Ogden Nash once wrote, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” Chocolate may be a time-tested route to Valentine’s Day hijinks, but it won’t score you any points for originality. (Not that I’d turn it down, mind you.)
At the recently renovated Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, sommelier John Mahoney shakes up a surefire way to seduce with his Lavendula cocktail. Mahoney, the bar and wine master behind the inn’s Maravilla restaurant, uses fresh lavender harvested from the property’s sustainably cultivated herb garden to create one lascivious libation.
Mahoney’s meticulous wine list features lush Central Coast varietals and inspired international choices, and thoughtful touches abound: The bartender actually sprinted out to the herb garden to pluck a sprig of lavender to garnish our cocktails!
Maravilla, with its dreamy, opium-den-meets-colonial-Spain décor and spectacular valley view, is also receiving attention for new executive chef Andy Arndt’s regional Farmers Market-inspired cuisine, which spotlights local family farms and property-grown fruit and herbs. A recent dinner featured a silken soup of roasted kuri squash and Santa Barbara spot prawns, accented with white truffle oil and lemon crème fraîche; Sonoma foie gras with braised quince and a brioche crouton; and a meltingly rich, braised pork belly.
Even the inn’s famous spa focuses on seasonal treatments and property-grown ingredients such as citrus and lavender. The Ojai Orange Scrub left us smelling like Creamsicles, and the Ojai Honey Body Mask (made from locally produced honey, in keeping with the inn’s philosophy of showcasing local growers and food artisans) was a langorous rubdown of honey and shea butter that made us feel like we’d just emerged from a G-rated version of the food scene in 9 1/2 Weeks. A farewell breakfast of stone-ground breakfast polenta with spiced fruit compote and vanilla bean crème fraîche, enjoyed before a blazing fire at the inn’s casual Oak Grill, was a sweetly luxurious end to our stay.
Lavendula Cocktail (serves 1)
1 shot Tanqueray 10 gin 1/2 shot Parfait Amour (a Curaçao-orange liqueur, flavored with violet or rose petal, vanilla, and almond) splash of lemonade several drops lavender essence (optional)
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with lavender sprig.
4·1·1 Maravilla Restaurant at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, 646-5511, ojaivalleyinnandspa.com.