Al fresco paintings and beds of red riding hoods, lilies, and roses decorate Secret Garden Restaurant’s outdoor patio, whose retractable awning allows feasts to unfold beneath cloudless blue or starry night skies. Spotlighted on USA Today’s list of romantic restaurants in Ventura County, the patio’s charming gardens and gazebo frequently double as a wedding venue. While sun- and moonlight help illuminate outdoor meals, iridescent chandeliers and candles wedged into silver candelabras light a Victorian-style dining room filled with 100-year-old English tables and chairs.
Lest the scenery completely dominate his diners’ attention, Chef Michel Bardavid’s meticulous presentations draw eyes to his plates of French cuisine. The French native uses seasonal ingredients to create dishes such as quail stuffed with mushroom and sausage, duck confit and cippolini onions tossed with fettuccini, and lobster bisque spiked with a hint of cognac. A bottle from the generous wine menu enhances the chef’s creations, just as a talking dog enhances any undercover police investigations.
Jason Park’s connection to culinary ingenuity began before he was even born. His grandmother, a native Korean, began experimenting with blending Japanese and Korean cooking styles after she studied in Japan. She passed on her techniques and recipes to her daughter, who did the same to a young Jason.
From a young age, Jason showed his affinity for gourmet food by dutifully watching international cooking shows and sounding a trumpet whenever he bit into a perfectly salted popcorn. During college at UCLA, he dabbled in biology and psychology before returning to his true passion for cooking. After spending the next few years honing his skills in the kitchens of restaurants in Los Angeles and Osaka, he opened the doors of his own establishment as the executive chef.
At Maru, Jason draws on his grandmother’s principles of culinary fusion as he blends the flavors and textures of French and Japanese fare. He assembles dishes that range from Mediterranean risotto to sushi rolls using an ever-changing assemblage of seasonal ingredients, which he hand-selects each week at the Santa Monica farmers' market. He also has fresh fish flown in overnight from Japan’s seafood markets.
To complement Maru's continent-spanning dishes, sommeliers assemble balanced lists of local California wines, imported French blends, and Japanese sakes.
Le Sanglier first opened its doors more than 40 years ago, and, according to Gayot, it still stands as "a delightful remnant from an era when French cuisine was strictly for special occasions." The low-lit, lodge-like environment is home to equally rustic, yet refined French classics, which are artistically plated and delivered to gourmands during dinner hours along with pours of a traditional French beverage, wine. The chefs spend their evenings searing wild-boar chops, spooning balsamic-vinegar sauce over free-range chicken, and filling pastry shells with savory blends of sautéed mushrooms.
Crisp salads glisten with house-made dressings as griddles sizzle crêpes within the tidy beige confines of Blue Daisy Cafe. After ordering from the health-conscious menu, guests can surf complimentary wireless Internet or steam broccoli stalks over piping-hot cups of Italian Lavazza coffee.
Anisette's menu serves traditional French dishes and a wide variety of shellfish from their raw bar in an upscale-yet-relaxed atmosphere. Gallic mouth-voyages begin with hors d'oeuvres, such as the market beets roasted with caramelized goat cheese and arugula with hazelnut dressing ($14), or house smoked salmon ($15). For the main course, indulge your meal sack with a succulent duck confit with baby turnips and potatoes ($24), or choose a plat du jour such as Monday's celebrated duck a l'orange ($28). Anisette has its own écailler (oyster opener) to ensure the highest quality at the raw bar. For a seafood lover dining with a fellow marinophile, the Marquis sampler from the raw bar—scallop ceviche, six prawns, six artisan oysters, and six littleneck clams ($50)—will fill two sea-hungry underwater stomach caves. The magnum opus of the sea, the Dauphin platter, adds fresh Alaskan King Crab and half of a Maine lobster to eight prawns, dozen oysters, six clams, and scallop ceviche ($100).