards, farms and proximity to the ocean, it was not difficult for Rodella to construct a menu with fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. This he does well.
Expect a well-curated menu of appetizers, second courses (pastas are handmade daily), main courses and dessert. Some signature dishes you may find on the menu include local heirloom tomatoes with burrata, charred Treviso and aged balsamic; seared scallops with artichokes, peaches and mint; and rigatoni with the chef’s family Bolognese recipe. Ingredients are always market-fresh and the list of local purveyors is long and distinguished.
Desserts are no afterthought, either. Pick from crowd-pleasers like apple tortina, a delectable chocolate mousse cake and the popular Oxnard strawberries, which is a matchless riff on strawberry shortcake.
Olivella’s wine program focuses on the vintages produced in California, although there are some excellent choices from Italy as well. Sommeliers are on hand to help you choose wines to match your meals, and there is a four-course wine-pairing dinner option, too.
A well-edited cocktail list includes whimsical-sounding concoctions like A Clockwork Orange (gin, Campari, vermouth, basil, balsamic), and the spirits list is a generous collection of top-shelf whiskeys, tequilas and more.