California Cuisine: Rolling out a Barrel

We are in Ojai upwards of twice a week (our son is in school here), so we are in regular need of someplace to pass the hours twixt, say, a parents’ meeting and pick-up time, usually during the day, but often at night. The entire valley is essentially a touristed but slow-growth artists’ colony: you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner or ample parking behind each block. Finding a comfortable, convenient nook removed from the visiting throngs is thus rather more of a challenge here than in say, Ventura or Santa Barbara.

In a hunt for such a nook, we found Barrel33.

There is little about Barrel33 from the outside to distinguish it from the other shops along Ojai’s main drag, so we almost missed it. We actually came in the side door, and as we did, it felt more like coming into a parlor than a restaurant. The room was dark yet lit warmly and softly from each table, the music relaxing and unobtrusive, the hum of conversations from each table barely able to mask the sound of our footsteps on the wood floor. The patrons were all local, casual, and unhurried, the atmosphere more Iberian than American. The decor, the architecture, and the setting were redolent of the Spain-in-the-New-World feeling that embodies the essence of the region. In short, we had found another rare piece of modern Spanish California, and we dropped into our chairs with the same kind of relief that you would feel coming into a cooled room on a hot day.

I am embarrassed to admit that I had never tried tapas before, but I don’t think that I could have chosen a better place to start my Euro-noshing experience. The wines and draughts are clearly curated rather than merely selected. Each seemed chosen both for the palette and as a subtle compliment to the menu.

And the food! We ordered the Mediterranean platter where the doumas, the hummus, and the babaganoush were all top-notch; a delightful Caesar salad; the incredible Blue Cheese and Pear quesadilla (which spoiled us both for any other quesadilla, ever,) and we finished with a chocolate souffle that melted like butter on our tongues. We wanted to try more, but found ourselves replete and happy, constrained only by the call from our eighth-grader telling us that the dance was over, and could we come pick him up?

Enjoyed over two hours, it made for the perfect date night with my wife. We will go back when school starts, the summer hordes have returned home, and when we have more time.

Barrel 33 Ojai
The Arcade Shopping Center, 308 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 646-1555


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