Ready to get out of town? If a short road trip out of L.A. is in order, Ojai’s restaurant scene is looking bright with the opening of The Dutchess from the Rustic Canyon family of restaurants. Combining a bakery, bar, pool table and full-service restaurant, it harnesses the talents of chef Saw Naing, formerly of Bouchon and Tallula’s, and baker Kelsey Brito, formerly of Huckleberry and Milo + Olive, together with baker Kate Pepper of Kate’s Bread.
Naing’s dinner menu focuses on the specialties of his native Myanmar — a cuisine that can be difficult to find in Southern California. Full lunch and brunch menus are due in the next few weeks, but for now pastries and coffee brighten up the mountain mornings, including Pepper’s signature rustic breads, giant cinnamon rolls, croissants and morning buns.
After Rustic Canyon owners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan started a little farm in Ojai, launching The Dutchess was a natural addition to the exclusive, laid-back community. Naing had been doing Burmese pop-ups and selling spice blends and masala out of his apartment, but it wasn’t enough for him. “What I really wanted to cook was Burmese food, the food I grew up eating,” he says.
While Burmese restaurants in the U.S. tend to emphasize noodles and curries, Naing is perfecting his biriyani rice dish sealed with a puff-pastry top, his favorite meal growing up. “It’s all about spices, step by step. You cover it and then you pray for it,” he says. “When you start eating that, you crack the puff pastry open, the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and cumin just pop,” he explains.
If you saw the “No Reservations” episode where Anthony Bourdain went to Rangoon, you might remember Bourdain interviewing a punk band and eating grilled meat skewers on the street. Naing put Rangoon 19 St. chicken tikka, beef satay and vegetable skewers on the menu as an homage to the street where partied when he was younger.
With “a killer bar” and pool table making it a prime hangout spot for the rustic village, Brito calls the bakery and restaurant “elevated in an unpretentious way.”
“I find inspiration from the people around me — whatever is growing, what we can get around here,” says Brito. Look out for her Sonora breakfast cake made with flour from the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project and Cuyama Orchards apples as well as scones with pickled chiles, cheddar, shallots and herbs. “Making desserts for a Burmese-influenced restaurant was out of my comfort zone,” she admits, but now she’s off and running with kulfi ice cream flavored with rose geranium and Santa Barbara pistachios and passion fruit lassi icebox pie, inspired by the fruits that are “growing everywhere around here.” 457 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
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Oysters Pop Up in Santa Barbara
While Malibu’s popular Broad Street Oyster Co. works on a permanent Santa Barbara location, its offerings can be found at Kim’s Service Department. Sea urchin-laden lobster rolls, caviar and oysters are available every afternoon and evening for takeout and can also be enjoyed at the adjacent Shaker Mill and Modern Times bars. 418 State St., Santa Barbara