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 gleaming duck presses being wheeled around the dining room, adulthood - or the idea of it - surrounds you. But thanks to a menu filled with fantastic, exciting 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 grimy sports bars and post-grads clinging to whatever youth their livers can still provide them. Sitting almost symbolically amongst it all is Pasjoli. This is an objectively fancy restaurant, yet it doesn’t actually feel like one. 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 - and also your choice to be an adult for the evening.
Before you even arrive at Pasjoli, you have another choice to make - whether or not you’re ordering the pressed duck. We say that not just because it costs $165, but because you need to email them ahead of time to reserve a duck. It’s definitely an investment, but if you’re dining with three or more people, you need to experience it. Watching a full duck get professionally butchered at your table is one thing, watching its carcass get stuffed into a giant vintage press until juice dribbles out of a spout and into a teacup is one of the best shows in town. That 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 in play here. The duck itself is fantastic, but with equally tremendous side dishes of potato gratin and duck leg confit salad, 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 marinated tuna stuffed inside a tomato 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 crab inside the crabe et chou-fleur appetizer is so fresh there’s a tiny pop in your mouth with every bite. The brioche toast, stuffed with chicken liver and topped with shaved truffle, has ruined almost every other piece of bread we’ve eaten at a restaurant. The canard Bordelaise, a plate of duck confit with preserved cherries and giant bits of bread, is basically the best excuse in the world to eat pie at the beginning of a meal. To be frank, 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 ragoût d’oignons caramélisés (a baked French onion soup in tart form that’s one of the single best dishes we’ve eaten all year) - when you’ll lean back in your chair and realize that even if this version of adulthood is just make-believe, you’re simply too happy to care. And that’s real.
There are a lot of flashy dishes on Pasjoli’s menu, but this endive salad is definitely not one of them. That said, it’s still a must-order. The bitterness of the endives pairs perfectly with the grapefruit, and at the end of the day, it’s nice to tell yourself that you put at least one salad on the table.
We honestly don’t care if this reads like hyperbole - this dish changed us. It’s basically baked French onion soup in tart form, and if you take one bite and don’t immediately flag down your server for more, we have nothing in common. This isn’t just our favorite dish at Pasjoli, it’s one of our favorites in all of Los Angeles.
This is basically a mini tower of crab meat with cauliflower cream drizzled on top. Yes, it’s a pretty straightforward dish, but when the crab meat is as fresh and flavorful as it is here, there’s no need for a cover up.
Depending on when it hits the table, this plate of duck confit may be the first indication of the true level of flavor that exists at Pasjoli. Mixed with preserved cherries and topped with crispy pieces of bread, it’s the perfect blend of sweet and savory, and basically an excuse to eat pie for an appetizer. Like we said, perfection.
$39 for a few pieces of bread? Get into it. 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 normal order comes with six pieces, but if you want a smaller portion, you can get two slices for $20.
The exact meat in this dish changes seasonally, but whether it’s shrimp or lobster or Nemo’s dad, order it. It’s basically the best seafood bisque in the world, and when you dip the accompanying toasted bread into it, it becomes even better.
Despite all the other great dishes on Pasjoli’s menu, the pressed duck will always be the pièce de résistance. And rightfully so. You get to watch an entire duck be carved and butchered while its juice gets pressed from a medieval torture device. Yes, it’s $165, but not only are you getting a show, you’re getting a tremendous platter of perfectly cooked duck as well. And the potato gratin and duck leg confit salad that come on the side are excellent, too.
Will you have any room left for this? No. Will you still order it and be thrilled anyway? Absolutely.