Monday, April 23, 2012


Tom Gatch, March 8, 2012

For a fledgling fine dining establishment to succeed in one of Baja’s tourist-oriented coastal towns like Rosarito Beach, it would seem almost mandatory that the ownership would be obliged to procure a prominent location in a high traffic area along with some kind of eye-catching signage that might help provide a good platform to successfully compete against the many already existing restaurants and bars that aggressively vie for a piece of the local tourist dollar.
But, for a skilled restaurateur, word of mouth endorsement is still one of the most valuable and effective types of advertising that can possibly be obtained; the only caveat is that it can never be purchased, it must be diligently earned. As one with unlimited vision, but a limited budget, Suzanne Stehr realized from the very beginning that she would have to build the reputation of her new restaurant, Susanna’s, ‘brick by brick’ upon a solid foundation of innovative recipes, exquisitely fresh ingredients, fine wines and attentive service.
Back in 2004, with over 14 years experience as Director of Catering for several high profile resort properties, Stehr felt that the time had finally come to try her hand at satisfying the sophisticated tastes of diners who embraced the elements of fusion cooking. This is a style that incorporates the basic concepts of California Cuisine, which utilizes only fresh food and rejects using manufactured products; relying primarily upon the essential oils and fats from seeds, nuts and other produce, along with lean, natural sources of protein.
Susanna's also features an underground wine cellar with a 750 bottle capacity. Half of the area is reserved for holding and maturing a wide variety of fine vintages, while the other side of the cava has been converted into an intimate private dining room that seats up to 18 guests.
The restaurant changes its menu twice per year to take advantage of the season’s best fresh fruit and produce as well as updated eating trends. This process usually takes Susanna and her staff about two months. She and her supervisory staff begin with a specific product, then experiment with a variety of preparation styles and blend different ingredients to create a dish that incorporates the flavors, textures and presentation that they are looking for. A written recipe is then generated and the kitchen staff is trained; of course, maintaining consistency and quality is of the utmost importance.
Her open display kitchen contributes to the conviviality of Susanna’s atmosphere. Stehr confides, “I wanted my kitchen to be fully visible to help promote a relaxed interaction between staff and guests within a homelike environment. I was never intending to pack people in, because space and privacy are also important to me.”
But pack them in, she does! Weekends during the summer season are particularly busy, as an ever-growing legion of discerning diners becomes aware of the elegantly inventive upscale cuisine that awaits them at Susanna’s. From their authentic Mediterranean tapenade and warm, freshly baked bread to their delicious appetizers, entrées and desserts, each presentation is lovingly conceived, assembled and presented with adherence to the highest culinary standards.
Although the day to day operation of a successful restaurant can be an extremely challenging endeavor, Susanne Stehr’s basic concept, like her food, remains fresh, simple and straightforward. She concludes, “Susanna's is all about relaxing, enjoying the company you are with and relishing the flavors and textures of fabulous foods and wines while being served by a friendly, accessible staff.”

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