1031 Harbor Blvd., Oxnard
The Shores in Oxnard was once a bit of a dive, a basic bar in a strip mall and probably best remembered as a local’s watering hole. With higher aspirations in mind, it underwent a lengthy renovation, reopening in the fall with a stylish new interior and a reinvented menu. Was the transition from sports bar to sophisticated dining a success? Some friends and I recently ate there to find out.
The remodeled Shores certainly has a good look. The decor is modern and bright, with a pale gray, white and black color scheme and much more ample lighting. The long, white bar still has a row of televisions for sports fans, while the dining area has more of an upscale feel. But the separation of those two spaces isn’t perfect. Our bench seat against the wall was comfortable but loud: Noise from the bar carries over into the rest of the room.
The upscale decor has a new menu to match: homemade pastas, seafood dishes, braised short ribs and brined pork chops. The appetizers are also enticing: popcorn with togarashi seasoning (a mix of cayenne, ginger, nori, Szechuan pepper and other spices), Vietnamese chicken wings, Cubano sliders. I was impressed by the eclectic wine and beer lists, a mix of intriguing options sprinkled in with the usual suspects.
Also new: a specialty cocktail menu, with a fun selection of savory, spicy, herbal and sweet. On the fruity side: Feeling Beachy, a concoction of gin, fresh raspberries, cucumber and lemon. Very pretty and nicely balanced . . . but probably better suited to a hot summer afternoon rather than a cold, drizzly winter evening. For something more piquant, try the fantastic Ship Wrecked, with Bulleit bourbon and muddled fruit and serrano peppers. The Shores has its own version of a Manhattan called the Mandalay, made with rye and cherry liqueur — also delicious. I’d happily order any of these drinks again.
We were excited to try some of the intriguing new food options, but with so many items blocked out, the menu resembled a CIA document. The restaurant was out of togarashi seasoning, the chicken wings were no longer “an homage to Pok Pok” (a reference to the famous Portland eatery) and there were no tagliatelle or charcuterie platter, either. So, we settled for the dry-rubbed wings, the beet dip, pappardelle sugo and wild halibut.
The results were a mixed bag.
There were certainly high points. The homemade pasta was excellent. With thick, tender noodles cooked to perfection and a rich, meaty tomato sauce, it was delicious, hearty and warming; perfect for winter.
We were also big fans of the beet dip (served with pita bread points). Deceptively simple, it was made with freshly cooked beets pureed to a creamy consistency and garnished with sesame seeds and bright yellow turmeric-laden labneh (Greek yogurt). The sweet, smooth vegetables, crunchy seeds and tangy yogurt all came together to create a dish that was light yet as flavorful as it was beautiful.
Good — but not fantastic — were the wings. It’s a shame that the Vietnamese option isn’t being offered anymore, because the simpler version was a little dull. The skin was nice and crisp, with hints of pepper, paprika and garlic, and the meat was tender and juicy, but I craved more flavor. It came with an herbed buttermilk dressing made in house, but that was a bit bland as well.
The halibut was, frankly, disappointing. I liked the roasted Romanesco and carrots, and the fish was fresh, but it and the carrot ginger puree (which sounded really good) were underseasoned and lacking in flavor. Our server (who I’d like to note was very knowledgeable and attentive) had recommended the short rib. I should have listened.
The Shores isn’t the first bar to strive for something more gourmet (Oak and Main in Ventura comes to mind). But that transition isn’t as simple as a new coat of paint and a few entrees. The chef has to deliver something on par with what diners will find at more reputable establishments. Based on my meal, The Shores still has a ways to go. But there’s definitely some potential here, and I look forward to seeing what the next wave might bring.