Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: Pascale Wine Bar & Restaurant

Name: Pascale Wine Bar & Restaurant
Address: 204 W Fayette St, Syracuse, NY
Neighborhood: Downtown (Armory Square)
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: New American, Fine Dining, Wine Bar
Alcohol: Full Bar
Restaurant Hours: Monday to Thursday 5:30 PM - 9 PM, Friday to Saturday 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Bar Hours: Monday to Saturday 5 PM to close
Parking: On-Street and Valet
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Accepts Reservations: Yes
Take-out: No

Pascale Wine Bar & Restaurant has been a Syracuse venue for refined, eclectic, and sophisticated dining for over 25 years. Since its opening in 1982, Pascale has been home to some of the best fine-dining in the city. The interior is spacious and features an open kitchen, large bar area near the front, and plenty of intimate seating. However, something was rubbing me the wrong way about the interior overall upon walking in. The colors all seemed a little forced and really presented the place with an early 90's sort of vibe (the beige colors, the flower patterns on the booths, and the pattern of square, rainbow colors that are presented in areas like the ceiling, the windows, and even the candle holders). I mean it was fine, but it didn't seem trendy, or progressive, or romantic to me. And if that's what they're aiming for, I think they need an update on the color scheme, focus on dimmer lighting, and change the music (it was some sort of drum and bass trance music during my visit that didn't fit in at all with the rest of the restaurant). Really, they could take a few notes from Pastabilities as far as the interior is concerned. Everything seemed overly deliberate and jumbled. I'm really hoping that Pascale isn't "the most romantic restaurant in Syracuse" (per the Syracuse New Times). If it is, it implies that romantic dining is all downhill from here. Although I cannot attest quite yet, I'd like to hope that there is at least one better romantic place in the city. That isn't to say that Pascale isn't a good date spot (it is), it's just that the interior fell flat and didn't deliver what I was expecting.

The dinner menu is clear, concise, and contemporary. It's also updated seasonally and on this occasion featured a nice selection of appetizers like Seared Tuna, Risotto, and Foie Gras, and a very creative list of entrees like Venison Wellington, Moroccan Lamb Shank, and Moulard Duck Confit.

The wine list is extremely extensive and actually reads a bit like a book report. As noted by Wine Spectator, Pascale's award winning wine list features approximately 400 selections of wines from around the world. So yes, there is much to choose from. Even the liquor selection is large. I counted about 8 different types of tequila as I brushed through the selection of alcohol. If you're unsure about what to order or what you may like, the wait staff is very helpful and knowledgeable to give assistance.

The order...

Rose: Las Rocas 2007 - Spain (Bottle): $20
Seafood Salad: $8
Filet Mignon: $24
Total Money Spent with Tax & Tip: $68

Pictured above is a basket of Pascale's homemade breads with a cruet of olive oil.

The breads, which are freshly made from Pascale Cafe & Bakehouse, were very good. Unfortunately, I didn't have the exact names, but I tried two of them: one was a whole-wheat artisan bread which had a hint of nuttiness to it and the other was somewhat of a traditional Italian with olives. Thumbs up.

The green olive oil? Thumbs down. I wasn't really a fan of it. Unless I'm way off base, it tasted like it had an infused herb (perhaps sage?). It was just a little too bitter for my liking. I suppose if it was combined with a basic, rustic bread I probably wouldn't have minded it so much, but a flavored bread with a flavored olive oil was too overwhelming. There was just too much going on - especially when you're dealing with something as simple as bread and oil. Instead, I think Pascale would be better off pairing the breads with a simple, nice olive oil - which might highlight the breads a little more.

Pictured here is the seafood salad with calamari, rock shrimp, scallops, spring vegetables, and a lemon basil vinaigrette served in a bowl of radicchio on a bed of greens.

You can't really tell by the picture, but this is a deceivingly big portion of food. The ingredients were all good and fresh and the scallops were simply amazing. I'm not even a huge scallops fan, but I think Pascale may have given me a 180 on the subject as these were some of the best that I've ever had. Nice and chewy and so tender that they almost tasted a bit like lobster meat. The other seafood ingredients were good but nothing noteworthy. The calamari was a bit rubbery, even for calamari and most of the rock shrimp were a bit on the minuscule side, even for rock shrimp. Overall it was a good salad, but there was too much stuff (roughly 8 different vegetables and herbs and 3 seafoods). It's a salad so it wasn't like there was anything clashing per se, but I think something a bit more concise like seafood, cucumber, carrots, red peppers, and a garnish on greens with a vinaigrette would have done the trick.

Pictured above is the Filet Mignon with Bearnaise sauce, green beans, and a garlic mashed potato.

The Filet Mignon was very good - very tender and juicy. Though, it was served moderately undercooked (I had asked for medium and it came out rare). I usually don't mind when meat is over/under cooked as I like most varieties, but to me it was just the principle that this wasn't what I had asked for. I suppose I could have asked the waitress to send it back, but I'm quite shy when it comes to things like that and try not to be one of those people.

At any rate, the meat was topped with a perfect, buttery Bearnaise sauce. The mashed potatoes were excellent. Creamy, garlicky, and had almost a hint of onion or shallot flavor as well. So good. The green beans were crispy and cooked perfectly and creatively garnished with thinly sliced carrots, red onions, and red peppers. Very, very tasty and well-cooked green beans. And finally, the plate was garnished with what looked like chickweed or wood sorrel. I don't know the name. Forgive me if I'm talking like a Martian. Either way, I liked the garnish (which was the same one that was used on the seafood salad). It gave the dish a nice, bright texture. Though, some of the garnish on the entree plate was wilted and brown. Which leads me to a much bigger issue...

If you don't consider your restaurant to be fine-dining then I normally wouldn't be making a mountain out of an ant hill about the Filet Mignon being undercooked and topped with sub-par garnish. But if a restaurant is implying that it is elite, then I think that you reserve the right to be picky on these kinds of things. I mean, if I got a piece of brown lettuce at Brooklyn Pickle, I would just pick it out and not eat it, but if I'm paying $24 for an entree, everything on the plate should be presented impeccably. And by no means am I referring to the plating because that was excellent. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the "quality control" could have been slightly higher (i.e. a correctly cooked piece of meat with a clean garnish).

Overall though and all bickering aside, this was a great, great entree dish; a very good combination of colors, textures, and flavors.

I've been in places where once you finish your meal, it almost feels like they are trying to rush you out as quickly as possible: clearing off your table, taking your water away, throwing the bill at you, etc.. That wasn't the case at all here. The wait staff let me sit, relax, enjoy my wine, and really just take in the moment. I wasn't planning on staying too long afterwards and I also wasn't planning on ordering any dessert, but by the time they rolled that dessert trolley near my table, I almost completely changed my mind. I admittedly didn't have enough room in my stomach to fit any more food, but it was quite amusing to see every one's eyes within a radius of 10 feet suddenly glued in like a deer in headlights on the mouth watering display of homemade cakes, pastries, and ice cream being rolled around from table to table.

A couple additional things of note...

- Pascale features live jazz music on Saturday nights.

- They also offer valet parking ($3).

- Although, I'd still call it a good "date spot", the ambiance can vary. I was there on a Tuesday night and it was somewhat loud.

- The clientele was also a bit more well-dressed here than what I was expecting. I was wearing a plain, dark tee and nice jeans and felt a tad out of place. So I'd advise that the dress is dressy/classy (i.e. no Nascar shirts, dude).

Overall, it was an excellent dining experience. The food was great and creative and the service was personable, attentive, and yet very professional at all ends of the restaurant. But giving it a 5-star ranking would be a bit of a stretch for me. I have to give Pascale a half star deduction on what felt like a forced interior and a slight miss on food execution. By all means I'd go back again, but probably only for a special occasion.

My rating of Pascale Wine Bar & Restaurant:

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1 comment:

administrator said...

This place is in a tough spot ;they cater to 50-60 yr olds "early bird dinner" as they say in Jupiter Beach..there clientele all live in the suburbs and they are not going to Armory Square to party too.Hubby would just as soon go to Dominics..but wife wants to go to Armory Sq..You can see surf and turf billboards on erie blvd with cheap specials at Pascales "see !see! surf and turf $15".on the east bound lane gong toward Fayetteville.They are trying to compete on price but with valet parking????."There's no place to park down there" lets go to Dominics....