Haute Gem

Pascal’s Has Been on Ponce for 19 Years. Here’s Why

By Andrew Gayle

January 2020

The only problem with perfecting a dish, says Chef Pascal Oudin, is that your clients will never let you take it off the menu. “When I took my lobster bisque off the regular menu, I practically had a riot on my hands, there was such a protest,” he says. But after a decade or so, sometimes you just have to change things up.

As it is, the menu at Pascal’s is neither fluid nor whimsical. It is a well thought out, discrete selection of classic French cuisine, each dish executed like a work of art. And, naturally, Pascal gives his own spin to the classics, like his olive and Dijon dusted rack of lamb or his beef filet served with onion marmalade.

For Pascal, his favorite entrée is the diver sea scallops topped with beef short rib. But for our party it was his crispy duck confit. Sliced duck breast is fairly standard for any French restaurant, but Pascal instead uses Moulard duck legs. He brines them, then immerses them in duck fat at 180 or 200 degrees for several hours, then chills them, then pan fries them to crisp up the skin. The result is a duck more delicious than any our party had previously tasted.

Diver sea scallops with beef short rib

On the appetizer side, Pascal is equally adept. Here, it is all about the delicate dance of flavors that play off of each other. His terrine of duck foie gras, for example, is done country style, which means chunky, savory and salty, and is offset with an array of pickled eggplant, tiny green beans, onion marmalade, and poached pear.

Among the appetizers or “first courses,” Pascal’s masterpiece is the Tomato “Tartin,” a sort of tomato tart that combines three preparations of skinless tomato – oven dried, oven roasted and puréed – which are then briefly baked together, placed on a crisp wafer, and served with sheep milk feta cheese, mustard crème fraîche and micro arugula. That the humble tomato should taste so good is almost sinful.

What makes dining at Pascal’s all the more enjoyable is the setting. The restaurant is elegantly demure: an intimate bistro setting, just a dozen tables and an old wooden bar, with quiet music and comfortable lighting. The walls are hung with some remarkable paintings, courtesy of Pascal’s friend Ramon Cernuda, proprietor of nearby Cernuda Arte (yes, that is a real Wifredo Lam, and that huge canvas is a César Santós). The staff, meanwhile, is perfectly attentive without being intrusive.

Many of his customers consider Pascal’s among the most romantic restaurants in the Gables; it is certainly somewhere to celebrate an anniversary, if not to propose. And, because it is for serious dining, Pascal’s is the kind of place where men wear jackets and women wear dresses. This is refreshing in a city where, in most restaurants, “formal” means a shirt that has a collar.

Perfection, naturally, does not come cheap. First courses are around $20, and most entrees are just north of $40, though nothing goes wildly beyond that. The maestro does offer his patrons a complementary amuse bouche to start the journey of each meal. Ours was an exquisite duo: a prosciutto-wrapped heart of palm on a thin cracker with a sprig of spring lettuce on top, paired with a spoon of salmon tartar capped with a thin slice of radish. Like his other work, it was an artful presentation, with the light splash of palm heart offsetting the strong flavor of salmon – a complex melody of tastes, perfectly Pascal.

But what would an evening of fine French dining be without a superlative dessert, which in the case of Pascal would be one of his soufflés. Most popular is the chocolate, but we had the Grand Marnier, a muffin-shaped cloud of baked egg wonderfulness made creamy with a warm, sweet sabayon sauce that you pour onto it; an exquisite, light taste that stays with you long afterwards, making you feel like you’ve eaten very, very well.

Pascal’s on Ponce
2611 Ponce de Leon Blvd. 305.444.2024