Although Tradition by Pascal has closed its doors after 24 years as Orange County's premier French restaurant, chef Pascal Olhats is still busy with his catering business, his eponymous epicerie and overseeing Café Jardin and Brasserie Pascal, as well as acting as a management consultant for French 75 and Savannah Chop House.
Because we were in the mood for some classic French cuisine, we decided to stop by the Brasserie for some escargots and coq au vin. If you have never been there, the décor is as traditional as the food. After a glass of wine, you might actually think you are in Paris (well, almost). Chandeliers with low rosy lighting, dark woods, wainscoting and a pressed tin ceiling all create a turn-of-the-century atmosphere.
As in many French eateries there is a three-course menu of the day, which is always a good deal. In this case, it is only an amazing $19 and includes a choice of soup, salad or pate/rillettes and a main course of filet mignon, chicken cordon bleu or the fish of the day. Dessert choices are crème caramel, chocolate mousse and ile flottant.
New on the regular menu is moelle with escargots. Moelle is the fatty marrow of a beef bone, which is as sinfully rich and delicious as foie gras but is still available in California.
It is served here as a long, thin half-bone and alas, there is only about a teaspoon of the marrow to be scraped out. However, a nice portion of plump and delicious escargots accompanied it, along with a bit of frisée, finely chopped onions and a lot of garlicky oil. Toast points and excellent crusty bread came in handy for mopping up.
Pascal has rescued three dishes from the Tradition menu. We were happy to see that rabbit in mustard cream sauce was one of those chosen. We decided to forego coq au vin in favor of rabbit.
For some strange reason, it is seen very infrequently on California menus even though they are obviously quite plentiful. If you are not familiar with this meat, it really does taste like chicken although the texture is somewhat different.
Pascal's prepares it by cooking it until it's meltingly tender. The pleasant cream sauce was lightly flavored with mustard and made a nice finish for the rabbit. Little cubes of excellent roasted potatoes studded with diced red bells were the perfect complement.
Pascal recently introduced a burger made with braised short ribs, cabernet gravy and horseradish cream on a home-baked brioche bun.
He also serves an excellent "French" burger with Gruyere, grilled onions, roasted tomato and his own special sauce. The generous portion of mouth-watering, juicy, freshly ground beef was cooked exactly to medium rare as requested. The bun was superior, either housemade or from some special bakery, and the layers of well-balanced flavors were finished with a savory slightly tangy mayonnaise-based sauce.
Without any extra prompting, the accompanying fries arrived just the way we like them: nice and crispy and obviously made from really good potatoes.
The long list of desserts includes all the classics: soufflés, tarts crepes, profiteroles, chocolate mousse, crème brulée and cheese, to name just a few.
We ordered the tarte tatin because this apple pastry is one of our favorites. Traditionally, it is made with very thick pieces of apple cooked in butter and sugar until caramelized, then topped with a buttery short pastry and baked until the pastry is crisped and golden brown, then it's turned upside down for serving.
Sadly it's hardly ever made that way anymore. Pascal uses commercial puff pastry, which unfortunately has very little flavor. The apples weren't particularly flavorful either, but there was a lot of caramel sauce.
French food, once considered the epitome of great cuisine, has been supplanted by fusion cuisine, a great variety of ethnic cuisines and imaginative chef-driven dishes. But it is always a pleasure to revisit the classics.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: (949) 640-2700, brasseriepascal.net
Where: 327 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
When: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Appetizers: $8 to $32
Entrées: $14 to $34
Desserts: $6 to $9
Glass: $8 to $15
Carafe: $13 to $20
Bottle: $30 to $140
Corkage Fee: $15