Ojai Rotie Offers Fresh Picnic Vibe
For two local chefs who’ve been collaborating for more than 20 years, the time has come to focus with laserlike precision on perfecting two basic foods— chicken and bread—as the cornerstone for their new restaurant, creating a simple, delicious picnic-like menu. Larry (Lorenzo) Nicola and Claud Mann have opened Ojai Rôtie at what was originally the site of a gas station and most recently Knead Baking Company.
Mann says the idea was to open up the area—using the small outbuilding where the gas station cashier was housed as a small service bar. The rest of the area features outdoor dining among dwarf citrus trees under the canopy of an old tipuana tree, with just four tables inside the main building.
Mann, who was a co-owner/publisher of Edible Ojai several years ago, has deep roots in the Ojai community. He is dedicated to bringing healthy foods to schoolkids, first as a founding board member of The Ojai Healthy Schools Project and now through the Orfalea Family Foundation, supplying healthy meals to 15,000 students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
Nicola has owned a number of Los Angeles–based restaurants since the early ’80s, including L.A. Nicola (his first), Nicola, Mexico and Nic’s Beverly Hills. Notice the theme? (Mann mentioned that the original idea was to name this one Le PicNic, but Picnic is already in common use all around the county, including Ojai, and it wasn’t worth the potential issues.)
But back to the chicken and bread. Nicola has been perfecting his Ojai-style pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free rotisserie chicken, tweaking it gently until he is satisfied that the end product is juicy, with crispy skin and seasoned to perfection with Ojai lemon rind, fresh herbs, chili and garlic. Mann has devoted himself to the perfect sourdough pain au levain bread, which eschews the assertive acidity of San Francisco sourdough in favor of a lighter, more complex, long-rise organic bread made with natural airborne leavening.
“This is a very small place here, so our idea is to be easy, casual and simple and to do very straightforward and affordable food. We think of it as picnic food,” Mann says. “Larry’s from a Lebanese family. The chicken is his take on a childhood favorite. This is very, very, very simple: salads, sides, rotisserie chickens and freshly baked bread.”
“We’ve got great relationships locally,” he says, stressing the use of fresh ingredients from local sources. “I know so many farmers who come to meet us and are planting for us.”
Mann adds, “Plus we have both of our grandmothers’ favorite desserts: baklava and Bea’s Hurricane Brownies. During hurricane season in Galveston, Texas, the power would go offand the butter would melt in the heat of summer. My grandmother would bake brownies to give the children in the storm cellar. Larry credits his grandmother for his love of cooking and natural ability with food and hospitality.”
There is also a variety of carefully temperature-controlled wines offered, guided by Level 3 Sommelier Emily Johnston.
To emphasize the picnic aspect, Ojai Rôtie will offer picnic baskets (for a small deposit) filled with their food for those going to such events as the Ojai Music Festival , The Lavender Festival or to take along while hiking the many local trails.
469 E. Ojai Ave.