Restaurant Review: Café Pasqual’s
By: Susan Meadows
Published online: Friday, December 21, 2012
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
Café Pasqual’s has always emanated
3 Chiles chiles
121 Don Gaspar Ave. 505-983-9340
Breakfast 8 a.m-3 p.m., lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
In short order:
When chef-owner Katharine Kagel opened
Café Pasqual’s in 1979, she transplanted a little
of her native Bay Area to Santa Fe, including a
dedication to organic farm produce in the vein of
her Berkeley soul sister Alice Waters. Along with
her able kitchen and dining-room staff, Kagel
serves a fresh, eclectic menu borrowing primarily
from Asian, Latin American, and New Mexico
traditions and offering a selection of dishes you
are unlikely to find elsewhere. Some offerings are
pricey, but many surprise with their generosity.
Go during off-peak hours if you don’t like to
wait; dinner reservations will help get you past
that crowd at the door. Recommended: Amy’s
Hippie Dippie Green Drink, Yucatán chicken
salad, Vietnamese scallop salad, haddock with
saffron-ginger sauce, cochinita pibil, Italian
chocolate budino, and blackberry cobbler.
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
a San Francisco
hippie-chic vibe. Maybe it’s the eclectic menu, where
Asian influences share space with primarily Latin
American- and New Mexico-inspired dishes (wisely,
the kitchen sticks to one side of the Pacific per plate).
Many vegetarian options are available, and the food is
generally fresh and organic. Some prices, particularly
for drinks, seem high — it’s easy to spend more than
$50 on breakfast for two. The wait can be long at
breakfast and lunch, when you can’t make reservations
(as you can at dinner). Café Pasqual’s is very popular
with visitors, who regard it as authentic Santa Fe —
which, after 33 years, it certainly is — although chef-
owner Katharine Kagel hails from Berkeley, California.
Colorful murals, tiles, posters, and hanging decorations create a fiesta atmosphere, as does the noise level
when the place is packed, which it usually is. The
lack of a foyer creates quite a draft in winter, when the
crowd jostles in and out of the small entryway and is
forced uneasily into the table space — it’s a mass-transit-
at-rush-hour effect. But this feeling is embraced by
Café Pasqual’s faithful, and it jibes well with the large
communal table in the center of the room, beamed
straight in from the Summer of Love.
At lunch a shot of Amy’s Hippie Dippie Green Drink
— apple juice blended with lemon, ginger, parsley,
cilantro, and kale — served as a palate-awakening
starter. Of the braised beef and lamb tacos served
with fresh corn tortillas, black beans, and house salsa,
the lamb won on flavor, but the overwhelming brown
softness of everything on the plate cried out for some-
thing with color and crunch. In contrast, the Yucatán
chicken salad came in modern Technicolor, the slices of
marinated chicken breast offering a bright, warm spicy
flavor akin to cloves — though I was assured none were
used, just citrus and achiote (an evergreen seed used for
coloring and as a spice). Fresh greens, avocado, jicama,
and orange slices added color and flavor, as did a well-
balanced citrus and olive oil dressing.
The Mexican hot chocolate was good, but I’d prefer
a shorter, denser cup with less sweetness and more
chocolate flavor. The fresh-fruit liquado was a disappointing smoothie that tasted mostly of banana with
a hint of citrus; organic fruit didn’t justify the price.
The Vietnamese salad of flash-sautéed scallop was a
generous, colorful, and tasty dish enlivened by under-tones of fish sauce and citrus. At dinner, it could be a
main course or shared as a first course. The cold green-
bean salad with hazelnuts was just that. The mature
beans were dressed with mustard vinaigrette and
scattered with hazelnuts. They came with a cheese
crisp bonus, as tasty as the wedges of Turkish flat bread
on the table, which happily reminded me of pie dough
crisps my mom used to make.
Hosannas for the haddock in saffron-ginger sauce
(a special on one visit) and the cochinita pibil, deeply
satisfying pork with spices, most notably cinnamon,
braised in a banana leaf. These were balanced with a
garden of accompaniments — greens in flaky pastry
and sautéed bok choy with the fish; cilantro rice,
habanero-marinated onions, and calabacitas alongside
The wine list is skewed to higher prices, but the
markup on a Paul Dolan 2010 zinfandel was refreshingly low at only about twice retail. It is also true
to Kagel’s organic and sustainability principles. Big
fruit on the front fortunately disappeared quickly as
sufficient tannins appeared for an almost flinty finish.
The wine paired well with everything but the scallops,
The small dessert sampler surprised, with full
portions each of apple butter cake, blackberry cobbler,
Italian chocolate budino with olive oil and sea
salt, caramel ice cream, and house-made chocolate
almond bark, indicating that the large sampler must
serve eight. My vote is for the almost-cheesecake-like
budino, but I liked the cobbler, too.
The graciously professional service was essential
(and a feat), because there is no time or room for
mistakes at Café Pasqual’s. Peace. Love. Pass the salsa.
Write your review of Café Pasqual’s
You've read the Pasatiempo review. Now it's your turn to tell us what you thought of Café Pasqual’s. Keep your review concise, focus on the meal and the overall experience. Don't let your review become personal and always be respectful of the business and other users. Sfnmhome.com reserves the write to remove reviews.