Ventura County Star, Calif., Cafe Society column

Ventura County Star |

--Sandra Cordero brings a lot to the table.

A former model who trained under Los Angeles chef Neal Fraser, Cordero is the half Dutch, half Spanish chef and co-owner of not one but two restaurants at The Annex, the public market-style complex at The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard (550 Collection Blvd.).

Both spots are inspired by her childhood, which was divided between Amsterdam, where she was born, and the Galicia region of Spain, where she spent summers on a farm outside a village so small the only phone was at the local bar.

"There's not a lot of overlap between the two cultures, so you might say I created my own thing," Cordero said with a laugh.

At Pancake, diners place orders for crepe-like pannekoek at a counter decorated with a lamp depicting the Dutch storybook character Miffy. The sweet or savory Dutch pancakes can be packed into to-go boxes or served on unbreakable blue-and-white plates that echo Delftware.

Located right next door, Gasolina Tapas is a full-service restaurant that focuses on the cheeses, cured meats, quince pastes and sauces of Spain, served in salads, sandwiches and shareable plates. (Also available: house-made sangria, plus beer and wine from Spain and California.)

Both restaurants offer touches Cordero chalks up to a personal preference for sweating the details. Rosettes of smoked salmon and carefully sliced avocado and hard-boiled egg appear atop the New Amsterdam pancake ($13), while a morcilla sausage dish ($9.50) at Gasolina Tapas riffs on one root vegetable served three ways: Beet leaves wrap the sausages, which are placed atop a bright swoosh of beet puree and garnished with flash-fried bits of spiralized beet.

"Part of it is wanting to be creative with the ingredients. The other is not wanting to waste anything," Cordero said.

The restaurants are linked by a kitchen doorway but are otherwise separate -- something Cordero didn't anticipate when she and husband, John Hensley, decided to open two restaurant concepts under one roof.

"At first I thought there would be more crossover. Then I realized: 'Oh! I really opened two places. Oh, shoot!' " Cordero said with another laugh.

And that's not all. Cordero and Hensley also operate Gasolina Cafe, which opened in Woodland Hills in 2015. The breakfast-and-lunch restaurant showcases their shared love of European motorcycle racing in the decor, which is sprinkled with gears, speedometers and helmets. Cordero's Spanish upbringing is apparent in the menu of patatas bravas and a Galician-style empanada of the day (21014 Ventura Blvd., 818-914-4033, http://www.gasolinacafe.com).

The racing theme continues at Gasolina Tapas in Oxnard, where gas-tank medallions hang on the walls, vintage trophies dot the shelves and the logo aprons worn by staff members are cut from Nomex, the same flame-resistant fabric used to make clothing for racers and firefighters.

"There is a similarity between racing and the kitchen. It's hot. It's dirty, in different ways. And it's an adrenalin rush," said Cordero, who was 18 and working as a waitress at a restaurant in Amsterdam when she was spotted by a modeling agency scout. After a career that included runway and print work in London, Paris, Japan and Italy, she backpacked around the world, landed in New York and returned to the world of restaurants.

In California, she served as a consultant for Royal/T, a now-shuttered combination restaurant and art gallery space in Culver City that was inspired by the maid cafes of Japan.

But after years of working in restaurant management, Cordero decided to turn her interest in food into something more professional in the kitchen. "I was always that friend who said, 'I'll bring the food,' when someone was planning a party," she said. "I wanted to learn the lingo."

Cordero juggled her full-time job with part-time classes at the now-shuttered Epicurean School of Culinary Arts in West Hollywood. Then she took a leap of faith.

"I could either work somewhere for minimum wage, or I could find one of the best chefs around and work for free," she said. Cordero opted for the latter, working without pay at Fraser's Grace before staging at chef Michael Cimarusti's Providence and then teaming with Fraser again for his appearance at Test Kitchen, a temporary Los Angeles showcase for chefs. What was supposed to be a one-night gig went on for months, as Cordero was asked to stay on and assist a succession of chefs that included Ricardo Zarate.

"It was the best school I could go to for food," said Cordero, who also counts as invaluable the time she spent in the kitchen with her Spanish grandmother and aunts. (The results of their trick for tenderizing octopus can be sampled in Pulpo Gallego, $15, a seasonal tapas dish that pairs grilled octopus with potato puree and chorizo.)

Today, Cordero and Hensley live in Agoura Hills with their 6-year-old daughter, Matilda, who inspired the Matilda's Breakfast dish ($8) of scrambled egg, avocado, toast and fresh fruit at Gasolina Tapas.

Cordero's paternal grandmother gets a nod by way of Pilar's Albondigas, featuring veal and pork meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce ($11). And her Dutch-born mother gets a shout out at Pancake, where a dish featuring house-made orange marmalade, whipped cream and fresh citrus ($9.50) bears the term for grandmother: oma loes.

After taking part in a celebration at The Annex that was scheduled to feature live music, dancers and a Dutch version of shuffleboard called sjoelbak, Cordero plans to join several fellow Annex tenants in participating in Oxnard's version of restaurant week.

Oxnard Dine, Wine & Beer Week will feature discounts and prix fixe menus at more than two dozen participating sites throughout the city when it takes place . (For a complete list, click on https://visitoxnard.com/restaurantweek/). At Pancake and Gasolina Tapas, patrons who mention the promotion between those dates will receive a 20 percent discount.

"As a chef, it makes me happy and proud to be a part of a community, and that's what we're doing at The Annex. We are all of us small business owners," Cordero said. "I want to build something that lasts. We want our customers to say, 'That's my Gasolina,' That's my Pancake.' "

Pancake is open from and (https://www.ilovepancake.us).

Current hours at Gasolina Tapas are from , , and . A happy hour menu is in effect from daily (805-225-7210, https://www.gasolinatapas.com).

OPEN, SHUT AND IN BETWEEN



Published in The Star's Business section on , this week's Open and Shut column included news about openings (Longevity Coffee in Thousand Oaks), closings (Tia Babe's Restaurante in Santa Paula, Cut 360 Steakhouse and Super Tommy's in Thousand Oaks, Wild Cherry Frozen Yogurt in Ventura), plans by the owners of Carnitas el Rey to open a second location in Oxnard, and more. To read it, click on http://bit.ly/2DcOXwv.

Read more: Yelp favorite Carnitas el Rey announces second Oxnard location

Also closed: The sole Ventura County location of Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch, which debuted in at the Bed, Bath & Beyond shopping center in Ventura (4020 E. Main St., Suite E10).

A Star reader reported dining at the restaurant in late December, then returning on to find the doors locked and paper in the windows. The address was still listed on the chainlet's website and Facebook page as of Thursday, but its phone is disconnected. An employee at the original Santa Barbara location confirmed that the Ventura site is permanently closed. The restaurant known for its chicken grilled over mesquite charcoal also operates in Goleta (http://sbchickenranch.com).

Meanwhile, The Habit Burger Grill currently under construction at 563 W. Channel Islands Blvd. in Port Hueneme now has a tentative timeframe for opening. It will debut sometime between late February and early March, according to a spokesperson for the chain (https://www.habitburger.com).

WEEKEND UPDATE

The Roan Mills bakery in downtown Fillmore has expanded its hours. The retail shop featuring breads baked by Andrea Crawford from organic grains she grows and mills herself is now open to the public Saturdays and Wednesdays, from Bags of organic farro, polenta, pasta and house-milled flours are also available, along with mixed greens from Crawford's Kenter Canyon Farms (411 Central Ave., 818-522-4686, http://roanmills.com).

HOT SAUCE FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Now through , sales of Sweet Chili Fire sauce at Spencer Makenzie's will benefit the family of Cory Iverson, the San Diego-based firefighter who died while battling the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. Iverson, 32, left a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and a second child who is expected this spring.

Fifty cents from the sale of each 12-ounce bottle ($7.50, or $14 for two) will go to the cause. The sauce currently is available online and at the restaurant in Ventura (806 E. Thompson Blvd., 805-643-8226, http://www.spencermakenzies.com).

CHEERS FOR CHARITY

Raising your glass will help raise cash for area organizations when Cheers for Charity takes place from in the garden at San Buenaventura Mission in downtown Ventura.

Presented on behalf of FOOD Share of Ventura County, the Totally Local VC "Local Love Project" for Thomas Fire relief and for the mission itself, the inaugural event will feature appetizers prepared by culinary students from Ventura County-area high schools. Live music and beverage tastings by local breweries, wineries and distilleries also will be part of the scene. Participating businesses include Plated Events, Spice-Topia, Leashless Brewing, Poseidon Brewing Co., Ventura Coast Brewing Co., Four Brix Winery, The Ojai Vineyard and Channel Islands Distillery.

For information and tickets, $35 per person, click on http://bit.ly/2AQVNVQ.

YOU SAY IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY ...

Two breweries in and around Ventura County are celebrating anniversaries this month.

Ladyface Ale Companie of Agoura Hills will get the party started on , when a limited number of eighth-anniversary glasses and 1-liter growlers will be available -- the latter for filling with Octavia, an anniversary brew made from a blend of three barrel-aged ales. The official Ladyface Octennial Celebration will include a beer invitational when it takes place from . Tickets are $45 per person (29281 Agoura Road, 818-477-4566, http://www.ladyfaceale.com).

Casa Agria Specialty Ales in Oxnard will toast its second birthday by pouring a new anniversary IPA in addition to cellar beers from 2016 and 2017. The event from will include an appearance by the SO Truck food truck (701 N. Del Norte Blvd., Suite 310, 805-485-1454, https://www.casaagria.com).

CELEBRITY GRIDLOCK

Kevin Costner and his band Modern West will join Olivia Newton-John, Colbie Caillat, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the hip-hop artist Super Duper KYLE in performing when the Thomas Fire Benefit Festival takes place from in Plaza Park in downtown Ventura. Tickets are $50.

But foodies, take note: James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés will headline a culinary crew of local chefs and restaurateurs as they create dishes for a tasting event that will be included from for VIP ticketholders ($150 per person).

Read more: Chef Jose Andres visits Thomas Fire relief kitchen in Ventura

Proceeds will benefit efforts by the Ventura County Community Foundation, World Central Kitchen and the Downtown Ventura Organization's Wildfire Victim Fund to help those affected by the fire. For information and tickets, click on https://www.thomasfirebenefit.com. Want to volunteer? Call 805-628-9588.

Lisa McKinnon is a staff writer for The Star. To contact her, send email to lisa.mckinnon@vcstar.com. To have the VCS Eats newsletter delivered directly to your inbox, visit http://bit.ly/VCS_Eats and type in your email address.

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(c)2018 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

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