The Dutchess: A Taste of Local Culinary Excellence in Ojai, California
April 13, 2023
I recently had the pleasure of dining at The Dutchess, a hidden culinary gem in the heart of Ojai, California. The Dutchess is a unique, comforting and impressive culinary experience that should not be missed. I can’t wait to return for breakfast to try Zoe Nathan’s fresh-baked pastries!
Here’s everything you need to know about this incredible Ojai restaurant and tips on what to order.
What makes The Dutchess so special?
The Dutchess has earned quite a few accolades since its opening, and it’s no surprise why. This restaurant has consistently received high marks for its delicious food and beautiful presentation.
It’s been featured in top publications like Bon Appétit, Eater, and Los Angeles Magazine. The Michelin Dining Guide welcomed The Dutchess in 2022; an impressive achievement for any restaurant.
The history of Dutchess is as rich and flavorful as its cuisine. The building is nestled in the main downtown strip of Ojai. It was originally constructed in the early 1900s and was used as a feed store and horse stable. In the 1940s, it was transformed into a soda fountain and ice cream shop, which later became a bakery and café. In the 1990s, the building was renovated and became The Dutchess.
Ojai Local Ingredients
Dutchess’ culinary style is a unique blend of classic American and European cuisine, with an emphasis on locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients. The dinner menu focuses on Bermese cuisine, while the daytime menu is centered on fresh-baked goods. I loved the tropical ties you find in the dishes like banana, coconut and passionfruit. It’s certainly unique, but not intimidating at all.
They pride themselves on using the freshest, highest quality ingredients possible, and that means sourcing from local purveyors whenever possible. As the restaurant’s website states, “They don’t use GMOs, antibiotics, hormones and dangerous chemicals. Ojai Valley and the surrounding areas have a wealth of incredible farmers growing delicious food in a thoughtful and conscientious way.”
This commitment to sustainability and supporting the local community is evident in the menu. Their dishes feature ingredients from purveyors within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant. From the local citrus used in the citrus salad to the spiced Ojai lamb in the Lamb Biryani (a farm we visited that very day!), every dish is made with care and attention to detail.
Walking into The Dutchess, you’ll immediately notice the attention to detail that has been put into creating a cozy atmosphere for the community to gather. The interior design is a perfect blend of vintage and modern elements, with comfortable seating and dim lighting that creates a cozy and intimate ambiance.
Even at 8:30pm on a Wednesday night with a quiet downtown energy, the place was buzzing. I love to see a place like this that makes gathering for a meal feel so energetic and peaceful at the same time. (I snagged this picture of the middle dining room much later, but it was packed when we arrived).
We got a drink at the bar and headed to the back room where they have a pool table. It was a great spot to sit and enjoy a drink while we waited.
The Dutchess is known for its creative and flavorful cocktails, and the DAIK-U martini did not disappoint. Made with Plantation Rum, Smith + Cross, tamarind masala, fresh lemon, lime oleo, and Dutchess banana bitters, this cocktail was a blend of sweet and sour with a hint of spice. It was a little sweeter than I normally prefer, but there were complex layers of flavors that kept me sipping.
Their cocktail menu is so unique and enticing that you’ll have a hard time picking just one. The Date Old Fashioned was calling to me, as well as the Wish which has fermented tea leaf infused gin, housemade chai golden rice milk, fresh lemon, and egg white. Such a unique blend of flavors! I guess I need to make another trip…
They also have an extensive wine list. We opted for a bottle of local red wine to share during dinner, which paired really nicely with the lamb.
Despite the high quality, the prices at The Dutchess are surprisingly approachable, especially for Ojai standards.
You can expect to pay between $11 and $19 for starters and sides and $20-$45 for dinner dishes. Most daytime dishes range from $12 to $25 each.
They recommend sharing several things for the table, which makes it pretty affordable if you order several things to share. It’s a great value considering the level of culinary excellence you’ll be experiencing.
For starters, I highly recommend the NAAN, a tandoori oven bread served with garlic herb butter that was warm, fluffy, and utterly addictive. Unless you are gluten-free, you MUST order the naan. That’s the only excuse I’ll accept otherwise 🙂
The CRISPY RICE SALAD (HTAMIN THOKE) was also a standout dish, with a delicious blend of flavors and textures thanks to the Burma nut mix, fried shallots, herb sauce, and peanuts.
The CITRUS SALAD was a nice contrast to the bold flavors. This is also a great gluten-free option. It had local citrus, lettuce, fried shallots, honey sesame dressing, herbs.
The fresh cilantro and mint made the dish for me. It’s amazing how much incredible flavor can come from greens and herbs that are grown well! Sometimes just combining them perfectly and enhancing the flavors with a simple dressing can go a long way. Unpopular opinion: I think I enjoy amazing salads like this just as much as an incredible dessert! It feels artful and beautiful.
Moving on to dinner mains, we tried the PORK BELLY, LAMB BIRYANI (DANBAUK) and the COCONUT CHICKPEA CURRY.
I honestly shy away from pork belly because I’m not a fan of the fatty texture. But the spicy Niman Ranch pork was cooked to perfection with a nice sear but still super flavorful. It paired perfectly with the mushrooms, tatsoi, rice noodles, and crispy spiced onions and garlic. Surprisingly, one of my favorites of the night! So delicious that we all dug in and I forgot to grab a picture.
The LAMB BIRYANI was a showstopper, with spiced basmati rice, cashews, ground Ojai lamb, Kashmiri, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, shallots, garlic, ginger, raisins, and puff pastry. I also particularly enjoyed the cucumber raita sauce and pickled onions that came on the side. It was special because we visited the farm that supplies the lamb that very afternoon. It doesn’t get more local than that!
The COCOCNUT CHICKPEA CURRY was delicious and super flavorful. The roasted cauliflower and chickpeas gave a nice texture to the smooth and creamy coconut curry sauce. It was perfect for sharing.
Unfortunately, we were perfectly content with the choices we made for the meal and too full to order dessert. But the dessert menu looks just as impressive as the cocktails and dinner menu.
Although the menu changes seasonally, these stood out to me and I’d definitely try one next time! Perhaps with a decaf cappuccino or their Amaro flight as an after-dinner drink.
PASSION FRUIT LASSI PIE — Rincon Tropics passion fruit, gingersnap crust, whipped yogurt, lime zest
The Dutchess is truly a gem in Ojai, and it’s no wonder why it’s received so much recognition. And with so many amazing farmers and producers in the area, there’s always something new and exciting to discover. If you’re anywhere near the Ojai area, do yourself a favor and make a reservation!
Plate & Compass is a food and travel blog written by Hannah Falkosky. After quitting her job and spending 8 weeks in Europe on just a few thousand dollars, she found her love for budget travel and sharing tips to help others explore the world.
She also spent 15 years working with award-winning chefs and developed a love for artful food and cocktails. Hannah is now based out of Los Angeles, and when she’s not traveling she makes it her mission to explore the best restaurants and cocktail bars while living life to the fullest.