The Real Baja

Finding Freshness with Master Chef Erick Saenz at the Rosarito Beach Hotel

Fresh and attractive: the inviting Casa Blanca restaurant

Finding Freshness with Master Chef Erick Saenz at the Rosarito Beach HotelChocolate mousse cake at Casa Blanca restaurant .
Chocolate mousse cake at Casa Blanca restaurant .

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The Rosarito Beach Hotel is a landmark in Baja California, conjuring up nostalgic images of yesteryear’s suntanned Hollywood celebrities, colorful posadas and fiestas, and authentic margaritas by the sparkling rectangular swimming pool perched above the Pacific Ocean. For years, Chabert’s was the hotel’s famed dining spot that emphasized French cuisine. But along with an exciting make-over for this iconic hostelry has come something else fresh and attractive: the inviting Casa Blanca restaurant, under the seasoned guidance of Master Chef Erick Saenz.

The Rosarito Beach Hotel’s Casa Blanca is strategically positioned right between that famous swimming pool and the even more famous Rosarito Beach, giving it wonderful views on either side. It opened in 2012, with much attention paid to the simple and elegant interior design created by Bo Bendana Sein. Her work set the stage for a complete transition in menu style for the hotel, reflecting the culinary changes that are reshaping people’s perceptions of the region.

As Master Chef Erick puts it, “Baja Fusion-BajaMed cuisine offers a way to showcase traditional products of the region with new techniques.”

And showcase, he does.

The menu highlights regional ingredients that Master Chef Erick and his right-hand man, Chef Heriberto Astango, select at local markets like Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana and Mercado de Abastos in Rosarito. There are lots of popular staples on the menu, including the Hibiscus Flower (Jamaica) Flautas: a seasoned hibiscus flower with goat cheese that is wrapped in flour tortilla and deep fried, to be served in an orange Habanero sauce. The Ceviche Margarita isn’t a margarita at all, but rather marinated tilapia fish, with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, lemon juice and a touch of Tequila. Main courses offer everything from classic Surf and Turf (featuring the region’s best lobster or marinated shrimp accompanied by a Peruvian potato cake), to mouth-watering tenderloin filet, to scallops in a Tequila cream sauce, to Sesame Tuna and Beef Burritos with mole sauce.

The menu is broad, but Master Chef Erick points out that he believes in flexibility. “Here, you can have exactly what you want,” he notes. “If our customers want a special dish, we will do everything we can to create it!”

Flexibility — the goal of constantly evolving his craft — has been key to Chef Erick’s successful (and still early) career. Originally from San Diego and with a degree from the California Culinary Academy, he has plied his culinary skills in a number of US cities prior to arriving in Baja. He is a Master Chef – the highest designation possible in American culinary arts. He won the Taste of Excellence Chef Award in the 2007-2008 Battle of the Masters 5-Star Award at the American Culinary Association. Additionally, he has been involved with a number of five-star Italian restaurants in California and with outstanding establishments in other states, including La Olla Restaurant and Bar in Chattanooga and chef/partner in Patrón Grill in Cleveland.

A celebrity chef for Bravo TV, Chef Erick has made numerous television appearances including the Wines du Jour program hosted by Les Kincaid, that was produced live at the Rosarito Beach Hotel and on Good Morning America. In upcoming episodes of Top Chef, he will serve as one of the judges. And, if having a full-time job as Executive Chef and showing up on the little screen periodically are not enough, Chef Erick also currently has his own show on ProChef TV, Channel 154, on Tuesdays and Thursday at 1 p.m.

That said, with his staff of six cooks, four sous chefs, and approximately 14 apprentices, Master Chef Erick and Chef Heriberto have no difficulty creating menus that deliciously represent the rich bounty of Baja foods in palate-pleasing ways.

“I have always been around chefs and great cooks and cooking instructors,” comments Master Chef Erick.”Now, at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, this is my first time cooking in Mexico. It is great to incorporate my Italian and French culinary techniques with Baja’s traditions and products – it is truly Baja Fusion at its best!”

The Casa Blanca restaurant at the Rosarito Beach Hotel is open Thursday and Friday from 5 p.m. – midnight, Saturday from 9 a.m.-noon, and Sunday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. for brunch. Phone for reservations, (661) 612-1126.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for Baja, California, supported by a full-service travel agency staffed with local "Travel Savants”.Baja.com offers Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. To contact Baja.com, call 855-BAJA-411 or email info@baja.com.

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