Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trial and Error at Ventura Harbor Village

Two weeks ago, my father and I went downstairs to the elections department in the lower plaza of the Ventura County Government Center in Ventura (conveniently down the street from where we live) so he could register to permanently vote by mail.

While we waited for his application to be processed, I got to talking again with the delightful bearded guy behind the counter and the subject came around to Ojai, where he had grown up. I told him that whenever we went to Ojai, namely my mom, my sister and I lately, we always go to Ojai Pizza Company, which my mom loves for the pizza and which I love for their iced tea, which comes from Peerless Coffee & Tea in Oakland. I love the Ojai Library for its wood-paneled reading room atmosphere, and that iced tea matches the atmosphere, although I can't bring it there because they don't allow it in there, or any other food or drink. But while I do drink it, I imagine myself in the library in it, no matter if we're in Ojai Pizza Company or eating at the beautiful park nearby.

The elections guy told me that his favorite thing at Ojai Pizza Company is a calzone with pepperoni, pineapple and extra black olives. It appealed to me because I love calzones, empanadas, any foodstuff that's enclosed. Even McDonald's apple pie once in a great while. Then I raved to him about the pico de gallo that comes with the quesadilla and possibly more at Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe, also in Ojai, about how that pico de gallo is not only the freshest I've ever tasted, but it had to have been made by some means of a magical alchemy or by fairies themselves in the kitchen. There's no other explanation for how spiritually incredible that pico de gallo is, and obviously I've never forgotten it.

But even as we talked about that pico de gallo, and how he told me, shockingly, that he's never had it, I was thinking about his calzone recommendation. We haven't been to Ojai Pizza Company, or even Ojai itself, since before the sheer fright of the Thomas Fire that also bore down on Ojai. We figured to let time pass after the fire for everything to get back to normal in Ojai, including the water supply (for my iced tea), before we ventured back there. But life got in the way. Me and my sister's constant job hunting. My father ending up in the hospital again owing to a kidney infection and a severely low white blood cell count. Him gradually recovering from that eight-day stay and getting back on chemotherapy. More job hunting. Looking to live somewhere else in Ventura, namely the apartments behind Ralphs. Us exploring in full what might be available there and eventually finding the unit that's right for us, with about 30 square feet more than our current apartment, and slightly more space to work with, including more walls than we imagined, which means more spots to hang pictures, based on the mirror-image apartment we walked through on the second floor of the building across from our new apartment, which showed us what we will have. The apartment complex is still under construction, with so many interiors still to be done, but ours should be ready by mid-July.

So much to do. So little time to return to our favorite haunts, including the Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, which I consider the best mall in Southern California. But we want to try as soon as possible before things get really busy, before we move again, before we essentially start living a new life in which Mom has said that the only reason she'll move again is to the beach if we ever have that opportunity, most likely by winning the lottery. Otherwise, this is the place, not least because it's her castle, as she said, along with an apartment number that matches her birthday, the first time the number of an apartment is for her. It's always been for the rest of us.

Thus, at that counter, I thought about that calzone. It appealed to me since I love black olives, any kind of olives really, a genetic gift from my mother. I could go for that at Ojai Pizza Company. Or maybe not. We haven't been to Ojai since last October or November. It will be easy to cover ground at the Ojai Library again since I'll look at the new releases, which are better than what the E.P. Foster Library in downtown Ventura offers, and certainly better than what my local Hill Road Library has. I'll look at the expansive back wall of novels since there's always something there that pops out to me. But a pepperoni, pineapple, and black olive calzone? I've tried the pizza at Ojai Pizza Company, but I've grown attached to the vegetarian sandwich they have there, which is zucchini, mushroom, red onion, roasted bell pepper, black olive, and tomato. I don't ask for any extras. I love it just the way it is. So would it be worth trying that calzone, risking it being just ok, despite my love of calzones? Probably not, because of how long it's been since we were there. If we go to Ojai soon, and then again before the end of the year, then maybe I'll try the calzone. That would be the better plan.

It was the same at Ventura Harbor Village yesterday. The trial the past two times we were there is that the arcade hadn't fixed my beloved Galaga machine, only beloved because Galaga's on it, not necessarily the machine itself. The second-to-last time we were there, the image was all stretched out, and I couldn't even see the ship to determine where I was at the bottom of the screen, to try to dodge the aliens' weapons. I could see what I fired, but I was moving left to right and right to left blindly. Then the last time we went, the machine was off, out of order, and I left a note on an index card on the machine, from the perspective of the aliens and the fighter, imploring the arcade to fix it because, "Have you seen Wreck-It Ralph? Do you know what happens to arcade games that are out of order and are then not fixed? Help us!"

After eating at Andria's Seafood Restaurant, which my mom loves for their homemade tartar sauce and cocktail sauce (it was my parents' 36th wedding anniversary and Mom saw that as the best place to celebrate. She was right), Meridith and I stopped at the arcade on the way to Coastal Cone for ice cream to see if the Galaga machine was fixed. It was fixed as best as could be. I could see the fighter, although where you look to see how many lives you have left, you could only see the tip of the nose of the fighter. If this was the arcade at Sam's Town in Las Vegas, or at Sunset Station in Henderson, or the arcade at The Orleans in Vegas, I would have complained. But this is Ventura, a small town. I'm grateful just to have a working machine, although I haven't been back to Golf 'n Stuff on Walker Street near where we live lately to see if that Galaga machine is still there. Those are the only two that I know I have. That's good enough for me. But I need to know that they're working, that they're still there. And this one was, though I didn't go for it right away, not only because we were going to have ice cream, but I found three credits someone had left in the Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine, and I wasn't going to give up that opportunity.

The errors came with what I had at Andria's and at Coastal Cone. I didn't have to think long and hard about what I was going to have at Andria's. Clam chowder. I love clam chowder and Andria's clam chowder is nice enough. Having fresh clams in it makes a wonderful difference of course. But the error in this latest visit was that I ordered a piece of Andria's fish, which they don't list specifically as they do their cod and halibut. The fish was fine, but it turns out I didn't need a piece of fried fish alongside my clam chowder. The clam chowder had been enough, and Meridith shared some of her fries with me. She likes their fries there, since she can dip them in tartar sauce to block out some of the potato taste (she doesn't like potatoes, but there are certain kinds of fries she likes), but gives me the more mealy ones. Of course, there are potatoes too in the chowder, but to me, the fries at Andria's are the best in Ventura, just like the fries at Raising Cane's were, and most likely still are, the best in the Las Vegas Valley. Next time, it's just clam chowder for me and if Meridith happens to order anything with fries again (this time it was calamari and it was much better calamari than the last time we went), I'll have a few. I don't need a big piece of fried fish alongside the sanctity of Andria's clam chowder.

Then there was the error at Coastal Cone. I had been looking at their menu online the two nights before we went, wondering what to order. On May 31st, we had gone to Baskin-Robbins in the 99 Cents Only shopping center on South Victoria for their $1.50 scoops, which they do every 31st in a month. I had a scoop of butter pecan there, and a scoop of Mom's Makin' Cookies, which turned out to be one of their best flavors. Brown sugar-flavored ice cream, chocolate chip cookie pieces, chocolate flavored chips and a cookie dough batter ribbon. The butter pecan there? I forgot how utterly bland it was and was forcefully reminded this time. I needed butter pecan back, especially the Thrifty version that's offered at Coastal Cone. To me, that's the best one.

But then I saw on the menu on Coastal Cone's website that they had a 1950's Malt, which is vanilla ice cream, double malted milk, and Hershey's syrup. I love malts, and this sounded perfect. But vanilla? With how infrequently we visit Coastal Cone, I wasn't going to waste $8.50 on vanilla (the prices went up at Coastal Cone and at Andria's, likely because whoever owns the Ventura Harbor Village property raised the rents). And I've also returned to my love of brownies (not excessively, since I'm losing weight pretty well right now, not least because of all the stress I've been going through in the past year and a half, and Dad's latest hospital stay helped me drop a few pounds immediately), so there was also a chocolate walnut brownie ice cream flavor there. Perfect! I'd get more of a texture of something despite ice cream being blended into an almost-liquid. Some blended-up walnuts, brownie pieces. It sounded good! Yes!

Of course it sounds good before you have it. The ice cream itself is good, when it's ice cream. And I got my malt, a double scoop, but walnut pieces kept getting stuck at the tip of the straw along with fake-tasting brownie pieces as it turned out, and I realized I had squandered my chance at Coastal Cone. I should have gotten two scoops of butter pecan in a cup (I'm not one for cones, unless the cone is something really special, and their fish-shaped waffle cones are smaller in person than they're shown online), and I would have been very happy with that.

I've tried butter pecan in a malt at Coastal Cone before, and for me, it just doesn't work. I need the texture of the ice cream and the pecans located prominently throughout. If it was any other ice cream place, say somewhere in L.A. that basically requires a two-day drive from Ventura (everything is further away here than it was in Santa Clarita, and if we have to make such a drive, then I want the Getty Center or Philippe's French dip sandwiches in downtown L.A., or Langer's Deli well before some ice cream place), then I'll try a malt again at one of those places since I don't care about the ice cream as much as I do at Coastal Cone and also at Ojai Ice Cream, where those ice creams are homemade.

Next time, it's only clam chowder at Andria's and only butter pecan ice cream at Coastal Cone. Galaga works, thankfully, and after Coastal Cone, I played it four times. I know that every kind of ideal one seeks is a process of trial and error. And I have it down at Pho & Tea at the Pacific View Mall, where I always get Vietnamese iced coffee and their pork sausage spring rolls. Next time, I might venture toward a Vietnamese grilled pork sandwich, but I know already that it's good, since I had it when I was first experimenting there, back when it was called Pholicious, when I was looking for what was right for me, besides the Vietnamese iced coffee, which I know is always right, and which is the only coffee I ever drink, to the exclusion of all other coffees. I suppose it's a good record, though, being that I've nearly hit upon what's right for me at Andria's within two years (the year before we moved, and nearly a year that we've lived here in Ventura) and at Coastal Cone. In this town, in this region, it's accessibility, based on how often you get to each place. In Vegas, it was easy. 99 Ranch Market on South Maryland Parkway was almost right there, for my Vietnamese iced coffee, and #1 Hawaiian Barbecue on the outskirts of the Walmart shopping center at the back of McCarran International on South East Avenue was almost right there, for my roast pork, and they could always be had. Here, you take time. You really think about things. After the interesting distractions to be had in Santa Clarita and moreso outside of it, and in Las Vegas, Ventura strips your life down to the bare essentials, and it's scary at times. But here, you really do figure out what matters and what to do next and where to go next. At this point in my life, it feels right, knowing what truly matters while looking for my place here.