Monday, February 26, 2024

Pascual (Washington, DC)

Pascual Restaurant
732 Maryland Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
Mon 02/26/2024, 07:00p-10:20p

Pascual Exterior

Back at the end of January, I reported on Georgetown's much lauded neo-bistro Lutèce, which is run by the husband-and-wife team of Matt Conroy and Isabel Coss. At the end of that post, I wrote that the two would be launching a contemporary Mexican spot by the name of Pascual (named after San Pascual Bailon, supposedly the patron saint of cooks) in early 2024. Well, it turns out that "early 2024" was earlier than I'd expected, since the restaurant wound up grand-opening just a couple weeks later, on February 15th.

Like with Lutèce, the couple has partnered with The Popal Group on the project, though unlike with Lutèce, Coss will be taking the lead here. This makes sense, given that she hails from Mexico City, and has worked in the kitchens of Cosme, Empellón, and Pujol. On the other hand, Conroy's no slouch with regard to Mexican cuisine either, having served as CdC at the Michelin-starred Oxomoco in Brooklyn. In fact, the Popals initially recruited the duo to open Pascual, not Lutèce, but pandemic-induced delays resulted in latter restaurant debuting earlier.

Pascual Interior
Pascual takes over a Capitol Hill address that was previously home to Uncle Kenny's Smokehouse, which, until late 2017, was known as Kenny's BBQ (opened 1997). The space's complete overhaul was overseen by Omar Popal, who apparently was going for a neutral fusion of both Mexican and Nordic design aesthetics.

Pascual Menu Pascual Cocktail List Pascual Non-Alcoholic Beverage List Pascual Wine List Pascual Beer List Pascual Agave Spirits List Pascual Spirits List
As for the food, Pascual offers a tight menu of modern Mexican fare, with a bit of a live-fire focus thanks to the restaurant's mixed-wood hearth. To imbibe, you get theme-apropos cocktails, a smattering of beer, and a surprisingly small wine list (which I'm assuming with grow in the future). Click for larger versions.

Citrus Ceviche (Covered by Tostada)
Citrus Ceviche
Citrus Ceviche [$16.00] | black bass, chipotle, avocado
Silky cuts of black bass ate lean and clean, meshing easily with avocado, citrus, and the earthy heat of chipotle. The dish was capped with an ultra-crunchy tostada that we cracked like a crème brûlée top, making for a bit of interactive fun.

Go Team Venture!
Go Team Venture! [$16.00] | charanda rum, perucchi gran reserva, avocado, apple, yellow chartreuse
We made our way through all of the cocktails, and the evening's first presented a beguiling amalgamation of sweet spices and astringency, and I even got a bit of suanmei in there.

Chayote Salad
Chayote Salad [$16.00] | sunflower seeds, guajillo oil, asian pears
I've never been a huge fan of chayote, but I'll say that what we had here was likely the best preparation of the ingredient that I've tried. The gourd ate fresh and crunchy, pairing beautifully with the overt nuttiness of the dish, as well as its growing heat, making for a super gratifying combination of flavors that really hit the spot.

Pascual Oaxacan Old Fashioned
Pascual Oaxacan Old Fashioned [$15.00] | mezcal, tequila, salted clove honey, mole bitters, angostura bitters
This effective take on the most classic of cocktails delivered a very balanced presentation of bitter, smoky, and sugary nuances, the whole thing overarched by a layer of citrus.

Steak Tartare (Paired Tortillas)
Steak Tartare
Steak Tartare [$16.00] | peanut salsa, aioli rescoldo, smoked olives
The tartar was also a favorite of mine thanks to how seamlessly the tender cuts of beef married with those piquant olives and the nuttiness from the salsa, all while the corn tortillas served as a great foil, one that I'd like to see matched up with tartares more often.

...And One For The Doctor
...And One For The Doctor [$23.00] | gin, olive oil, leeks, peppers, piña, cherry liquor, benedictine, grenadine, with a sidecar of siete misterios doba-yej
This green-tinted cocktail was probably my favorite of the bunch, as well as the most multifaceted, with its smart combination of fruity, vegetal flavors, spice, and creeping heat. The drink was also served with a small portion of mezcal, which seemed extra woodsy and peppery.

Taco al Pastor
Taco al Pastor [$6.00] | salsa cruda, salsa morita, roasted, piña
My taco de adobada featured thin cuts of delectably seasoned pork, paired with sweet-n-sour shards of pineapple and set in a cozy corn tortilla. This was even better with a squirt of lime.

Paloma [$15.00] | tequila, blood orange amaro, grapefruit, lime, soda water
Pascual's version of the ubiquitous paloma cocktail was more interesting than most, I'm guessing due to the inclusion of amaro.

Garbanzos [$17.00] | green chorizo flan, potatoes, hoja santa
The chickpeas managed to be another favorite. I loved their zippy, mouthwatering spicing, which kept me going back for more, and also appreciated the textural juxtaposition of the garbanzos with the potatoes. And if that wasn't enough, the yerba santa added that extra bit of pungency that took the dish to the next level.

Almost Funny
Almost Funny [$16.00] | bourbon, smoked masa, bubbles, lots of bitters
We ended up getting our next two cocktails on the house, which I'm not sure was intentional or not. In any case, this first one showcased a lovely effervescence, which harmonized well with the drink's woodsy, smoky qualities.

Uni Arroz
Uni Arroz [$21.00] | maine uni, salsa macha, scallions
Somewhat surprisingly given its ingredients, this dish ended up missing the mark a tad. I found the rice overly sweet--though the nutty heat of the salsa macha did help temper said sweetness--and I felt that the sea urchin got a little overshadowed as well.

Pascual Naked And Famous
Pascual Naked And Famous [$15.00] | mezcal, brovo uncharted rhapsody, apertivo, lime
This next cocktail was another highlight. It just had this palpable depth, along with a bevy of vanilla- and cacao-like notes supported by bitterness and botanicals. Very cool.

Parsnip Tamal
Parsnip Tamal [$18.00] | mole blanco, marcona almonds, endives
This rather monochromatic tamal demonstrated an inviting sweet spiciness courtesy of the white mole, while a supporting cast of nuttiness, heat, and bitterness from the endives completed the equation. Really neat.

Margarita [$15.00] | pueblo viejo tequila or mezcal, orange curacao, lime
The margarita has to be the most the "expected" cocktail at a Mexican restaurant, but fortunately, Pascual's version was better than most, with a super clean smoke from the mezcal to go along with the drink's citrusy notes.

Lamb Neck Barbacoa (Accompanying Blue Corn Tortillas)
Lamb Neck Barbacoa
Lamb Neck Barbacoa [$48.00] | ayocote beans, salsa cruda, herbs
Our final savory was another favorite, and probably the best barbacoa I've had. The meat boasted a fantastic, falling-apart-tender texture, and displayed an incredibly satisfying level of seasoning and savor that melded perfectly with the zingy herbs and that wonderfully bright salsa. Be sure to wrap the lamb, beans, and greens in a blue corn tortilla to make for some perfect bites.

Mezcal Negroni
Mezcal Negroni [$15.00] | mezcal, perucchi gran reserva vermouth, aperitivo
This negroni riff was a commendable take on the classic cocktail, showing off a lovely bitterness along with smidges of smoke and a cacao-esque weightiness.

Mexican Chocolate Cake
Mexican Chocolate Cake [$13.00] | carajillo anglaise, hoja santa
Our first dessert comprised a smoothly-textured, rich-yet-restrained chocolate torte, paired with a dainty crème anglaise and the fragrance of hierba santa.

Carajillo [$15.00] | buna dalia coffee, licor 43
Given that we'd ordered all the other cocktails on the list, this final one ended up being graciously comped. The drink served as a fitting closer, and did a nice job blending the roastiness of coffee with the Licor's sweet, spicy, vanilla-laced character.

Arroz con Leche
Arroz con Leche [$13.00] | quince, burnt vanilla, canela
A fellow diner sitting next to us offered a taste of her rice pudding, which was a pretty spot-on preparation enhanced by just enough cinnamon-y spice, a touch of vanilla, and the citrusiness of quince.

Despite being only on its fifth day of service, Pascual delivered a pretty outstanding meal tonight thanks to Coss and Conroy's technique-driven, ingredient-centric, multi-regional cooking. The Chefs' perspective on progressive Mexican cuisine--simultaneously clever yet familiar--spoke to me, and made me yearn for more. In fact, the day after this dinner, I was already contemplating the possibility of coming back to try more of the food on my next visit to DC. As for next steps, the team is planning on debuting Volcán in the near future. This will be a daytime-only café-slash-panadería, apparently serving from a to-go window attached to the restaurant, with patio seating to boot. It's definitely something to look out for if you live in the area.


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