Crowne Plaza’s New NOM Tequila Grill Is #NomNomNom!
Forget any ideas you may have about hotels having cookie-cutter restaurants that lack flavor and creativity. Crowne Plaza’s NOM Tequila Grill at the Ventura beachfront is a MUST TRY!
Appetizers on the patio of the Crowne Plaza’s NOM Tequila Grill
Authentic Mexican cuisine at Ventura’s beachfront
In the land of social and urban slang, #NomNomNom is “hashtag lingo” for the sound made when eating something particularly delicious. When discussing tequila, NOM (Normas Oficial Mexicana) is the Official Standard of Tequila regulated by the Mexican government appearing on the bottle, which assures authenticity and identifies the location of the distillery. For the Crowne Plaza’s new NOM Tequila Grill, the definitions are equally applicable – delectable and authentic! Recently opened on the ground-floor space previously occupied by the hotel’s C Street restaurant, NOM Tequila Grill’s Ventura beachfront location, resplendent with Mexican culture, is entirely befitting of its concept and menu. Crowne Plaza senior management has capitalized on the true talent of its Executive Chef Luis Martinez in giving him creative freedom to develop a restaurant that both honors his heritage and pays homage to the authentic cuisine of Mexico. Martinez is quick to acknowledge that NOM Tequila Grill was a team effort utilizing kitchen, design, engineering and food and beverage talent from throughout the hotel.
Executive Chef Luis Martinez – talent, skill and passion
NOM Tequila Grill’s Executive Chef Luis Martinez
Martinez has been cooking since boyhood and regales both the traditions of his Spanish grandmother and the Mole sauces of his Mexican mother as being particularly influential. Despite his humble, reserved demeanor (a refreshing change from the ubiquitous celebrity chef assault), Martinez commands the kitchen with a combination of talent, skill and passion. He began his career in the States with a series of ACF (American Culinary Federation) internships in Orange County under principally European chefs each of whom taught him technique and influenced his cooking style. Prior to the Crowne Plaza, he served as the Executive Chef for a number of premier Southern California hotels preparing him well for Ventura’s beach environment. Talking to Martinez is as much a history lesson as it is a food discussion. Hailing from Guadalajara, Martinez comes from a family of restaurant owners and chefs. The authentic cuisine of his homeland is a fusion of Spanish, French and indigenous (such as the Náhuatl, Maya, Zapoteco and Mixteco to name a few). Martinez explains, “The most authentic cuisine comes from Oaxaca. Yucatan cuisine has marked Asian influences, while Veracruz was flavored by the African transplants that arrived on the slave boats bound for the States. Of course, Northern Mexico, near the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona borders is impacted by the food traditions of the Native Americans.” The NOM Tequila Grill menu offers some of each. Opening a truly authentic Mexican restaurant – not one highlighted only by tacos, burritos and hot sauce – has always been a dream. For Martinez, NOM Tequila Grill is a dream come true. Not only does the diverse menu incorporate flavors from all regions of his homeland, as the name suggests, a variety of high quality tequilas are also a key ingredient in both food and beverage offerings. Martinez is not a fan of hot spices in his cooking: “Hot sauce is not authentic in Mexican food and too much heat mutes the true flavor of the dish.” Hot sauce is available on request at NOM, however, for those who cannot live without it. The creamy Habanero sauce, with its Yucatan influences, is definitely pineapple forward with heat only on the back end – flavorful, but not unpleasant!
An outstanding dining experience
Upon being seated, our server offered a plate of homemade and unbelievably light chips and salsa – and Frijoles Chorizo, a condiment incorporating chorizo, bacon, black beans, onions and Epizote, a leafy herb similar to cilantro. The refreshing Grapefruit Margarita – with the juice of an entire fresh grapefruit, fresh lime juice, and tequila (of course) and rimmed with Pop Rocks sugar – paired perfectly with my new favorite, Frijoles Chorizo! We sampled the NOM Platter for Two, which included classic Queso Fundido, an El Norte Quesadilla, Barbacoa Beef Taquitos and served with guacamole, sour cream, fire-roasted Tomato Chipotle, a bargain at $17.00 and easily enough for a light meal for two with drinks. Chef Martinez described the preparation of the Barbacoa beef in the taquitos with rich details like the slow cooking with Ancho and Guajillo chilies and other spices making the meat unbelievably tender and flavorful.
With the entrees, we encountered equally tasty representations of Mexico’s finest flavors. The Chile Relleno was surprisingly not battered, but prepared authentically by slow roasting Poblano peppers stuffed with Pork Picadillo and topped with roasted Tomato-Chile sauce. The accompanying pinto beans are braised in dark beer. Fresh shrimp and crab meat headlined the Enchiladas Del Mar, which are topped with green Tomatillo salsa and served with guacamole, sour cream and Oaxaca cheese. But, the Salmon Asado was utter perfection with melt-in-your mouth goodness grilled and served in a Tequila Beurre Blanc sauce with local Swiss chard and leeks. Definitely save room for dessert! The Cheesecake Chimichanga, both crispy and creamy, is plated with a Tequila Raspberry sauce. Next up, the Impossible Cake, a visual feast of chocolate cake topped with vanilla flan cake and accompanied by Kahlua sauce and fresh berries, but not overly sweet. The hands-down group favorite, Mexican Beignets, are a combination churro and beignet (remember the French influences) stuffed with Dulce de Leche and served with coffee ice cream. We will definitely return to try the entire menu!
Upcoming culinary plans
Equally at home in the kitchen and the classroom, Martinez has planned both wine and tequila pairing dinners and well as private cooking demonstration classes that culminate with a chef prepared meal, the first being a Tequila Pairing dinner scheduled for the end of March. To these offerings, he brings his vast experience as a chef instructor, including a 15-week, hands-on culinary instruction course which he taught at Riverside Community college that involved students learning about and preparing a different international cuisine each week. The course ends with the final exam where each student prepares food from the cuisine of his/her choice. He currently serves as a favorite guest instructor at the Ventura Adult and Continuing Education’s Taste of VACE classes. “We are fortunate to have such a gifted chef in our community with a history that mirrors our own,” states Totally Local VC founder Kat Merrick. “Ventura, a California mission town, is the perfect locale for people to appreciate truly authentic Mexican food, like that created by Chef Martinez and served at NOM Tequila Grill.”
A new bar menu and more
Never to be idle, Martinez is currently revamping the menu at Crowne Plaza’s Aqua Beachfront Bar in a tapas style which will include a number of his original creations in small-plate fashion. Equally enticing is NOM Tequila Grill’s private dining room aptly called The Chef’s Table where small groups can be treated to a very personal dining experience, complete with Chef Martinez’s entertaining and informative tableside commentary. Of course, the hotel’s banquet menu features Martinez’s hand in the planning and preparation – think appetizing and delicious event fare. So, forget any ideas you may have about hotels having cookie-cutter restaurants that lack flavor and creativity. NOM Tequila Grill is a MUST TRY! Your NOM eating experience will have you saying #NomNomNom – again and again and again!
Image credits: NOM Tequila Grill and Colleen McCall
More information about NOM Tequila Grill
Address: 450 East Harbor Blvd, Ventura, CA 93001
Phone: (805) 652-5151
Hours of Operation: Sunday-Thursday: Lunch 11:30 am – 2:00 pm, Dinner 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm; Friday-Saturday: Lunch: 11:30am-2pm, Dinner: 5pm – 10pm
Learn more about author Colleen J McCall