Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tradition by Pascal (Newport Beach, CA)

Pascal Restaurant
1000 N Bristol St, Newport Beach, CA, 92660
Sun 02/12/2012, 06:55p-10:05p

Tradition by Pascal Exterior

It's the end of an era in OC fine dining. Pascal Olhats' perennial French favorite is finally closing its doors after 24 years of business. I'd been curious about Pascal for ages now, so I wanted to make sure to give the place one last shot on its second-to-penultimate day of service (the final day being Valentine's).

About the Chef: Pascal Olhats was born in Rouen, a city in the Normandy region of France. He was inspired by his mother from an early age, taking great joy in painting, writing, and of course, cooking. His father also played a pivotal role in Olhats' development, bringing freshly-hunted meat to the table and schooling Olhats in traditional Normandie cooking. By high school, he was already proficient in the kitchen, and spent his summers at a local Michelin-starred restaurant. After his apprenticeship, he attended Hotel School in Brussels, Belgium, then served his mandatory military service working as a maitre d'hotel for a high-ranking French general. Olhats then traveled to Lyon, landing a position at Paul Bocuse's legendary L'auberge du Pont de Collonges. He would work here for two years before moving to Jean-Paul Lacombe's Léon de Lyon. Following, the Chef relocated to St. Tropez, where he cooked for three years at the posh Club 55 beach club.

Through a connection at the restaurant, Olhats ended up in Newport Beach on vacation in 1983, and during his stay, served as a guest chef at the now-defunct Paula's on the Balboa peninsula, revamping the menu with his authentic flavors of Provence. He subsequently returned to France, but moved back to Orange County permanently in 1984. His first gig after Paula's was at Piret's Bistro in South Coast Plaza (on the site of the current Z'Tejas), but he really made a name for himself at the Le Meridien in Newport (now the Fairmont), running the hotel's restaurants Antoine's and Cafe Fleuri. Olhats left in 1986, becoming the Chef at the longstanding Chanteclair in Irvine (which shuttered in 2007, becoming Z Mario, iLounge, Chateaux Lounge, and most recently, Posch). In 1988, he opened up his eponymous eatery Pascal not too far away, in a humdrum strip mall right across from the 73 Freeway. Featuring the so-called cuisine reelle, the Chef showed off his style of light, unadulterated, California-inspired Provençal cooking.

The restaurant garnered its share of accolades over the years, and also served as an incubator for a number of notable OC chefs, including Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub, Florent Marneau of Marché Moderne, David Kesler of The Cellar, Tim Goodell of Domaine Restaurants, and Bernard Althaus of Basilic. In November 1993, Olhats opened Pascal Épicerie & Wine Shop with wife Mimi right next door to the original restaurant. This was followed up in May 1997 by the lunch-only Café Jardin at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar, which, as of November 2008, transforms into Pascal's Tea Garden Creperie on the weekends. Then, at the end of 2001, Olhats launched casual eatery Cafe Pascal near South Coast Plaza's Bridge of Gardens, but the place would last only until the middle of 2005. In 2008, the Chef changed the name of his flagship to Tradition by Pascal, to allow for more future "by Pascal" concepts and to signal a return to his more classical French roots. At the end of that year, Pascal at Hutton Centre bowed inside Santa Ana's MacArthur Place. 2009, meanwhile, saw the Chef consult for David Wilhelm's bankrupt Culinary Adventures group before taking over French 75 in Fashion Island and turning it into Brasserie by Pascal.

Tradition by Pascal Interior
The interior is a bit dated, but it's comfortable enough and gets the job done.

Tradition by Pascal Menu
During these final weeks, the restaurant was offering up a "Best of Pascal's" menu of the place's greatest hits. Click for a larger version.

Bread & Butter
Bread was merely passable, though the butter fared better.

NV Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Extrem'
To drink, we started with some bubbly, specifically a bottle of the NV Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Extrem' [$85]. This was a very crisp, very dry sparkler, with a good effervescence and a palate filled with nutty, earthy, and toasty notes.

Chilled Champagne Poached Oysters
Chilled Champagne Poached Oysters [$18.00] | (4) ou Spinach with Caviar and Dill Crème Fraîche
Some oysters to start, naturally. These were nice enough, meaty and supple, with a marked, lingering brine that I enjoyed. I also liked the slight touch of astringency from the spinach, though I didn't taste much from the caviar, and overall, I wanted more pop, more verve from the dish.

Imported Smoked Herring & Homemade Gravlax
Imported Smoked Herring & Homemade Gravlax [$15.00] | with Warm Potato Salad and Dill Mustard Dressing
A duet of salmon and herring showed off tons of saline, smoky flavors that I found rather endearing. The heft of the fish was tempered superbly by the moderating effect of the potatoes, while the dill-mustard dressing added pinpoints of piquancy to the mix.

Escargot Cassolette 'Christine'
Escargot Cassolette "Christine" [$17.00] | Toasted Pine Nuts and Garlic Butter
A cassolette of escargot was just about perfect, brimming with buttery, garlicky flavors. The texture of the snails was spot on as well, and I appreciated the nutty contrast and crunch from the pignons de pin as well. The epitome of escargot.

Scampi Magali
Scampi Magali [$18.00] | Sautéed Tiger Prawns with Tomato, Basil, and Pastis Cream Sauce
The scampi, unfortunately, wasn't quite as successful, arriving at the table somewhat overcooked. The flavors here were certainly palatable, but I really wanted to taste more brightness, more acidity from the dish.

Salade Maison
Salade Maison [$11.00] | Butter Lettuce, Croutons, Poached Egg, and Warm Lardons on the Side with House Vinaigrette
Here was Ohlats' take on the traditional salade lyonnaise. It was pretty much flawless, and one of the best versions of the salad that I've had. I loved the sweet, lush character of the butter lettuce, and how that played with the salty lardons, crisp croutons, and tangy vinaigrette, all tied together by that runny egg.

2008 Jean Chartron Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Sous La Roche
Our second wine, the 2008 Jean Chartron Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Sous La Roche [$65], was rather enjoyable as well. Imagine loads of light cherry flavors up front, transitioning to weightier nuances of spice and smoke.

Thyme-Crusted Sea Bass
Thyme-Crusted Sea Bass [$34.00] | Seafood Chardonnay Sauce on a Tomato Concassé (House Specialty)
The first of our main courses brought us Pascal's signature dish of sea bass. The fish came with a soft, supple, falling-apart tender consistency, along with an arrestingly bold, ocean-y savor that played nicely off of the herby zing of the thyme, while the Chardonnay sauce added depth and body to the course.

Sautéed Prime Beef Filet Mignon Périgord
Sautéed Prime Beef Filet Mignon Périgord [$35.00] | with Sautéed Foie Gras and Cognac Truffle Sauce
Next up was a classic French-style preparation of filet mignon. Think soft, flavorful beef, amped up by the inclusion of foie gras, with an additional gravitas imparted by the dark, earthy essences of truffle and mushroom.

Braised Rabbit
Braised Rabbit [$30.00] | with Dijon Mustard Sauce and Roasted Potatoes
Rabbit was beautifully tender, though a touch drier than I would've liked (one of my dining companions likened it to carnitas). The taste was all there, however, and I really appreciated the tartness of the Dijon here and how it, in concert with the rosemary, balanced out the otherwise monolithic nature of the meat.

Dijon-Crusted Rack of Lamb
Dijon-Crusted Rack of Lamb [$32.00] | Celery Root Purée, Vegetables a la Provençale and Pan Jus
Lamb was my favorite of the mains, with its perfect temperature, supple bite, and delightfully rich, gamey smack, gorgeously accented by the heady aromatics of rosemary in the dish.

Tradition by Pascal Dessert Menu Tradition by Pascal Dessert Wine List
For the final course of our prix fixe, we had our pick from the dessert menu. Click for larger versions.

Warm Tarte Tatin
Warm Tarte Tatin [$11.00] | With a Strawberry and Champagne Shot
A tarte tatin was surprisingly good, balancing the dense, sugary apples against the dish's wonderfully flaky, airy crust, while the strawberry Champagne added a further point of levity.

Classic French Lemon Tart
Classic French Lemon Tart [$10.00] | Served with Raspberry Coulis
The lemon tart was exactly what you'd expect, with its distinct sourness only partly moderated by the sweetness of the accompanying raspberry sauce.

Chocolate Chestnut Torte
Chocolate Chestnut Torte [$11.00] | Served Warm with Chocolate and Raspberry Sauce
What we had here basically amounted to a chocolate torte, as I didn't taste much at all from the chestnut. Nothing too exciting, with a classic interplay of flavors between the chocolate and berry.

Warm Thin Apple Tart
Warm Thin Apple Tart [$11.00] | Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce
The apple tart was arguably my favorite of the desserts. I appreciated the crisp, sweet apples here, along with the dish's crunchy, flaky crust, all tied together by a tantalizing scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Profiterole au Chocolate
Profiterole au Chocolate [$11.00] | Pastry Puff filled with Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce
We finished with profiteroles, which are always a treat. Chocolate and vanilla ice cream, puff pastry, chocolate sauce--can't go wrong with that. Delicious.

Somewhat to my surprise, I came out of this dinner pretty contented. The food was very classic in essence, and didn't bring much of anything new to the table per se, but the cooking was, for the most part, on point and the flavors satisfying. I can see why Pascal has remained so popular over the years, and Orange County really is losing one of its finer eateries--a shame. As for what's next for this ambassador of cuisine Française, Olhats will be busy with his other establishments, and is also considering expansion of the Pascal brand and empire. Also, he's working on a cookbook documenting his 30-year journey in the kitchen, to be completed when it gets completed. And as for the space, word was that a fellow Frenchman, Ortolan's Christophe Émé, was moving in to open a self-titled eatery called, simply, Émé, but that deal ultimately fell through. Another restaurant will be taking over the lease, however, and Olhats will be helping them out in a consulting role, so definitely be on the lookout for that.


Blogger Michael said...

The Six M's Took Pascal Out: Mario's Mozza, Marche Moderne, Mastro's, and Morton's.

There's always The Brasserie.

Monday, February 13, 2012 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Foodie said...

The Chocolate Chestnut Torte looks amazing!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 4:21:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Michael: Shouldn't it be five M's? The "Mario's" seems redundant. How's the Brasserie?

Foodie: It does, though ironically, it was arguably the weakest of the desserts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012 2:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Marian said...

Tradition by Pascal is so BLAH to me. The servers seemed like they needed an espresso boost too.

Friday, February 24, 2012 4:17:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

The brasserie is a brasserie. I am sure you could find better brasseries in Southern Califonia if you truly looked. The Coq Au Vin at Marché was Millennium Falcon lightyears better and more moderately priced.

Traditional by Pascal was one of those restaurants on my list to go to, however other "more important" restaurant experiences came up that seemed "more important". Redd, The French Laundry, The Bazaar, and such.

Honestly, Marian's adjudication of the restaurant makes me a little happier that I didn't go. I am very sorry to see it falter, though.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 9:45:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Marian: I can definitely see where you're coming from, though I suppose the food isn't supposed to be all that exciting.

Michael: Fair enough. You didn't miss out on all that much, but it was worth going to just to go I guess.

Friday, March 02, 2012 3:53:00 AM  
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013 11:10:00 AM  

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