We moved around so much when I was growing up that I sometimes can barely remember the houses we lived in or the friends I hung out with. Recently my sister reminded me about the wallpaper in our room in Oklahoma: a striped rainbow on the bottom, a border around the room’s mid-section that contained a repeating pattern of rainbows, and a section up top with rainbows bouncing from cloud to cloud. We even had rainbow curtains to section off our individual bunk beds. I can’t imagine how I could have forgotten this.
But I have, throughout my life, often recalled the trip I made with my mother and my grandmother to Ojai, California. The reason I remember it? The bookstore. The idea of a bookstore that was all outdoors captured my childhood imagination better than a room full of rainbows. I also for some reason vividly recall that we could fill a whole paper bag of books for $1. That could be true; it could also be the way my imagination took hold of the memory and amplified it into something like the childhood equivalent of getting to eat at Per Se for under $100.
So when my grandmother said we were going to make a stop in Ojai, I got very excited.
She was uninterested in my bookstore reveries, however. “We’re going there to eat at a restaurant I saw once,” she said. “I don’t recall the name, but I remember there was a woman chef and she was working her little buns off. You could watch her through the window at her kitchen.”
Well, a kitchen with a window is another thing I have a fondness for. And I never like to pass up a chance to support to a female chef. So off we went to Ojai.
The Feast of Ojai
The restaurant, which I discovered the name of by googling various combinations of “chef” “woman” and “Ojai,” is called Feast Bistro.
Though I was a little distracted by the idea of revisiting memory lane, we ordered half the items on the menu and sat enjoying our wine and a leisurely lunch on the patio. The group favorites were the tortellini and the Blue Plate Special in the form of a quesadilla. My grandfather also really enjoyed his Bundaberg Ginger Beer (pictured below in the hand of my father).
We got to chat a minute with Chef Susan Coulter (after she finished working her buns off during the lunch service). She told us about how the restaurant scene had changed in the last eight years since she’d opened her business with her partner. “If you have extra time to wonder around,” she said, “make sure you get to the book store.”
Back at Bart’s
Bart’s Books was exactly how I remembered it. Well, almost. The books on the exterior wall surrounding the premises were $1 each and could be purchased on the honor system at any time, night or day. Inside there were sections for everything under the sun and the helpful staff patiently listened to my reverie and sold me a book on restaurant reviewing for $10 plus tax. I sat in the back of the car on the ride back to our campsite, ruffling through its pages with a big grin on my face.