Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eating in OC: Tradition by Pascal

My family and I celebrated Moon Cake/Mid - Autumn Festival (linked to wikipedia if you'd like to learn more about Chinese culture) with dinner at Tradition by Pascal. Rated by Gayot as one of the top 3 restaurants in Orange County, rated by Zagat as the best French restaurant in the OC for the last 10 years, and favorably reviewd by fellow food blogger Roger on his blog.

The restaurant is situated in a very unassuming strip mall off the 73 freeway in Newport Beach. The restaurant itself is not large at all, there are probably 15-20 tables at the most.

Apparently the day we went (a sunday) was the first experiment by the restaurant for a "family style" menu. You were given an option of an appetizer, entree, and dessert just like a standard Prix Fixe menu, BUT 2+ people would order the same entree and it'd come in a big family size plate. An interesting concept, trying to bring a little bit of casual fun dining within the world of fine dining. I believe its just a way to screw the customer with smaller portions, but the price is only $40. Two of my cousins got it and it truly was a small steak. No more than 16 ounces for the two. As well certain things on the normal dinner menu are not on the menu on Sunday's, like their famed rabbit. Sadly none of this is conveyed on their website nor on their front window which still displays the normal prix fixe menu for Sundays.

The nice thing about Pascal's on Sundays is that there is free corkage, one bottle per couple. Otherwise I believe its $20.

The service was okay. We had a relatively young/new waiter who seemed to still need some training. At least the head French waiter believed so, as we watched many a correction on his serving style. Of course the French waiter sounded rather pompous but that could be just the way all the French I've encountered working at nice restaurants sound. (Very odd, people mock the fact that French have pompous attitudes but I never really put it together till right now. I Always thought they treated me like crap at restaurants cause I'm young.) I also tried to order three different bottles of wine and each one wasn't available. Quite sad really. Wish I had the foresight to bring my own. For such a fine French restaurant the wine list is kinda small.
But water was refilled quickly, wine glasses were taken away, and ordering was prompt.

But even with the slight dinge on the service the food was very tasty. I'm by no means a fiend for traditional French fare. I do appreciate the grace of French food and look forward to my visit to France and its 3 star dining, but I've always considered myself a California Fusion kind of guy.

Before we ordered an amuse bouche was served. I understand that the amuse is usually something small, to just open up your taste buds, let us know what the chef's ability, but this was a little bit too small. About 4 pieces of brioche with some tapenade and a butter. I'm not sure if they realized that we had a party of 13. I wasn't even aware that they served it because my cousin sitting at the middle of the table ate it all before I had the chance to even glance at it (hence the lack of pictures).

Then they served french bread with a cute little butter tray that had a cute little cover on it, being all cute and buttery and creamy. I think I had half a basket of this sipping wine and waiting for the food as the sun went down. (We had arrived at 5:30, its the summer time.. the sun doesn't set until pretty late).

So to start off the actual courses of the meal , I persuaded my brother to order their famed Beet salad and I ordered the French Onion soup.
I will not lie, I have never ever eaten beets in my life. The color and texture just seem odd to me. But I am never one to back down from eating food at a fine restaurant so I gave it a shot. Creamy, yet just a bit of crispness. The beets ended up being saltier than they looked, I half expected something sour when I bit into it. The beets apparently were put together with a creme sauce that gave it that milky taste. A very interesting dish. My onion soup was a concoction of generous amounts of salt, onions, and cheese that didn't quite like to melt. I might just be odd though, I like drinking soup that has cheese that's so gooey that its stuck on your lips and you have to use your fingers to get rid of it. This fascination of mine is always working at full speed when I dine at the Souplantation.
I found the soup to be a little bit too salty for my taste, and the slivers of onions a little too thin. Of course no one else shared this opinion when I had my mom and brother try it. They both found it to be a shining example of what French Onion should be.

For our first entree my grandfather had ordered the Coq Au Vin, which is "traditional" Braised chicken with smoked bacon and a side of fettuccine. Those that had the opportunity to taste it loved it. I didn't have said opportunity, but I did get a clear look at the dish itself. Look at how the pasta is cooked. Its absolutely perfect, each noodle is able to sustain itself without trying to get too close to its brothers in the plate. There's no clumping and plenty of space. Ah true culinary skill lies in the small feats.

The next entree was the Lamb Chops which actually weren't on the menu.
Cooked to a perfect rare/medium rare and drizzled with a little bit of red wine reduction, this dish was heaven in my mouth. I love lamb, I especially love lamb when its cooked like this. Not a single centimeter of this lamb was rough, like snow in the hot sunlight, this lamb just melts in your mouth. Yum yum yum! This would have been great with just cracked pepper and sea salt, but the reduction really put it over the top!

The next dish is one of their more popular dishes, Bouillabaise Provencale. A spicy saffron and tomato broth stewed with steamed bass, mussels, clams, shrimp and squid.
Look at how French this restaurant is, they serve the dish in a Le Creuset pot! The broth is a thin soupy broth with strong hints of saffron in it. I personally thought it'd be nice if it was a little chunkier/solid but the soup is still very rich and refreshing. I believe it could use a few more pieces of seafood but eh~ saffron is expensive. I don't know why but I keep thinking a nice side of carbs (rice?) would do this dish wonders. But I guess it'd be too similar to a Cioppino.

My entree was the Restaurant speciality, Seabass au Thym, Baked Seabass with a Thyme Crust When I first ordered the dish I was afraid the Thyme crust would be overpowering and much too strong for my palate, but to my amazement the blend of the oily fish that is seabass plus the tomato creme sauce on the bottom of the fish gave the right amount of flavor to balance out the Thyme. The seabass itself was not a marvelous piece of fish. I personally love seabass, its my "fine dining" fish of choice. I expect the fish to flake when I press my fork against it, but the seabass bordered on almost rubbery. The real star of this dish was the tomato creme. I probably ate 5 pieces of bread scooping the sauce up, it was so creamy and rich *drool*.

After the entrees have come and gone, we settled for some dessert .

First we ordered the Creme Brulee. Which.. sadly was unavailable.. and hence was subbed for a caramel Flan.

Not quite the gelatin goo that flan normally is, with a really sensual caramel sauce. Tasty.

We also ordered an Apple tart with Vanilla bean ice cream . (which I didn't get to try)
And finally my dessert, fresh seasonal berries.

A mixture of strawberries, black berries, and raspberries topped with cream over a sugary baked piece of dough. I appreciate the balance all 3 elements bring into the dessert. Each added a different level of sweetness to tantalize your taste buds. Rich creme, sweet and sour zing of fruit and the buttery sugar of the baked dough. When I ate the first strawberry i was amazed at one of the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted. Sadly my mom shot down the heaven in my mouth by making me aware it was most likely in a vat of sugar water before hand =(.

I do believe its not the best idea to come on a Sunday because Chef Pascal doesn't work on these days. The food is good, but its definitely not on my list of top restaurants in the OC. I'm sure its a completely different matter when Chef Pascal is there (so I've heard from people who have tried both cuisine without him and with him) and is worth a second visit.

My family all in all enjoyed the dinner very much. So if you'd like to visit Chef Pascal (on a friday/saturday) here's the location!

Pascal (tradition)
1000 N. Bristol,
Newport Beach, CA. 92660


Ting said...

But they made such a big deal on Top Chef that Coq au vin is rooster! Not chicken!

Charlie Fu said...

Ting: Wow you are completely right, i remember now. But Hung put Chef Tom in his place! Tom's star got taken off for his restaurant in NY, who cares about him!