At Suze in the Village of Preston Hollow, don’t be surprised if chef and owner Gilbert Garcia stops by with a mysterious treat.
“I want you guys to try this,” he says. “I’m not going to tell you what it is.” Five minutes later, he returns and asks what you think. It’s wonderful, but what is it? Green beans? Asparagus? Garcia delights in whipping out a cactus paddle.
Crispy nopalito tempura is one of the delicacies at Suze, which was featured on the cover of Bon Appetit’s “Great Neighborhood Restaurants” in 2002 and USA Today’s “10 great places for a down-to-earth meal” in 2003. The restaurant is entering its 20th year.
Before Central Market moved into the Village, the restaurant was in a 1,734-square-foot room for its first 17 years. Now Suze fills a 4,090-square-foot space with a full bar and herb-scented patio outfitted with misters and a sound system. Inside the dining room, Garcia has a penchant for playing retro TV shows — “I Love Lucy,” “Speed Racer,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and more.
Known primarily for its dinners, Suze recently began serving lunch on Fridays and Saturdays.
“There’s everything right about simplicity,” says Garcia, who graduated from the California Culinary Academy and began working in his grandfather’s restaurant, Gilbert’s El Charro in Tyler, at the age of 11 during the summers. “Restraint is something that I’m constantly trying to impress upon my guys.”
Garcia has created what he calls a dichotomous menu — one for the patio and bar that does not encompass a full meal and another for the dining room.
Favorites on the patio and bar menu include the grilled king salmon carpaccio, chilled snapper agua chile and Kobe beef carpaccio. Baby burgers come in several varieties — THC (charred tomato and jalapeno); Korean (pickled carrot, cilantro and mint with Korean BBQ glaze); PKM (pickles, ketchup and mustard); or classic cheese.
The most popular dining room menu items are the Kobe beef carpaccio and Prince Edward Island mussels as starters, and the veal Bolognese, wild mushroom-filled ravioli with white truffle essence and almond crusted Idaho rainbow trout as entrees.
“We try to mix things up so we have a balance of hearty with not so heavy,” he says.
Count on Garcia to also feature eight to 10 items on special every night — pharaoh quail or buffalo, for example. He prides himself on remembering customers’ preferences and dietary needs and cooking off menu. “I had a guy call me and say, ‘I’m coming in tonight.’ I know he loves lobster and veal, but he will not eat game meat. He’s critical of beef and there are types of fish that he likes.”
Garcia, who lives 2 miles from the restaurant, remembers the son of a favorite customer who came to dinner before prom. Garcia knew the student liked rabbit, so he had it ready for him. Another customer had touted how he had lost weight by cutting out carbs and sugars. “I made him a roasted tomato curry soup, Bolognese with charred kale instead of pasta, Akaushi Kobe and a stir fry of cauliflower, wild mushrooms and charred green beans.”
Garcia has gone so far as to pick up a customer who drives a truck too big to park in the Village of Preston Hollow but hadn’t mastered Uber or Lyft. “My customers mean more to me than the restaurant,” he says.
“This is where people come to take communion. They’re with their families, celebrating life, engagements, the spirit of being together or the life of someone who has passed. I feel privileged that they’ve chosen us to spend those moments with.”
DID YOU KNOW?
When Suze hosted a party for Sen. Al Franken, the politician held a menu too close to a candle and caught it on fire. Owner and chef Gilbert Garcia grabbed the paper, looked him in the eye and calmly crumbled the menu to put out the flames.
4345 W. Northwest Highway
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