Rare are the occasions when a restaurant manages to transcend every category upon which it is judged - food, service and atmosphere.
It seems near impossible to succeed extraordinarily in any singular aspect without making sacrifices in another. Either the food is exceptional, or the service is lacking. Or perhaps both the cuisine and wait staff are unsurpassed, yet the ambiance serves to detract from the entire dining experience. Regardless of the circumstances, the stars align, so to speak, infrequently at best.
In the genre of fine dining, however, a relative newcomer to the San Diego restaurant scene has managed to achieve greatness in each of the aforementioned fields; and while doing so is a feat in and of itself, even more impressive is the fact it has attained such lofty status in a mere eight weeks.
The restaurant in reference is none other than Suite & Tender, located within the chic and sophisticated Sé San Diego, a hotel inconspicuously placed in the absolute heart of downtown - 1047 5th Avenue between Broadway and C, to be precise. Were it not for the immense one-ton revolving entry doors, one could easily pass by this gem of an establishment without a second glance. And chances are, those already hip to the locale wouldn’t mind in the least.
The cat’s already begun to emerge from the proverbial bag, however; as those having been treated to the fruits of Chef Christopher Lee’s labors are already coming back for seconds, and thirds, and…
But what is it about this newbie to the San Diego dining scene that sets it apart not only from the plethora of downtown restaurants dotting the immediate surrounding landscape, but also the entire county for that matter? Yes, it is that good.
First and foremost, as should be the primary draw for any true fine dining establishment, is the exquisite cuisine. Sumptuous seafood is Lee’s specialty, however, the menu also offers a delectable array of dishes for those preferring a meal more closely rooted in terra firma.
Ever the seafood connoisseur, it came as little surprise I opted to maintain my affinity for finned and/or shelled cuisine during a recent visit to the restaurant with my lovely and wonderful girlfriend, who also happens to be the proud owner of a severe food allergy otherwise known as celiac’s disease. To the layperson, that means anything with even the slightest trace of wheat can land her in the hospital. No pizza, burritos or even, dare I say it… beer. Oh the humanity!
That said, Chef Lee was more than compensating in terms of altering sauces, and our server Lygia proved especially helpful when selecting and checking upon questionable dishes. In short, should you happen to be afflicted with a similar ailment, fret not.
We elected to kick start the evening with a pair of signature cocktails from Suite & Tender’s eclectic list of signature cocktails. The “Energy” - comprised of Corazon tequila, Cointreau, cucumber, spicy chili paste, lemongrass and fresh lime - suited our respective palates just fine; not to mention Lygia did an exceptional job of preparing them tableside (standard practice at “the Suite”).
Alcohol aficionados will also undoubtedly relish in the extensive wine list, with a three-tier “system,” if you will, offering a variety of pre-selected bottles to “sip, taste, drink” or “discover”. In essence, patrons can elect to create a customized wine flight (“sip”), order a glass of the vino of their choice (“taste”), enjoy a bottomless glass of their favorite varietal (“drink”), or uncork a bottle of their choosing (“discover”).
In addition to the customizable wine list, there’s also an unrivaled modifiable raw bar menu featuring shellfish, clams and oysters the likes of which I’ve never experienced in all of the finest seafood restaurants I’ve ever visited. The poached jumbo shrimp are not to be missed; their freshness and taste more akin to lobster than anything else. And for the lobster lovers, they have that too; on both the raw bar menu and as a pairing to one of their most popular dishes - the lobster and braised short rib under the appropriately-named “Suite & Tender” section.
Lygia offered the above item as her suggestion, and I happily obliged. My lady went with the grilled king salmon with wilted spinach and cherry tomatoes in an orange dill sauce.
Neither entrée served to disappoint, however, the lobster and short rib were particularly sensational. Both easily achieved-melt-in-your-mouth status, and were perfectly proportioned. Oh, and did I mention any guest ordering one of Suite’s meat dishes is presented with a selection of eight high-quality steak knives, selected from various worldwide locales, to provide the best possible tool for the job. Choose your weapon wisely…
And as if you needed yet another reason to make Suite & Tender your next dining destination, the desserts are simply unreal. Now, to be fair, I must admit I’m not a big dessert guy. Truth be told, I’m oftentimes much too full to even consider something sweet, let alone consume it in addition to whatever else I just happened to ingest. As I mentioned before, however, the portions were ideal, and when Lygia described their “light cheesecake,” (an oxymoron, or so I thought), I caved; and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier about a dining decision in my long-standing and well-established history with food.
It was, without a doubt, the cheesecake to end all cheesecakes, the crème de la crème of desserts, the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the… Well, you get the point.
Now go taste for yourself …
Visit the new Suite & Tender at Sé San Diego Hotel.