Jeffrey Saad, owner of La Ventura Mexican restaurant in Studio City, is charming with a handsome smile. The restaurant opened in the space where Outtake Cafe was located.
Saad guided our dining group to a table in the intimate dining area. No wonder the Food Network and the Cooking Channel have cast him in cooking shows such as “United Tastes of America”. He is very charismatic, and his passion for travel has broadened his taste for exotic spices, textures and flavors, which he has brought home to his kitchens.
Many in our group ordered bartender Rhino’s creamy margarita with egg whites, bitters and a smoky Xicaru Mezcal. I selected the pretty Alta Rosa served in a tall glass with Herradura Blanco tequila and fresh raspberry and ginger.
We sampled the thick and crunchy corn tortilla chips with chunky guacamole and three different salsas.
Saad said that while dining at a restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico, the chef invited him to cook with her at the kitchen in her home.
“We cooked for ten hours on two propane burners,” Saad said. “I learned the best way to cook carnitas is by simmering the pork in lime juice for hours.”
Saad makes his carnitas the same way, slowly simmering the pork in lime juice. However, he adds orange juice to sweeten and caramelize the pork. We all loved his street-style carnitas served on mini corn tortillas. They were crisp and juicy and served with white onions, cilantro and morita salsa — made from a red chile that is much like chipotle, but smaller and spicier.
The Chicago native studied at the Culinary Institute of America and the California Culinary Academy, and opened his own restaurant upon graduation, the Mexican-influenced Sweet Heat, in San Francisco’s Marina District. He later opened two additional restaurants and bottled his own line of chutneys. He became a partner in the Pasta Pomodoro Italian restaurants, and helped open the first 12 locations before moving to Los Angeles.
Additionally, Saad debuted in the 5th season of the show “First Runner Up” and a web series titled “Spice Smuggler”, and later became host of “United Tastes of America”.
Saad’s lobster-chorizo fundido arrived in a skillet with pieces of lobster tail and housemade chorizo, and topped with a tequila cheese sauce. It’s broiled to a golden brown and served with crunchy chips.
Next, our group shared grilled shrimp and scallop skewers marinated with Anaheim chile, apple cider vinegar and sugar. The skewers are served with Saad’s signature green chile chutney and smoked sour cream.
Saad also makes a Cubano sandwich with a Mexican twist. He prepares the pork on a rotisserie and adds thick cuts of smoked bacon. He then spreads black beans, avocado and a chipotle-orange salsa on two-slider buns, giving the sandwich beautiful heat.
From the grill, we enjoyed skirt steak carne asada served with rice, drunken bacon pinto beans and a stack of warm flour or corn tortillas.
Vegetarians will enjoy his cauliflower, which is oven-roasted at 500 degrees to give it a tandoori appearance and flavor. Saad also offers a vegetable plate with roasted kale, grilled ancho chile zucchini drizzled with a cilantro pesto, and a black bean and feta spread.
Saad also has a secret menu with two dishes: his duck confit mole and Mexican bananas Foster. The mole is made with his line of Mexican spices, star anise, Mexican cinnamon and fried plantains to give it thickness and sweetness. He sautées the duck in canola oil to bring out the different flavors, and adds roasted pumpkin seeds to the mole for texture.
Saad creates a fiery show with his Mexican bananas Foster when the alcohol hits the hot pan. He sautées plantains, adds grated Mexican brown sugar to caramelize the sauce, and tops it with candied pumpkin seeds to create a crunchy texture. The warm plantains are served on salted caramel ice cream.
In 2012, Saad published his first cookbook — “Jeffrey Saad’s Global Kitchen: Recipes Without Borders”. In honor of National Tequila Day on Thursday, July 24, guests are invited to enjoy one of Rhino’s creative tequila cocktails, such as the jalapeno-infused Herradura Blanco “Ball of Fire” cocktail, as well as a tequila tasting of the day.
La Ventura is open daily for lunch and dinner from noon to 11 p.m. www.laventurarestaurant.com. 11929 Ventura Blvd. (818)358-3423.