Perched seaside in Pismo Beach, Ventana Grill is definitely a room with a view, but the food is making some waves as well.
Compass Health (a local health care provider company) took over in September 2009 what was then Pelican Point restaurant, said Darren Smith, the company’s chief operating officer.
In April 2010, it re-emerged as Ventana Grill after several months of remodeling and about a month of hosting only Compass Health employees and their families.
“We would invite about 40 to 50 people to come between 5 and 6 o’clock," Smith explained. "We intentionally overloaded the kitchen and wait staff so they’d be used to dealing with very busy times.”
As for the remodel, which was done with the 180-degree view of the coastline in mind, one of the most significant changes was the removal of some interior walls in the middle of the restaurant that blocked sightlines through the room. Now there’s a captivating coastal view from every seat in the much refreshed space, whether you’re in the raised bar area or either side of the main dining room.
Under the direction of executive chef Ricardo Ortega (who also oversees Compass Health’s Custom House in Avila Beach), Ventana Grill’s menu is inspired by the fresh cuisines of Latin America and California.
Though there is a nod to Pismo Beach with a straightforward New England-style clam chowder, nearly everything else is infused with some south-of-the-border inspiration. You’ll find a chicken Caesar salad topped with crisp tortilla chips, fish and chips made with Dos Equis beer batter, and a burger with roasted poblanos, chipotle onion relish and Oaxacan cheese.
Lunch options range from a chopped salad with house-made cumin Dijon dressing, to sopes (thick, round cornmeal tartlets topped with your choice of meat), to a grilled Angus beef skirt steak sandwich served on garlic French bread. You can also celebrate your oceanside location with seafood dishes such as poblano steamed clams or a shrimp cocktail with cucumber avocado relish.
Many of the lunch items are also available at dinner — including the tasty tortilla soup made with roasted tomatoes and guajillo chiles — and other choices vary from smaller plates to full entrées.
Opt for a Milanesa chicken sandwich or grilled chicken with tequila lime marinade, a roasted corn quesadilla or polenta and roasted vegetables served in a Parmesan cup, a beef burrito with charro beans or a 16-ounce rib eye with agave chipotle glaze.
At dinner, you’ll be served family-style bowls of rice and beans as well, plus freshly made tortillas with cinnamon butter and house-made salsas.
Given all that, you may not have room for dessert, in which case you’d have to unfortunately pass up temptations like the Ibarra chocolate fondue with fruit, cinnamon churros and passion fruit marshmallows.
Temptations also abound at the weekday Happy Hour, and not just because of the sweet chipotle chili wings served with jicama and cucumber.
Ventana Grill sports an impressive list of more than 50 tequilas, including top-shelf brands such as Corzo and Clase Azul.
You can sample them via tequila flights, or partake of several other fun cocktails made with ingredients such as fresh lime juice, muddled raspberries and jalapeño.
Touches such as the tequilas, tortillas and the house-made salsas are done with the aim of making Ventana Grill a unique destination, said Smith.
“The community has been very willing to come in, so we want to give them the experience and value they expect, especially our local customers,” he said.