Everything about Sabor Cocina Mexicana is larger than life, and somehow appealingly so. Massive doors, high ceilings and intricately carved booths and other furnishings all reflect the best of Mexican craftsmanship. The new centerpiece of The Lakes in Thousand Oaks reverberates with a sense of south-of-the-border class and taste.
Matching the palpable elegance is a cuisine that highlights the family of owners’ Yucatan roots, while making excellent use of local fresh produce, an abundance of indigenous peppers and top quality meats and fish. Some of this bonanza of lively food comes with equally startling prices, but it’s hard to fault the experience that adds meticulous service to its signs of involved management. (The original Sabor is in the Santa Clarita area; this is the second.)
We didn’t know exactly what to expect from the new restaurant, but an acquaintance familiar with the original Sabor couldn’t contain her excitement about one of its offspring coming to Ventura County.
She rightly mentioned that it is different from the very casual style Mexican restaurants that pop up in many neighborhoods, and offers far from routine chain fare.
After casually ordering margaritas while we were checking out the compact but intriguing menu, we jumped to attention when the drinks arrived. The 100 percent agave-tequila Sabor margarita ($15) comes in a trumpet glass so large and heavy that we could hardly lift them off the table to sip, and that was before we had anything else to drink. They were chilled to a fare-thee-well and amazingly refreshing. The glasses themselves were individual pieces of artwork, each with different decorative swirls and accent colors.
Three of us split the ceviche ($15), marinated fish served in a tall, delicate goblet. The ceviche varies daily, and halibut was featured that night, perfectly fresh pieces mixed with avocado, chili peppers and some contrasting crunch, all served with lime slices and a tiny pot of red sauce that our server warned was a bit spicy but went very well with the fish blend. He was right, of course.
Each of our main dishes was presented on a plate whose size and shape were perfectly suited to the food. Camarones en ajo (shrimp in garlic sauce, $28) brought plump camarones beautifully complemented by the nuanced sauce. Arrachera (skirt steak, $24) was strikingly arranged on a platter with the reddish rice and mound of avocado setting off the rich mahogany of the steak, stretched out across the plate in thin slices. It didn’t just look pretty, it tasted great. The steak was a special delight with its tenderness as pleasing as its rich flavor. Finally, the chili pasilla de marisco (a variation of chili relleno with seafood mixed into the filling, $24), was a treat not just for the seafood but for the less common chili as well.
The just-right portions of everything allowed us to consider desserts, so we chose two: a chocolate-chili crème brûlée and churros, each $8. The dense chocolate flavor of the former gets just a trifle tangier with the hint of chili, and the warm, small pair of churros, stuffed with Nutella, were another revelation.
Coffee, of course, was very good.
There are also dishes that are more modestly priced and, judging from everything we sampled, also offer good quality and taste. A festive table of a dozen or so dining near us seemed as happy as we were with the arriving dishes. Among the more familiar are taco variations served with rice and beans, most from $14 to $16 per plate, with the top of the line tacos de filet (grilled filet mignon) ringing in at $28.
Sabor is not your mother’s cocina Mexicana, unless you were very lucky. Rather, it’s a Mexican restaurant that knows how to handle good quality food and how to innovate. It doesn’t hurt a bit that the surroundings are exceptionally attractive and service is unusually deft.