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Sated in Syracuse

By Laura Leon

Pascale Wine Bar & Restaurant

204 W. Fayette St., Syracuse, (315) 471-3040 ext. 3. Serving dinner 5:30-9 Tue-Thu, 5:30-10:30 Fri-Sat, closed Sun-Mon. AE, D, MC, V

Cuisine: “progressive” American with Mediterranean influences

Entrée price range: $17 (Bombay chicken) to $35 (broiled 1-pound lobster tail)

Ambiance: Central New York Tuscan

Some cities lend themselves well to the solitary business traveler. New York, of course, provides any number of decent places in which to lose oneself after a day of meetings, and it helps that being alone in the Big Apple isn’t as weird-seeming as, say, Chicago, where the single lady out for a cocktail and a side of oysters is looked at with raised eyebrows. Then there are the smaller cities, like Rochester and Buffalo, where it helps to have the good word, and written directions, of a native gourmand, or else you’re stuck with predictable chains. Perhaps because I’ve had a lot of reason to travel there in recent years, Syracuse has become a favorite, if unlikely, dining destination, and while I’ve had really excellent meals at several places, one restaurant in particular has me eying the calendar to determine when I might be called back.

Open since 1982, Pascale sits in the historic and pleasantly walkable Armory Square district, and is about a block from the independently owned Jefferson- Clinton Hotel (itself something of a find for its comfort, cheerfulness and free breakfast buffet). Located in the old Hotel Syracuse, Pascale, at first glance, doesn’t seem all that much. The hotel itself isn’t particularly interesting or charming, and when you enter the building, you get the implied memory of a Mr. Drysdale entering his club. But then you open the door to the restaurant, and you’re transformed into a vaguely European, decidedly American-comfortable setting. Plush seats, cozy booths and tables, jewel-toned stained-glass windows and decorative touches, and modern art blend into an exceedingly pleasant whole. An open kitchen greets you as you enter, and as if that weren’t enough to get the gastronomical juices flowing, there’s the edible siren song of a dessert table, laden with luscious baked sweets and goodies.

A shrimp cocktail sometimes seems so humdrum, nowhere near as exotic as the more complex preparations you’ll find in many contemporary restaurants. And yet, its very simplicity is its beauty, and at Pascale, that simplicity translates to sublime taste and texture. Four “humongous” shrimp come with a Ketel One cocktail sauce that, thankfully, isn’t cloying, but a nice tart counterbalance to the milky fish. A seared ahi tuna comes encrusted with black sesame seeds and served over an Asian style slaw. Very crisp and vibrant, made more so by the addition of a bracing but addictive wasabi cream and sweet ginger glaze. I tried the escargot, which were among the best I’ve ever had, New York City included, their tender juiciness complemented exquisitely by a pernod scented garlic herb butter—truly this is something I could happily quaff on a daily basis.

On a whim, I tried the calzone, fearing that it would be this massive, doughy lump stuffed with too many cheeses, but hoping for the best, which is what I got. Three cheeses are nicely blended, avoiding the starchy glob that too often defines street-corner calzone, and the fillings of San Gimignano ham, wild mushrooms and shaved truffles nicely played off the creaminess of the three cheeses. A similar achievement in balance occurs in the flatbread pizza topped with deliciously salty-fatty proscuitto, sweet pear, minted basil pesto, fontina and provolone. While I didn’t try one, the salads that went by me en route to other parties looked crisp and summery—not a pink or blighted tomato in sight.

In addition to the appetizers and salads, Pascale offers both small plates and entrees, with the former being slightly more suitable to what health magazines tell us about portion sizes (and priced at $12 to $15), the six small plates on the menu—steak frites, fettucine with pesto and local veggies, etc.—are viable (and economical) alternatives to the full entrees. We tried the bistro classic, steak frites, served with fries and tender baby lettuces, and were very pleased. I really wanted to try the grouper cheeks, lightly sautéed and served with herbed risotto croquettes and lobster sauce, but ran out of appetite. Rain check on that, for the next trip.

On the larger entrees, a venison Wellington made a modern twist on a slightly fuddy standard. Beautifully seasoned medallions of Texas antelope are baked in pastry and served with polenta and broccoli and napped with a perfect Bordelaise sauce. On a lighter scale in terms of heartiness, was a tender yogurt- marinated breaded chicken cutlet dappled with fresh tomato her sauce and accompanied by roasted vegetables and a summery coriander mint raita. Fish is uniformly first rate, including a wood-oven-roasted cod with crab scallion panko crust, and a fennel-dusted, wood-oven-roasted Bay of Fundy salmon spiked nicely by a lemon artichoke roasted pepper vinaigrette. My absolute favorite was the seared diver scallops served atop bacon cheddar grits, with sautéed spinach and shiitakes, merlot butter sauce and truffle oil. A nice extra: Pascale serves a promotional item that can’t be beat, a $15.95 surf and turf that is as good as any I’ve had at Morton’s or the like.

Desserts are freshly made and a match for even the stiffest resistance; standouts included a decadent chocolate cake, key lime cheesecake and a fresh berry tart. The wine list is expansive and well-thought-out, and features outstanding values by the glass. Service is attentive and welcoming, making the overall experience at Pascale a reason in and of itself to visit Syracuse.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Read a crewmember’s account of Henry Hudson’s first trip up the eponymous river and you’ll marvel at just how tired they got of eating lobster. Perhaps this is why it’s not a component of a celebratory dinner that otherwise salutes the quadricentennial. Marché, the bistro restaurant inside Albany’s 74 State hotel, will offer the meal at 6 PM on Sept. 26, created by Marché executive chef Brian Molino with research assistance from the Albany Institute of History and Art. Cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres will be paired with traditional five-ingredient punches that were popular during that era, and each course will be paired with a special brew from Brewery Ommegang. Dinner itself will use seasonal ingredients from local and regional farms and purveyors, paying special attention to food that was indigenous to the region. Among the menu highlights: lightly smoked roasted sturgeon with butter-braised cabbage, bacon-wrapped rabbit loin with nutmeg-scented asparagus, and warm bread pudding with black currants and candied quince. Price is $74 per person plus tax and tip; $15 of each dinner price will be donated to the Albany Institute of History and Art. Make reservations by calling 518-434-7410. A special hotel package is also available for guests who are spending the evening, at a rate of $99 plus tax. Mention the event to secure the special rate. For more info, visit www.74 . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

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