Fresh but Flawed

Pasco Kitchen's cocktails are splendid, as is the local emphasis—but the devil is in the details

When Ramiro Scavo announced he was opening Pasco Kitchen and Lounge, a restaurant with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients—urban farm fare, he called it—local foodies jumped for joy.

Scavo has great credentials; he's the former executive chef for the group that runs Zona 78, Harvest Restaurant and Hacienda del Sol. The locals he's partnered with to get some of his ingredients—including Sleeping Frog Farms, River Road Gardens and Walking J Farm—are known for producing great stuff.

Indeed, the ingredients that show up in the dishes at Pasco are divine. Some of the flavor combinations are downright inspired. However, Pasco is held back from being a true success by those pesky little details.

The house-made herb and cheddar biscuit ($7.50) is a perfect example of both Pasco's successes and failures. The ingredients—grilled asparagus, prosciutto di parma, house-whipped organic hollandaise, a poached fresh farm egg and the titular biscuit—are each amazing. It's the way they're put together that's the problem.

The biscuit was on the crumbly side, meaning that it wouldn't soak up the delicious, runny egg, and biscuit pieces were difficult to spear with a fork. The seven or so thin asparagus stalks were challenging to cut—and unless the asparagus was sliced into tiny pieces, it dominated the other flavors. As a result of all this, it was almost impossible to get a proper, balanced bite of this dish.

But when I did manage to miraculously get that perfect mouthful a time or two ... wow. Good stuff.

Then there was my big boy burger ($14), with natural grass-fed beef, smoked Gouda, butter lettuce, tomato, red onion, "12-hour braised pork belly," more of that delicious hollandaise sauce, and another perfectly prepared egg. Again, all of the ingredients were delightful—although I was annoyed that the pork belly was substituted, without me being informed, with bacon. Same part of the pig, I know, but what was on my burger was not a piece of meat that had been braised for 12 hours.

Instead of being served on a bun, this burger came on "organic toast," which was rather dry. Given the ample stack of ingredients, and two pieces of flat, unmalleable bread, there was no way to eat what was on my plate by picking it up with my hands. So I ate my burger with a knife and a fork. The accompanying fries, however, were a highlight.

On our dinner visit, Garrett ordered the lamb goulash with house-made rosemary pita, cucumber tzatziki, parsley tabouli and garden scallion ($17). The goulash was delicious, with just the right amount of garlic. However, the "pita" was a thick piece of bread, like someone melded three or four pieces of what is normally considered pita together.

The andouille sausage corn dog with fried okra and fried zucchini ($7) had an amazing flavor, but the sausage, sliced into two pieces, had a thick skin on it that made all of the corn dough fall off with one bite.

The roasted chili and ajo albondigas soup ($5 for a cup, $7 for a bowl) was full of delicious stuff—including tomato, onion, avocado and Anita Street corn tortilla strips—but was infused with so much citrus that tartness became the soup's dominant aspect.

For a dessert, we had the strawberry shortcake with a rosemary biscuit ($6.50). The strawberries and cream were pitch-perfect, and the rosemary in the biscuit went nicely with the sweetness of the other ingredients—but, again, the biscuit was on the drier side, meaning none of the strawberry juice permeated it.

The detail issues went beyond the food. During our lunch visit, Garrett got the quinoa super food bowl with the barbecued citrus tofu ($12.50). The tofu was almost flavorless, but the bigger problem was that the server didn't know which "organic local vegetables" were included in the dish. This is understandable at a restaurant that emphasizes freshness; our server said ingredients can even change from dish to dish. But picky eaters, beware: Garrett doesn't care much for onions, and that's exactly what dominated the organic local vegetables.

Detail issues even affect Pasco's website: Before our first visit, we went online to check out the offerings. Garrett instantly honed in on the house-smoked pastrami sliders, and my mouth was watering for the pasture-raised chicken and mole. We arrived at Pasco and discovered that the menu included neither of these items; we asked our server about it, and she apologetically said the menu had just changed.

As of this writing, a week and a half or so after that initial visit, the website is still wrong.

The one area of the Pasco experience that was a runaway hit was the cocktail menu: This is one innovative and interesting drink selection, and most of the beverages include fresh vegetables or fruits in some way. The le saison ($7)—with sparking wine, house-made elderflower liqueur and seasonal marmalade—was one of the most delightful sweet drinks I've ever had.

Cocktails aside, I was disappointed in our Pasco experience; no restaurant is going to be perfect on every dish, but here, every dish had a glaring imperfection. I'm also concerned about the Geronimo Plaza/Main Gate Square location; it's a gorgeous little spot with nice outdoor seating, but this is UA-student territory, and on one recent evening, the NBA Finals had nearby businesses packed—whereas only three tables at Pasco were occupied, even though the game was on at Pasco's charming bar.

Still, I really want Pasco to succeed. It's a breath of fresh air compared to all of the cookie-cutter restaurants out there. The emphases on local ingredients, vegetarian options and gluten-free dishes are commendable. However, that old cliché is true: The devil is indeed in the details at Pasco Kitchen and Lounge.