Paella, Olive Oil and the Blue Iguana in Ojai
One of my favorite places in spring is Ojai, where beautiful landscapes and small town charm mix to form pure relaxation. A friend and I recently took a day off work and snuck away to this little hideaway. It was only for the night, but the memories will linger for a long time.
The getaway began when we pulled into the Blue Iguana Inn, located on the outskirts of town. Seeped in old-mission style architecture, the Iguana is an old-world style boutique villa-inn designed and built by renowned Ojai architect Marc Whitman.
The property is highlighted by arched entrances, terra cotta curved roofing, and rugged outpost railings. Flagstone paths marked with intricate stone mosaics and hand-made Mediterranean tiles accent the landscape, along with lush courtyards, gardens and trees, and a pool.
The interiors are also distinctive. Every one of the inn’s rooms, suites, bungalows and vacation cottages feature authentic one-of-a-kind furniture pieces throughout, including exotic rugs, original pieces by local artists and lots of Southwestern-type furnishings.
Our two-bedroom bungalow was no less special. The living room featured a large sofa, chase lounge, large TV and old-fashioned fire place. The master bedroom boasted a king bed, television and private bathroom. The second bedroom offered a queen bed and its own private bathroom. The bungalow also featured a full-sized kitchen with stove, fridge, microwave, sink and dinner table. And out the side of the house, there was a large private patio area.
The accommodations were so comforting we considered going to the market, cooking a dinner and staying in all night. But then I remembered Azu Restaurant in downtown Ojai. More specifically, I remembered the paella and chile relleno I sampled on my last visit.
Led by Chef Laurel Moore, Azu serves an eclectic California Spanish fare inspired by traditional Mediterranean cuisine with fresh local ingredients grown and hand-picked by Moore from local farms and her own garden. The menu is highlighted by an extensive tapas menu, numerous wines by the glass, and fresh homemade gelato.
For our dinner at Azu we began with Tapas, which included marinated Cerignola olives and chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. For the main course I again experienced the paella, with saffron valencia rice, shrimp, calamari, chorizo sausage, peas and marinated artichoke hearts. My friend went with the petite rib eye steak – a 6-oz grass fed rib eye – with hand cut fries and green peppercorn demi glacé.
After dinner we strolled through artsy Ojai Village, admiring quaint shops and the majestic surrounding mountains. In the morning we waved goodbye to the hotel, and Iggy, the big blue Iguana mosaic tile fountain in front of the hotel.
The next morning we continued with our Spanish-themed getaway to Ojai with a tour of the Ojai Olive Oil Farm (www.ojaioliveoil.com). Free to the public, the 30-minute tours take place every Wednesday and Saturday and begin whenever a few people show up and are ready to walk the farm.
The tours begin outside, in a grove of 150-yr-old olive trees, where guests learn a bit about the history of olive oil and how it came to be produced in Ojai. The tour guide also talks about the cultivation of the trees and olive fruit, the harvesting process, and more. After about 15 minutes the tour heads inside to see the olive mill, and learn how our extra virgin olive oil is extracted, blended and bottled.
The tour guide also talks about things like cooking with olive oil, storing olive oil, shopping for olive oil and what exactly extra virgin olive oil means. After, the tour guest can shop in the gift shop for the award-winning olive oil made right on the property.
The Blue Iguana Inn is located at 11794 N. Ventura Ave, Ojai, California 93023. For more info and reservations, call (805) 646-5277 or visit: www.blueiguanainn.com. Azu Restaurant is at 457 East Ojai Ave. For more info, call (805) 640-7987 or visit: www.azuojai.com.