The Dutchess, a new venture with many Los Angeles veterans and one of the Central Coast’s most popular bakers, is the most ambitious venue to open in Ojai late this year. Opening January 6 inside a historic building that was one of Ojai’s first bakeries, Dutchman comes from Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, who still run their own Rustic Canyon empire but moved to start a farm in Ojai a few years ago. The duo has partnered with Kate Pepper of Kate’s Bread, a cult bakery that uses natural fermentation and grains from the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project, as well as pastry chef Kelsey Britto and chef Saw Naing. First announced in October, the project aims to bring something new and exciting to one of the region’s most charming destinations in small towns, while still offering quality and everyday convenience to the locals who live there.
Naing, who previously oversaw the Tallula Restaurant in Santa Monica, brings his Burmese-Indian background into the kitchen, where the daytime offerings tend mostly to Huckleberry/Kate’s Bread-esque loaves, pastries, and other morning foods. Expect croissants, chocolate in general, cinnamon rolls, olive oil, citrus tea cakes from Britto & Pepper, and handmade samosas when the bakery debuts later this month. In the evening, it’s an all-Indian Burmese affair with tea leaf salad and skewers of chicken tikka, naan, paratha, aloo puri and biryani with yoghurt-marinated Sonoma lamb shoulder.
When it opens, Duchess will serve 4:30-9:30 p.m. for dinner and then open café and bakery hours on January 19. Here are seven things to know about Dutchess, Ojai’s hottest restaurant to open in years and easily a spot worthy of Angelenos.
A Dutch idea rooted in a family farm
Before the pandemic, Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb—who founded Westside icons Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo and Olive—moved to Ojai to build a new home and set up a three and a half 50/50 acre ranch. Nathan told Eater last year that after growing food and seeing the way of life in the area, they decided to build something for the community rather than take produce to Los Angeles. The new restaurant will allow the couple to stay close to their new home.
Breakfast tacos played a major role in its development
When considering a local project, Nathan Loeb was keen to partner with longtime friend Kate Bieber, founder of Kate’s Bread. Pepper worked with Rustic Canyon Group in Milo and Olive prior to opening her successful bakery. Then the three brought Brito, a Huckleberry veteran, and Naing, who helped open Tallula, and soon the ball was rolling. They met while eating tacos on Nathan’s balcony and made a bakery and café by day, with dishes, Burmese cocktails, beer, wine, and night.
The historic building’s oven gave the restaurant its name
Bill Baker opened one of Ojai’s first commercial bakeries within this building in 1926, naming it Ojai Bakery. In years past, Laurel Moore, her daughter Liz, and son-in-law Jeremy have operated the space’s Azu restaurant, though the venue eventually vacated to focus on the Ojai Valley brewery and taproom. This opened up the building for the five partners to do a restaurant there. The brick oven of the original bakery is still inside, although it now functions as a fireplace in the dining room and has the words “the Dutchess” on it.
Burmese cooking for Naing will change things in Ventura
Burmese cooking does not have as much of a foothold in Southern California compared to NorCal, although there have been notable openings over the years. Naing’s Burmese and Indian backgrounds will influence Dutchess’ ambitious dinner menu, with garnishes of crispy potatoes, chickpea pancakes, beets and pickled ginger, as well as standards like beef skewers.
Masala-braised beef serves golden raisins and potatoes while flannery iron ranch steak comes with braised cabbage and drizzled with masala butter sauce. Half an organic chicken cooked tandoori style with fermented peppers, pickled leeks and spring onions. The kabocha farmer and squash curry from Rio Gozo Farms directs the vegetable division in tubes. Prices range from $9 to $16 for starters, $18 for a tea leaf salad that will likely be on most tables, and up to $38 for a leg of lamb, which comes with green chutney and paratha.
Desserts deserve a spotlight
Pastry chef Kelsey Britto, a seasoned veteran of the Rustic Canyon Empire, will prepare things with a strong Indian influence like passion fruit lassi pie, coconut crème brulee with lemon (grown on 50/50 farms) and lemon verbena. The Kulfi comes with local Santa Barbara pistachios, geraniums, and cardamom, while the Chocolate Coconut Meringue Tart offers local sport Tehachapi Grain Project Sonora, salted caramel, and coconut sugar meringue.
Day menu will keep on its own
While the evenings feature Burmese dishes, the daytime is along the lines of what you might expect at a Huckleberry or Milo and Olive, but with some Burmese flavour. Homemade Coconut and Almond Milk features coffee and espresso drinks that use locally roasted Bonito coffee and tea from Magic Hour in Ojai. Anyone who has baked a Kit from Pepper will find pastries and loaves familiar. Lunchtime means grilled cheese sandwiches and tiffins lunch with curry, lentils and rice while Britto offers cakes, waffles and biscuits. It’s a casual all-day setting that attracts visitors and locals alike.
Expect seasonal parties on cocktail classics
Naing’s wife Brittany is the manager of the pub here, creating seasonal versions of classics like the tangerine Pegu Club, Old Fashioned with dates, coconut palm sugar, and banana smoothie, or a drink called Rookie of the Year with bowl of Oaxacan still rum, persimmon, and 50/50 wise farmer. Wines will have a good glass collection as well, such as the Domaine du Nozay Sancerre or Schiava from Alto Adige’s Weingut Niklas winery.