[BEST OF OC] El Francés (the Frenchman): Pascal Olhats
Ask any OC restaurateur or foodie to name the county’s most iconic French chef, and they’ll likely say, “Pascal Olhats.” Olhats is the closest thing in OC to a benevolent French-food emperor. If you’ve eaten the cuisine within the OC border in the past 20 years, chances are it was at one of his eateries.
In that time, his collection of restaurants has grown to six and includes Tradition by Pascal, Pascal Épicerie, Pascal at Hutton Centre, and Cáfe Jardin and Tea Garden Crêperie at Sherman Gardens. Recently, he took over French 75 from a bankrupt Culinary Adventures and transformed it to Brasserie Pascal—arguably the most traditional and proper French restaurant the county’s ever seen.
Olhats is proud of his latest acquisition—and justifiably so. He has always loved the décor, he says. “It reminds me of a Parisian brasserie, and I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant like it,” he says. Most important, he feels good there. And so do his customers, who have flocked to the revitalized Fashion Island spot to feast on beef bourguignon, coq au vin and ratatouille—just a few of the time-honored Provençal-style specialties Olhats has fed his diners since before Pixar’s rat popularized the last dish to the masses.
Olhats’ history in Orange County began in the early ’80s, when he came to visit a client he had met on the French Riviera. He relocated here soon after. His first job in the U.S. was at Biret, a now-long-defunct French restaurant in South Coast Plaza. Four years later, in 1988, he opened Tradition.
Olhats says that one thing he never intends to do is leave Orange County. “It’s been good to me,” he says.
Now, with nearly 60 employees, Olhats splits his days among all six restaurants, doing rounds, quality control and, most of all, interacting with customers, for which he is well-known. Chatting up diners and making sure they’re enjoying their meals, he says, is his true reward.
But he still tries to cook as much as he can. “If I stay away from cooking too long, I don’t feel good,” he says.
Of the food scene in OC, he points to local favorites from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place near his home in Tustin to an al pastor taco joint in Costa Mesa. Olhats is also a fan of the UC Irvine Farmers’ Market, where he’s a loyal patron of the apple-juice vendor there. But when asked about his pick for an Orange County icon, he is quick to answer: The Duke. John Wayne was huge in France when Olhats was growing up, the chef says, and of course, Wayne called Newport Beach home.
Tradition By Pascal, 1000 N. Bristol, Newport Beach, (949) 263-9400, ext. 1; Brasserie Pascal, 327 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-2700; Pascal Épicerie, 1000 N. Bristol, Newport Beach, (949) 263-9400, ext. 2; Cáfe Jardin at Sherman Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-0033; Tea Garden Crêperie at Sherman Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-2261; Pascal at Hutton Centre, 2 Hutton Centre Dr., Santa Ana, (714) 957-3087; www.pascalnpb.com.
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