Cafe Society: Toasting a close call at Ventiki in downtown Ventura
What do you serve to celebrate the reopening of a tiki bar after high winds send a 70-foot palm tree crashing onto the patio, demolishing a seating area and part of an awning but miraculously causing zero injuries?
"The obvious choice would be to run a special on Hurricanes," said Scott Noble, head mixologist of Ventiki Tiki Lounge and Lanai in downtownVentura.
"A few Dark 'n' Stormies wouldn't be out of place, either," Noble added.
Both cocktails suggest the blustery, bitterly cold conditions that on Jan. 31 caused the tree to topple from its shallow root ball foothold in the 100 block of North Fir Street and onto the Ventiki patio facing Main Street. (For a previous Star story about the incident, click on http://bit.ly/20uSJtE. For a video interview with eyewitness Anthony Valadez, go to http://bit.ly/1SMGv9K.)
Within hours of the 7:30 p.m. incident, a post on the tiki bar's Facebook page boasted that Noble and company would — to paraphrase the 1970s TV show "The Six Million Dollar Man" — rebuild the lanai "better, stronger, faster."
And when the doors reopened Friday, it became clear they had done just that.
"We have time to get it varnished and looking better," said Billy the Crud, theVentura County native and tiki carver who had completed the original thatched pergola just last month. At the time, rain kept him from adding protective coats of varnish to the wooden supports carved with an undulating design.
A nearby Ku tiki also received a coat of varnish "because it saved someone's life," Crud said, adding that the sculpture kept the pergola's roof from falling on a woman sitting on a bench next to the fire pit when the tree came down.
Designed to add shade and ambiance to the patio, Crud's lanai is perhaps the most recognizable sign of recent, pre-palm tree changes at Ventiki.
Noble, who opened the tiki bar and restaurant in 2013, last fall sold to Duane & Tonya Couch, who also own the 1890s-era building that houses Ventiki and several other businesses.
The bar's original list of 19 classic and modern Polynesian cocktails, some served on fire, has grown to 37 — and counting.
A Throwback Thursday promotion gives the bar staff carte blanche to offer a different vintage concoction each week. Beachbum Wednesdays are all about working through the recipe books of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry at a one-drink-per-week pace.
In the kitchen, head chef Anthony Longoria oversees a menu that includes kalua pork sliders, peppered seared ahi with fire sauce and other dishes that — thanks to former Ventiki chef Thom Davis — will ring taste-bud bells for those who remember the late Ventura restaurant Juro Cho.
Longoria is planning to launch a chefs' menu that will feature one dish from each of the cooks currently working in the kitchen. But as repairs were being completed last week, Longoria's focus was on creating something thematic for Ventiki's first day back. Something involving chicken and red palm oil, perhaps.
Using the latter ingredient would be "in honor of" the fallen palm tree rather than a revenge tactic, Longoria said with a laugh.
But by Friday, Longoria had changed his mind: "Have you ever tasted red palm oil?" he asked as happy hour went into full swing. "It's supposed to be really good for you. But it tastes really funky."
Ventiki's specials board for the day instead offered a dish called Ku's Revenge, named for the life-saving tiki. It featured chicken skewers with tahini and coconut on a bed of mixed greens, served with an orchid-topped mound of mango rice on the side.
And the palm tree? Only three, 4-foot chunks of its trunk remain, each bearing the name of a different local tiki artist: Billy the Crud. VonTiki. Tiki Tony. It will be interesting what they create from the Great Palm Tree Incident of 2016.
Ventiki's hours are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily (701 E. Main St., 805-667-8887,http://www.ventikiloungeandlanai.com).
THANKS LISA MCKINNON @ THE VC STAR