Pascal’s on Ponce (J. Albert Diaz)
It’s 1 p.m. on a Tuesday at Pascal’s on Ponce, and every chair in the 55-seat Coral Gables restaurant—plus the bar—is taken.
Patrons glance up as they recognize a familiar face: former Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick pops in to greet two of the city’s most prominent lawyers, Joseph Serota, a co-founder of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza Cole & Boniske, and Matthew Mandel, the firm’s head of litigation and president of the Broward County chapter of the Federal Bar Association.
“It’s a block from my law office,” said Slesnick, mayor from 2001 to 2011. “Even when I’m not eating there, I stop by to say hi to the chef or people I see that I know. It’s a very welcoming place.”
Since opening in 2000, Pascal’s at 2611 Ponce De Leon Blvd. has cemented its reputation as a power lunch spot for the city’s movers and shakers—no easy feat in a city where there’s no shortage of fine restaurants.
The eatery was opened by Pascal Oudin, a French-born chef who has been working in gourmet kitchens since he was 13. By 17, he had received France’s prestigious Best Apprentice Chef Award, continuing his career under the tutelage of famed French chef Alain Ducasse.
Chef Pascal, as he’s known, moved to Miami Beach in 1984 to serve as executive chef of Dominique’s restaurant at the Alexander Hotel and discovered Miamians loved authentic French cuisine.
Even though there are at least a dozen other fine-dining establishments within a mile, Pascal’s took off rather quickly, gaining a reputation for its consistent cuisine, excellent service and an intimate setting perfect for business meetings and romantic dinners. It is not known for catering to those on a budget.
The storefront restaurant is decidedly upscale, with touches like fresh pink roses and white tablecloths on the tables, formally dressed waiters and oil paintings adorning the walls. Service is friendly and attentive, with waiters folding your napkin the minute you leave the table and removing dishes as soon as the last bite is eaten.
Dinners have always been strong for Pascal’s while lunch needed a little push, Oudin said. He started offering the bistro menu, which is switched every few weeks “depending on what I can get my hands on,” he said. It includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for $25.95. Other options are offered for an additional price. An extensive a la carte menu is also available at lunch.
Recently, the bistro menu featured a choice of country vegetable soup or mesclun salad with champagne vinaigrette as an appetizer. Diners could opt for the country duck terrine with pickled vegetable, date compote and dijon condiment for an extra $9 or the popular twice-baked, upside-down gruyere cheese souffle with parmesan sauce for an extra $8.
The bistro menu featured three entrees: local grouper with bay scallops and mussel casserole in a bouillabaisse broth; chicken cordon bleu with Swiss cheese, ham, spinach and sauce vin blanc; or risotto primavera with ragout of seasonal vegetables and mascarpone cheese.
For $8 more, patrons could choose Mediterranean mussels mariniere steamed with sauvignon blanc and fine herbs or prime flat iron steak with herbed butter. Pommes frites, more commonly known as french fries, are served with both.
The bistro dessert was a dark chocolate tart. However, on the day a guest and I dined, a substitution was made of creme brulee.
Before that, I ordered the salad and risotto, while my guest chose the soup and seafood casserole.
I found the risotto near perfect, while I tried not to think about the caloric content of the creamy rice dish studded with orange chunks of squash.
My guest’s casserole was accompanied by a little copper pot of white rice. She called the serving modest but a good portion for lunch.
What she really liked, however, was the dessert—Tahitian vanilla bean creme brulee, which she labeled “the best vanilla custard you will ever eat, with flecks of real vanilla in it.”
Serota and Mandel clearly ate healthier than us, with Serota choosing the duck leg confit salad with Roquefort dressing for $22.95 and Mandel the salad nicoise with rare yellowfin tuna for $21.95. Mandel, to his credit, ended his meal healthfully, with mango sorbet for $8.
“I think it’s a unique kind of power lunch spot,” said Serota. “For a real power lunch, you go to Joe’s (Stone Crab). Here, you see people you wouldn’t expect—they are walking down the street and pop in to say hi. I would bring an influential client here for a quiet lunch.”
In fact, Serota recently took a client from Safra National Bank to Pascal’s for lunch.
At the table next to me were Angel Concepcion, CEO of Brickell Village Realty Inc. in South Miami, and Haim Wiener, a retired developer formerly with American Equity Developers Inc.
Wiener pronounced Pascal’s “one of the best dining places in the city.”
“The food is good, the chef is superb, the wine is excellent, and the service is perfect,” he said.
That day, both men sampled the wild salmon and the vegetable soup, lamenting that the baked apple tart tatin with vanilla bean ice cream was unavailable.
Lasting 14 years in competitive Coral Gables means Oudin must be doing something right, Slesnick notes.
That “something right” is fast service at lunch, consistent food quality and a quiet ambience that is becoming a rarity in restaurants, he said.
“He has kept a very good level of service and high quality of food so people feel comfortable taking business associates and colleagues there,” Slesnick said. “And it’s not noisy. It’s a good place for a business conversation. That’s important.”