Journey to Jamaica
A drive to Oroville for the flavors (and sounds) of the Caribbean
“Hey,” Colette said. “Come over here. Check this out.” She was sitting in front of the computer, her arms crossed, staring at the screen. I pulled a chair over and sat down beside her, Tanqueray and tonic in hand.
“This is the menu of that new Jamaican place in Oroville. Looks really good.”
Henri had to agree: curry crab, curry lobster, ackee and saltfish (the Jamaican national dish) with plantain, Ital (vegetable) stew, and lots of mixed-vegetable dishes.
A half-hour later we were heading for lunch, searching for the newly opened (in April) Ifa Journey Vegetarian and Seafood Jamaican Restaurant among the strip malls, gas stations and fast-food places on Oro Dam Boulevard, just off Highway 70.
“There it is,” I said, pointing to the reggae-colored sign between a Subway and a Pizza Hut. Colette pulled Pierre into a parking space right in front.
Ifa Journey is a small cafeteria-style restaurant owned and run by chef, musician and actor Ifa Journey. According to his wife Sharon, he played “the little Rasta kid” in the 1986 film Club Paradise, “and Robin Williams taught him how to act.” (And according to the Internet Movie Database, he plays “Man with Dreadlocks” in the soon-to-be-released film The Southside). The restaurant’s official grand opening in June featured live reggae music by several bands and musicians, including Journey himself. And this Saturday, July 20 Journey is hosting a day-long reggae festival at River Reflections RV Park in Oroville.
In addition to the menu items, the restaurant features six or eight side dishes in stainless-steel warming pans behind the glass counter. Journey lifted the lid off each one and explained what it was. Most side and vegetable dishes are $3-5. Entrees run around $10 and include a large side of rice with beans and/or vegetables. Drinks include iced tea, ginger beer, fresh vegetable and fruit juices, and smoothies.
On our first visit, they were offering a limited menu—just four or five side dishes—as Journey was working in Chico that day at the Wildflower Music Festival, a fundraiser for the Wildflower Open Classroom charter school. I had curry tofu with onions and quartered slices of corn on the cob, and sautéed cabbage, which came with corn, bell peppers, and peas. Colette had sautéed bok choy. We both got rice with beans. All of it was very good, especially with a bit of Jamaican hot sauce sprinkled over the top and stirred in. We also both got the Jamaican hibiscus iced tea, colored a deep, dark crimson that Colette said made it look almost too beautiful to drink. It was sweet and divine, perfect for the heat.
Back for lunch the very next day, we were surprised to see jerk chicken in one of the warming trays at the “vegetarian and seafood” restaurant. I couldn’t resist. And it was incredible, and also messy—the three pieces marinated instead of dry-rubbed (the two classic ways to prepare it)—earning a five-napkin rating. In fact, we both agreed that it was best we’d ever had, though not as hot as some. While jerk-recipe ingredients vary, the two consistent ones are allspice and either habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers, and some chefs tend to overdo the peppers. Not Journey. This was perfect, especially with the hibiscus tea.
Colette had the vegetarian mock fish (made from wheat), which was surprisingly good—the two pieces, in a vegetable stew with broccoli, bell peppers, and green beans, actually looking very much like little salmon steaks.
We also both couldn’t resist ordering the delicious sautéed cabbage again. No question, we will be regulars.