[Sidebar] November 12 - 19, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Chez Pascal

An expert hand in the kitchen in new, more elegant digs

by Johnette Rodriguez

960 Hope St., Providence, 421-4422
Open for lunch: Mon-Sat, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Sun brunch: 11 a.m-3 p.m.
Dinner: Mon-Sat, 5:30-10 p.m.
Non-smoking restaurant
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Fans of Pascal Lefray's cooking may now enjoy it in a location more suited to its elegance than the converted diner in Bonnet Shores where Chez Pascal often had lines out the door. Pascal and wife Lynn have reopened in the space previously occupied by La France and Applause, expanding from dinner into lunches, Sunday brunch, a takeout and a catering menu.

Such ambition would seem to be justified in the face of so few French restaurants in Rhode Island. But it is also justified because of Chef Pascal's expert hand in the kitchen, his attentive and knowledgeable wait staff and a carefully selected wine list. (A Beaujolais Nouveau prix fixe dinner will be offered on November 19).

A full bar at the street end of the dining room faces the picture window, outlined with lace curtains. Cream-colored walls are set off by dark-wood wainscotting and shades of green in the tin ceiling tiles. The unpretentious comfort of Chez Pascal continues with fresh roses and beaded oil lamps on the table, tasteful prints of 19th-century food posters and soft chandeliers.

From the soups, salads and appetizers, we began with a Mediterranean fish soup ($5.50) and a watercress and endive salad ($4.95). Appetizers included the traditional foie gras, escargot and sweetbreads along with baked oysters, steamed mussels and a seafood crêpe, which was heartily enjoyed by three neighboring diners.

The soup was a rich puree of fish stock and vegetables, an excellent meld of flavors which I reluctantly passed back to my dinner companion. He felt the same about my salad -- tender watercress, crunchy endive boats, both flavors brought out by the crumbled Roquefort, chopped walnuts, apple slivers and balsamic vinaigrette.

Bill chose the chicken breast in Dijon sauce ($14.50) and I couldn't resist the capellini with scallops in lobster sauce ($18.95). The roast chicken was fork-tender, with a delicate mustard sauce, accompanied by potatoes and vegetables. The capellini was the "pasta of the day" (a concession to Rhode Islanders, perhaps?), but the tiny Bay scallops in a lobster cream sauce with a hint of tarragon were pure Pascal -- a delightful tango of tastes with no one flavor showing up the others.

Desserts are a specialty at Chez Pascal, so it's difficult to choose just one. Our waiter, Evan, set an almond-pear tart before us while he described chocolate fondant and crème brûlée -- and while profiteroles drifted by on one side and crêpe soufflés on the other. But there was something so immediate about those pears that we succumbed to a warm serving of the tart, with vanilla ice cream ($4.50). The pastry was flaky, the almond cream a nice complement to the pears, the fruit itself firm and sweet.

One more thing made our visit to Chez Pascal memorable. When Lynn showed us to our table, light peach napkins stood in our water glasses and Evan pulled them out with a flourish and settled them in our laps. Later, Bill left the table for a moment, and he returned to find his napkin folded neatly into a bird-of-paradise flower. The second time he left, he came back to a bishop's hat.

We complimented Evan on his fastidious skill, and he did one final folding trick, albeit a seasonal one, by turning the napkin into a poinsettia bloom, sepals and all! When a waiter gets such a kick out of his work, it adds an element of fun for the customers. And with Pascal and crew in the kitchen, it becomes a gustatory event!

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