No one ever feels like a real adult. Whether you’re 25 or 65, you’re still a teenager, just in the body of someone saddled with a job, bills, children, and the impending doom of having to change the duvet cover when you get home. In a sense, adulthood is nothing more than chaotic make-believe.
And that’s exactly why a meal at Pasjoli, an upscale French restaurant in Santa Monica, is such a relief. From the second you walk in and spot well-dressed people sipping Cognac and a gleaming duck press sitting in the corner, adulthood - or the idea of it - surrounds you. But thanks to a menu filled with profoundly decadent food, and an atmosphere that feels exclusive (but never exclusionary), it’s an adulthood that, at least for a few hours, is both tangible and downright euphoric.
If you’ve ever been to Main St. in Santa Monica, you know it’s largely dominated by young families riding color-coordinated bicycles and group girls in identical outfits milling about looking for the most photogenic lattes. Sitting almost symbolically amongst it all is Pasjoli. This is an objectively fancy restaurant, but one that never takes itself too seriously. The waitstaff talks to you like you’re already a regular, the space looks like a sidewalk bistro for dignitaries, and though you’re going to drop a significant amount of money, every single dish validates its price point.
Before a meal at Pasjoli begins, however, you always have a big choice to make - are you getting the pressed duck? We say that not just because it costs $185, but because it’s an all-night experience that will steer the course of your meal. That said, if it’s your first time or you’re dining with three or more people, you need to order it. A full duck gets professionally butchered and then stuffed into a giant vintage press until juice dribbles out of a spout and into a teacup. Then the duck juice is eventually added to a pan with red wine, pepper, and Cognac to create a sauce for the duck breast - which gives you an idea of the level of detail at play here. The duck itself is fantastic, but with equally tremendous side dishes like crispy duck skin salad and duck leg bread pudding, the whole thing is a meal unto itself. But be sure to save some room, because at Pasjoli, the pressed duck is only the beginning of the menu’s greatness.
From a perfectly-dressed seasonal salad to a chocolate soufflé we would cross state lines to eat, a meal at Pasjoli isn’t just about great food, it’s about experiencing a restaurant that’s operating at the top of its game. The potato gratin is gooey and creamy with a crunchy breadcrumb crust. The brioche toast, stuffed with chicken liver and topped with shaved truffle, has ruined almost every other chicken liver mousse we’ve eaten at a restaurant. The pithivier de canard, a pastry filled with duck leg rillettes and mushroom, is basically the best excuse in the world to eat pie at the beginning of a meal. There isn’t a single weak dish on the menu.
So inevitably, there will come a point during your night at Pasjoli - for us, it’s usually when we bite into the quenelle et caviar (a scallop mousse in a caviar beurre blanc that’s one of the best things we’ve ever eaten) - when you’ll lean back in your chair and realize that maybe owning your adulthood isn’t so bad after all.
The vegetables at Pasjoli change fairly often, but on our last visit, we experienced this simple, yet delicious bowl of red oak lettuce that set the tone for an incredible night. There will be flashier items on the menu calling your name, but we always recommend starting a meal at Pasjoli with a salad. You need some greens to balance out the rich stuff.
There’s always a dish on Pasjoli’s menu that was so good it’ll become the subject of several text threads after the meal. For us, it was the quenelle et caviar. We could point to the buttery beurre blanc or the salty pop from the caviar on top that makes this dish special, but it really boils down to the texture of the mousse itself. Is this what heaven feels like? Or a foam pit filled with Hemsworths? Having experienced neither, we’ll still say yes.
This isn’t just your normal basket of table bread, it’s brioche filled with chicken liver and topped with shaved truffle. It’s incredible. A typical $54 order comes with six pieces, but if you want a smaller portion, you can get two slices for $26.
Another dish from Pasjoli’s “hot” section that needs to be on your table. This warm, flaky pastry is filled with duck leg confit and sauteed mushrooms giving it a sweet umami flavor that’s rich without being overwhelming. It’s also easily shareable between 2-3 people.
Despite all the other great dishes on Pasjoli’s menu, the pressed duck will always be the pièce de résistance. And rightfully so. An entire duck be carved and butchered while its juice gets pressed from a medieval torture device. Yes, it’s $185, but not only are you getting a show, you’re getting a massive platter of perfectly cooked duck as well. And the crispy skin salad and duck leg bread pudding that come on the side are excellent, too.
In the event it’s not a pressed duck kind of night, this short rib dish is a good option if you’re still in the market for a big plate of meat. The beef itself has been nicely braised and the sauce bordelaise at the bottom gives every bite a rich tanginess.
Will you have any room left for this? No. Will you still order it and be thrilled anyway? Absolutely.