Suzanne’s Cuisine
502 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai

My companion and I had arranged our first visit to attend a monthly Ojai Chautauqua speaker presentation. That night, we would see “An Evening with Dan Schnur and Warren Olney.” Olney is the veteran journalist who created To The Point, a nationally syndicated public radio show. But first, my companion and I wanted to try something new and different in Ojai, something we could do for a review. Surprisingly, Suzanne’s Cuisine was our “new and different” choice, even though this special selection is not new, but new to us, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Walking up to the restaurant, it appears as a welcoming home, something typical of Ojai’s organic ambience, with an ivy-covered entrance and porch, outdoor seating both in the front and the back. The glow of the string lights that shrouded the entrance and enhanced the already-lovely garden in the back, which featured a working tiered fountain and manicured shrubs and such, gave a certain romantic touch without any overkill. We took our seats at a table that was cozily placed between yet another relaxing water fountain and a working fireplace warming the room. The whole setup must have decreased my blood pressure by several points.

Upon taking our drink orders, we were given complimentary French bread (sliced, crusty on the outside, soft and warm on the inside), a large square slice of dense yet silky butter with an herb leaf placed on top, olive oil in a cute cruet and a ramekin with four large green olives. I would have been quite happy eating only the bread for dinner — which I did eat so much of, the next basket of bread was placed out of arm’s reach across the table so my companion could have more than a slice. I told her that she was in cahoots with the servers. She didn’t deny it. Off the menu for dinner, we chose escargot, angel hair pasta, duck liver pâté and the baby arugula salad.

While my companion and I have had the pleasure of eating escargot in Paris, Suzanne’s presented a unique opportunity: enacting the famous scene out of Pretty Woman, except I wasn’t quite prepared for the role, sans the sexy black dress and Richard Gere. But nevertheless, the scene could not be avoided. Six escargots came served on a silver platter, simmered in garlic herb butter. The land mollusks had a rich earthy, nutty flavor. With this particular preparation, they came served in the shell — my companion recalls them without in Paris — and as expected, the snail tongs, which require relaxing the grasp to hold the escargot tight, served to provide a perfect scenario that left my companion giggling at me as I struggled to keep them from falling or springing out of the tongs.  I am just glad I didn’t fling it across the room at a server … or the patrons next to me.

Out next came the baby arugula salad with grilled asparagus, bresaola, asiago and roasted tomatoes. I had never tried bresaola, which is cured beef. I don’t eat meat much these days, but the salty meat, easily cut with a fork, was different than the standard cured ham offerings I had become accustomed to over the years. The roasted tomatoes were a particular highlight, tangy and sweet, marinated in, presumably, a vinaigrette. I am salivating just thinking about it.

For dinner, I chose the angel hair pasta with red-chili olive oil, garlic, anchovies, diced tomatoes and black olives. I recall hating anchovies as a kid, but now I can’t get enough of them; and Suzanne’s has this dish wonderfully balanced with acidity, saltiness, a bit of spiciness combined with al dente angel hair and the different all textures in harmony. I guess a return visit is imminent.

My companion thoroughly enjoyed the pâté, a dense fluffy square slice of practically dessert quality, served with cornichons.  It is hard to describe the flavor but it might best be described as a stronger taste and aroma of dark duck meat.  

It’s hard not to gush about our experience there, from the meal to the ambience — and … my role as Vivian from Pretty Woman — but it was a sincerely a wonderful, perfectly pleasant and relaxing one. Plus, in case you were wondering, our first Ojai Chautauqua event was stimulating and informative and another reason to visit Ojai again.