Despite a few smudges, Pasqua Café shines

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Live music and charming patio make the difference

CAIRO: Pasqua Café sits a stone’s throw from Mohandiseen’s chaotic Lebanon Square, where bright billboards look down over honking cars as they twirl around the circle’s dusty highway fly-over. The scene in the square is typical Cairo, but the café down the street, on Lebanon Street, is a rarer find. Pasqua is a fun choice that stands out from the ranks of wannabe chic cafés that have sprung up across town in recent years. Although not all of its dishes are great, as a whole the café is a fun way to spend an evening dining out with friends.

The café’s atmosphere is lively in a way that is different from its competitors. An outdoor patio surrounds the glass-walled interior dining room, creating an illusion of openness and space in what is actually not a very large restaurant.

Many Cairo cafés think that entertaining their guests means playing overly loud disco remixes of Britney Spears classics on a 10 minute loop, or showing Melody Hits channel from a corner TV. But Pasqua features regular live music, either from the in-house piano or from a number of local musicians. It is a fun and completely sensible approach, which makes it stand out from the crowd.

As one of my friends commented, an ‘oud player singing in the corner behind her, “When you come here, you feel like you’ve really done something with your evening, even if you were just drinking coffee.

Overall, the food at Pasqua is quite good, although the quality is uneven and some dishes are just not enjoyable.

We began our meal with some juice, which was quite expensive at LE 10.90 for mango and LE 14.90 for a “special cocktail that was about 70 percent guava juice. We also began with the café’s trademark “Pasqua Salad, (LE 19) a medley of greens, corn, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes and Parmesan in a balsamic dressing. The salad was fresh and flavorful and was hands-down one of the best I have had in Egypt.

For dinner, my party shared pasta alfredo (LE 24.90,) pizza rocca (LE 23.95,) and fillet in mustard sauce (LE 42.) There was a stark difference in the quality of these three dishes, and it was the fillet – the most expensive dish we ordered – which was the biggest disappointment.

The meat was bland and tasteless and was aggressively covered up by a comically pungent mustard sauce. The fillet was completely doused in the bright yellow sauce, and in case you forgot that it was mustard-based, they decorate the top of this gooey concoction with a squiggle of mustard, squeezed right out of the bottle. The sauce tastes like cheap hotdog mustard, the neon yellow paste you can get smeared on a hotdog on any American street corner for $2. It is annoying to pay LE 42 for a bland steak over-powered by such a boring and bad-tasting sauce, especially given the availability of more flavorful types of mustard in Cairo.

Accompanying the meat was a pile of freeze-dried vegetables fresh from the plastic bag, which our waiter insisted were not called vegetables but rather “sauté, and a generic pile of white rice. Given the freshness of all the other dishes, the freeze-dried side dishes were surprising, and reminded me of the in-flight meal on an airplane.

That said, the other dishes were very good. The pasta alfredo was served with chicken and olives, and was wholly satisfying. The pasta was al dente and the chicken tender and well cooked. Unlike many cafés, which serve alfredo swimming in a pool of cheesy milk, Pasqua’s sauce is more substantive and does not make you go fishing for your noodles.

The café’s motto is “Our Promise: To Serve the Best Pizza, and it is certainly in the running for that title. Our pizza rocca was an excellent choice, and brightly outshines the pies served at many of Cairo’s other well-known pizza joints. Rocca combines onions, olives, mushrooms and peppers all on a cheesy thin crust and topped with loads of fresh arugula. It is delicious and filling, yet refreshing in a way that pizza usually is not.

Pasqua has a long dessert menu, and although they may have sold out of your first choice there is enough variety to keep anyone satisfied. Unfortunately, the quality of the desserts is also very uneven. We chose a cookie-flavored frappe freeze (LE 12.50), chocolate cake (LE 11.90), cherry cheesecake (LE 13.90) and a date tart (LE 13.90). The frappe freeze was a delicious milkshake filled with bits of chocolate cookie, and the cherry cheesecake was also very nice, studded with pieces of cherry.

The other two were not bad, but did not impress. The chocolate cake tasted like the kind you can buy in a box at the grocery store, while the date tart contained a cream cheese-based filling that tasted far too strongly of cream cheese to actually be enjoyable. Where each dish should have been fresh or subtle, they were neither. While they were not bad, they were also not worth the money.

Despite the uneven quality of many of its dishes, Pasqua Café is a good choice for an evening out. When the food is good, it is very good, and the atmosphere is lively and fun without being too noisy or brash. It is a welcome escape from both the chaos and noise of the city and the lame posing of many of its competitors in the Cairo café game.

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