Sometimes when you travel you just have to let serendipity take hold. Ojai Boccali’s.
I recently spent a weekend in Ojai, where serendipity seems to be a way of life. There’s even a toy store named Serendipity. But I didn’t go there. That’s not quite what I mean when I say serendipity.
I am talking about coming upon something unexpected. Or do I mean unexpectedly?
There’s Bart’s Books. Which bills itself as the World’s Greatest Outdoor Bookstore. Which is quite a statement, especially if you have ever strolled the Seine in Paris. But still, Bart’s Books is the kind of serendipity I am talking about. There are over 100,000 books displayed outdoors on tree-shaded patios. Used. New. Rare. First Editions. In this world, at this time– this is a bookstore you can’t quite expect to come across just anywhere. But I am glad I came across it. I got a book on Scandinavian cooking that will become my bible, I suspect, for an upcoming culinary tour of Norway. It was lucky I came across it. Or should I say serendipitous?
More serendipity includes The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts. It’s quite a collection of the artist’s best work and something of a destination to those inclined to admire Beatrice Wood as an important contemporary artist, craft-person and writer. Her life ran the course of the 20th century, and reflects so many of its influences. Ultimately, her genius was in the marriage of these wide-ranging influences; the spirit of Dadaism, the impact of Modernism, and her embrace of Eastern philosophy. It’s world-class art in the most unexpected of places.
Which may define Ojai. There are modern day artists working and living in the beauty of the Ojai valley too. I picked up a lovely little plate by P. Lyn Middleton, an artist and educator who has taught at CalArts, and Art Center Europe. Her hand-built ceramic forms are both tactile and functional, with enough organic happenstance to be considered a bit of serendipity on their own.
But let’s face it I am a food blog, and I am really here talk about serendipity of the edible variety. For me the most serendipitous moment of the weekend may have been Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta. Because it really was a strange confluence of events that brought me their door. It was a classic wrong turn. I meant to go right, but I went left. I ended up far enough from the center of Ojai to get a taste of what Ojai is all about.
I came across this red and white little road house on Mother’s Day. It was jammin’! Not only was the restaurant full, but also the patio was packed and they had set up tables in the meadow beside the building to seat an additional 200 mothers with family. I knew I had to eat there. So I backed my car into the orange grove next door and prayed I wouldn’t get a ticket.
I was greeted with a healthy helping of honesty, “I am sorry honey but between reservations and wait list, it could be an hour before I can get you a table”. I know the hostess– pregnant, tired and generous was expecting a big city harrumph out of me. But I said “no problem” and took a seat at the bar. Two beers later (now in the hands of an appologetic Linda whom I suspect to be the owner’s wife) I was being placated with bread– warm from the oven. It was a nice but unecessary gesture as I was enjoying the experience and the ambience more and more by the minute.
I say I suspect Linda was the owner’s wife, ‘cuz I really don’t know. But I did hear someone say “Dad” to an older gentleman strolling about in an immaculate apron. More proof that this place is a family affair.
It’s been in Ojai for 25 years now. And while we were diners of the tourist variety, you could just tell the place was packed with locals. People who came for friendly food served with love at a scenic little corner on the East Side of Ojai. It’s a simple menu of “old-school” Italian-American specialties: Hand-tossed pizzas, freshly prepared pastas, all the expected salads– and a strawberry shortcake that seems to be a local legend. Coke. Beer. Their own wine. All good stuff.
Okay, I live in the big city. I have seen this menu before. Or at least menus just like it. So I won’t lie. There are plenty of restaurants that do this sort of fare– some better than Boccali’s. But the portions are generous, the quality is impeccable and the service makes you want to come back again and again. Because this place is all about family tradition. And Boccali’s makes you feel like you are family and the tradition is all about you.
And that’s what I mean by serendipity.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD