[BEST OF OC] El FrancNs (the Frenchman): Pascal Olhats

Ask any OC restaurateur or foodie to name the countyNs most iconic French chef, and theyNll likely say, “Pascal Olhats.” Olhats is the closest thing in OC to a benevolent French-food emperor. If youNve 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 Npicerie, Pascal at Hutton Centre, and Cáfe Jardin and Tea Garden CrN;perie 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 countyNs ever seen.

Olhats is proud of his latest acquisition—and justifiably so. He has always loved the dNcor, he says. “It reminds me of a Parisian brasserie, and INve 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 PixarNs rat popularized the last dish to the masses.

OlhatsN history in Orange County began in the early N80s, 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. “ItNs 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 theyNre 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 donNt 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 FarmersN Market, where heNs 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.

Edwin Goei

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 Npicerie, 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 CrN;perie 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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