If you’ve ever spent any time in France, you know how the French pride themselves on their cuisine. Admit it, you probably dream about it from time to time. The problem is finding a French restaurant that serves anything that even remotely compares to what you savored in France. I recently visited Pascal in San Juan Capistrano, and I can tell you your search is over. Pascal Olhats is the Chef/Owner of his eponymously named French restaurant. His credentials are impeccable. His resume includes a who’s who of restaurants in France and Brussels, including stops in St. Tropez and Lyon. He worked under the legendary Paul Bocuse in Brussels. He moved to the U.S. in 1984 working as Chef de Cuisine at Le Meridien in Newport Beach, Executive Chef at Players in Irvine and Club Chanticlair in Newport Beach to name but a few stops along the way.
Today he owns four businesses including a catering company. Pascal Café, where I dined, has been named the number one restaurant in Orange County by Zagat for 15 years. I accepted his gracious invitation to come for lunch with a group of fellow writers. Pascal spent much of his time in the kitchen helping prepare what truly was an unforgettable lunch experience. Everything at Pascal is made in-house.
Waiters brought appetizers to the beautifully decorated table. Plates of petite onion tart and pesto tomato tartelettes were accompanied by an assiette of house-made pistachio country paté and pork rillette, duck saucisson with house-made mustard and pickles from local, farm-picked cucumbers. While we savored the appetizers, our glasses were filled with 2015 Macon-Vinzelles white Burgundy which was an absolutely perfect pairing. Pascal came out from the kitchen to visit with us and share with us a bit of his background and his philosophies. He’s fanatical about using fresh ingredients as well as local whenever possible.
Appetizers were followed by a stunning Salade Lyonnaise. Butter lettuce, frisee, house made croutons and smoked bacon lardons, tossed in a Dijon vinaigrette and topped with a farm-fresh poached egg. You poke the egg so the yoke runs into the salad, give it a little toss and – heaven! I could have eaten that alone and been satisfied all day. As we got ready for the main course, waiters poured 2015 Dellas Freres Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage into our glasses.
Chef’s signature Sea Bass au Thym was our main course. Painstaking preparation goes into this magnificent dish. The bass has a lovely thyme crust and sits atop a tomato concasse with a seafood Chardonnay sauce. Pascal’s food is both beautiful and delicious. The sea bass was moist, tender and oh so flavorful. You wouldn’t think that Syrah would pair well with this dish, but it was spot on. Chef had planned to serve us a dish with prawns, but the delivery truck from Baja Shellfish Farms, a purveyor he uses extensively, was stopped at the border. Meticulous about everything that comes out of his kitchen, Pascal also depends on Manassero Farms in Irvine for much of his produce.
He has spent some time in Macau as of late and has fallen in love with the food there. After spending a week at the culinary institute there, a chef told him about his Macanese egg tart with berry compote. Someone had stolen his recipe, so he shared it with Pascal who prepared it for us. This truly was the perfect ending to an unforgettable meal.
Pascal is a rare dining experience. If you really want to experience Pascal, make a reservation for dinner at the chef’s table Thursday through Saturday. Limited to 24 diners, it’s a prix-fixe dinner with Chef Pascal that I assure you will linger in your memory for ages. Pascal is located at 31451 Rancho Viejo Road in San Juan Capistrano. Call 949 488-0031 for information and reservations.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.