Last Friday night Bill and I went Out. We don’t get Out very often, and this night Out was much anticipated, not only because it was, as I already indicated, a rare night Out, but because it was to be a night Out at Chez Pascal.
Many thanks to our dear friends John and Phoebe for the gift certificate AND for watching Alex and Julia that night.
Truly one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had.
We made reservations for 7:00, dropped the kids off early at John and Phoebe’s (along with the picked-nearly-clean skull of Boris, so John could return it for burial), and stood around uselessly for a few minutes, saying goodbye and finally realizing Alex and Julia were way more interested in the pizza for dinner than in seeing us any more. John and Phoebe didn’t need us either, so we left, feeling odd and lost, because it’s that rare that we go out and do anything just-the-two-of-us. I know. We need to work on that.
Anyway, dressed nicely but comfortably, we got in the car and headed off.
It was like a first date. Really. I wondered what the heck we’d talk about that we don’t already talk about, seeing as how we see each other every day and do plenty of talking already. Do we have anything interesting to say that we haven’t bored each other with already?
We’d never been to Chez Pascal before. There are plenty of well known, locally famous places around here that we haven’t been to. Like I said, we don’t go Out much. And we also like to cook, and cook pretty well, so it’s not like we never have a decent meal.
Anyway, Chez Pascal is a small, cozy, welcoming place with a small but amazing menu that changes seasonally. The biggest draw for us – especially at this stage of our culinary lives – is the house-made sausages and charcuterie. Take a look at the menu – can you imagine the joyful drooling (at home, not in the restaurant) that went on as I looked it over before our night out?
We’d known for some time that this is how we’d begin our meal:
Selection of Pâtés and Charcuterie 18*
All Pâtés, Charcuterie, Sausages, Cured Meats, Condiments, etc.
are Passionately House Made
Selection of Cheeses with Tasty Cheese Accompaniments
- Choice of Three Cheeses 13
But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
We arrived about twenty minutes early, but it was a quiet night and our table was ready.
Oh – and I’ll just tell you now that every single employee was welcoming and gracious. I didn’t want to leave.
We sat in a little alcove of three bar-height tables. We were given our menus and the wine list, and then left to our own devices for a few minutes. We ordered a bottle of Overland Sauvignon Blanc to share (I thought the crispness and grapefruity acidity would pair nicely with all the rich food we planned to eat), and we ordered the two selections I showed you above.
Our waitress, Regina, was wonderful, by the way. Just the right amount of checking in with us, even if it was just quick eye contact and a nod – she was terrific.
Not too many years ago it seemed like all waiters and waitresses were told to be overly chummy with their patrons. That sliding into a booth to take a couple’s dinner order was somehow a bonding experience, when, in fact, it’s incredibly annoying. Or that use of the word “we” will result in better tips. They still do that, some of them. I’m sorry, but it makes no sense for a waiter or waitress to ask how “we” are doing, because they’re not part of “us.” WE are the customers, or guests, or patrons, or whatever, and THEY are the wait staff. We aren’t above them or below them – but we are there to spend money and eat, and they are there to bring us food and earn their tips. We had one waiter (I’ve talked about this before) once who crouched down so his head was table-height – kind of disembodied, which was creepy – and he not only used the word “we” overmuch, but he also addressed us as “friends.” I’m sorry, you may be a perfectly nice, albeit creepy, person, but we’ve never met and I think it’s a bit premature to call us friends. It was a weird, creepy night. I was pregnant with Alex at the time, and I think I remember that only because I remember a lot of details from that bizarre experience. He also smiled too much.
Regina was nothing like that. She was professional, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about the food she served. She was friendly as well, but in a perfectly natural, non-creepy way that evolved over the course of the night.
Bill and I ordered our first course, and sipped our wine, and laughed at how hard it was to relax. It felt strange to be Out.
Once the pates and charcuterie and cheeses arrived, the last of our tension melted away.
The busboy who brought the platters (and “busboy” does not do his role justice – he was just as excited and knowledgeable as our waitress – great fun to talk to) asked if we’d like a tour of every item and the little relishes or jams or other accompaniments. We said yes, of course, and he proceeded to lead us.
We sampled thinly sliced tiny rounds of salami, pork rillettes, country-style pate (bigger chunks of meat mixed in with the pureed portion), duck liver pate (be still my heart!) and head cheese! Our busboy (I’m going to call him John Junior because Bill and I agreed that he reminded us of our friend John, only younger, and it’s easier to use a name than just to keep calling him “busboy”) asked if we knew what head cheese was, and he seemed ready for us to react badly but then Bill told him we know what’s in head cheese – we just made some. And with that, we bonded with John Junior. He seemed amazed and impressed that we’d made the head cheese (and scrapple; we told him about that, too), and that we’d been learning to make sausage as well. We talked joyfully, the three of us, about the marvelousness of the pig, and then he left us, with a smile, to our sampling.
The cheeses, by the way, were a raw sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, a gruyere-like raw milk cheese (I can’t remember the details – it was fabulous, however) and my absolute favorite, a raw cow’s milk blue from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. SO good.
The charcuterie and cheeses were served with very crisp flatbreads and slices of focaccia, and, as I mentioned above, each meat or cheese was also accompanied by some sort of little relish or jam or sauce. All house-made. My favorites were the onion jam and the candied fennel.
The cool thing we noticed about the head cheese was that it was not slices of cold cut, like we’ve seen and eaten it before. It was more like a rillette, only less fatty. A revelation. I’d been getting frustrated with making our head cheese because it just wasn’t slicing like I thought it should. But I guess I was wrong – it doesn’t HAVE to be sliced. I can dish up quenelles of head cheese as part of my own charcuterie platter, and it’s perfectly acceptable because that’s how they do it at Chez Pascal!
Besides finally relaxing, Bill and I discovered, as we tried a bit of this and a bit of that, that we had plenty to talk about, and that it’s perfectly okay to talk constantly about food, if that’s one of the things you love.
Love is a big part of Chez Pascal. Love. Passion. Local, seasonal ingredients. Enthusiasm. Quality.
We’d hard, too, that the Onion Soup was excellent, so Bill had to try it. (I figured I’d finagle a taste.) He also wanted the duck, but was worried he wouldn’t have enough room to eat it all. Our fabulous waitress suggested a cup of the soup instead of the large bowl, thus ensuring that Bill would get to taste everything. I opted for an appetizer instead of a full dinner – and I was not disappointed. I ordered this:
Crispy Croquette of Vermont Rabbit with Honey Poached Chestnuts,
Butternut Squash & Candied Pecans
Regina gave me a look and a nod that heartily approved my choice - “Wait til you taste it,” she said.
She spoke the truth – it was SO yummy. The rabbit croquette was a delight – golden brown and crispy on the outside, light as air (well, rabbity air) on the inside. Served over the cubes of squash and the candied pieces of chestnut and pecan – it was a blissful blend of flavors and textures. The croquette was topped with a bit of frisee, and beneath that – Regina pointed this out – pickled mustard seeds. Just enough to add an unexpected little crunch, and a little pickly, mustardy flavor. Not a lot, just enough.
While I nibbled at my rabbit croquette (I didn’t want to finish because then it would be gone), Bill’s empty onion soup bowl was cleared (and oh, yes, that was phenomenal soup), and his duck was served.
Slow Roasted Half Duck with a Seared Root Vegetable Cake,
Glazed Endive & Caramelized Vinegar Sauce
The duck consisted of one breast and one confit leg, both tender and flavorful, the skins unbelievably crisp. The root vegetable cake was lighter than air, sweet with parsnips, and I want to make something like that some time very soon. The glazed endive and vinegar sauce balanced the richness of the duck perfectly.
Everything was perfect like that – thoughtful balancing acts of texture, flavor, richness, lightness.
I didn’t want the meal to end.
That’s the only reason I ordered dessert. I wasn’t hungry any more, really, but I just wanted to keep tasting things! I ordered the seasonal sorbets and was treated to three different flavors – apple, pumpkin and pear. The pear was my favorite (I’ve been on a pear kick lately). And the sorbets were just the thing to cleanse the palate after such an incredible meal. (Though I wouldn’t have minded more duck liver pate or blue cheese or rabbit croquette…). I also ordered a Black Moon – a warm after-dinner drink made of Cristina Walnut Liqueur and creme de cacao, topped with whipped cream. I’ve never had walnut liqueur before – such a night of flavor revelations!
Just writing this, I wish we could go back again, like, tonight. And tomorrow night. And pretty much every night.
But then, that would take the specialness away of going Out, wouldn’t it? So we’ll save Chez Pascal for another time. Hopefully soon.