A French / American bistro with an Ecuadorian twist.
If you have ever been to Panama City, Panama then you certainly must have tried the seafood. In Casco Viejo a.k.a. old town Panama, there are several seafood restaurants featuring chefs from South America’s west coast.
This includes Chile, Peru and to a lesser extent Ecuador.
This is the thought that crossed my mind when our first round of appetizers came to our table because I don’t recall there being ceviche in traditional French cuisine.
While we were happy to indulge in the unexpected fusion, it was an interesting twist to have included with our meal. None the less, the octopus ceviche we ordered was great, tortilla chips and all.
Our second appetizer was the escargot. It was served in butter and draped with a grana padano crisp. They were served with toasted baguette slices that were too narrow to place the escargot on top of and too dry to adequately soak in the leftover butter.
While the escargot itself was tender, juicy and flavorful… the odd baguette pairing missed the mark. Instead of dry triangular baguette sticks, I’d recommend flatter sliced baguettes toasted on the outside, but still soft on the inside. This would allow me to butter the bread, then top it with my escargot and its seasoned juices.
Rarely do I leave bread on the table, but in this case I didn’t know what to do with the last piece. It was too crunchy to eat on its own and I didn’t have anything to dip it.
Following our round of appetizers we had half an order of raw oysters from the Gulf Coast and Eastern U.S. There is nothing else to write here as they were satisfactory.
We had a good cadence of food being delivered one after another, but then there was an odd 20 – 30 minute break while we waited on our main course.
I am certain this wasn’t their usual modus operandi, but it was quite a buzz kill as I went through about 4 glasses of ice tea and several updates from our waiter to, well… wait some more.
My dining partner ordered the grilled octopus which was served cornucopia style with quite a few unrelated items layered on top of each other.
There were roasted potatoes, confit tomatoes, olives, hummus and toasted pita bread all under several tentacles of grilled octopus which itself was covered in green chimichurri sauce.
From a presentation perspective it was quite the sight to behold, but from an execution perspective; it was like 3 mini appetizers in one.
Credit the chef for creative effort, but you really didn’t want to mix the chimichurri covered octopus with the hummus and the tomatoes & potatoes didn’t particularly compliment the other items. So each item on the plate had to be eaten separately leading me to wonder what was going on here.
Everything tasted well and good on its own, but they didn’t combine to create a cohesive dish; which would be akin to having a bowl of mac & cheese topped with blueberries. They are both lovable items on their own, they just don’t belong in a dish together.
I had the catch of the day, which was a Chilean Sea Bass; which I believe was cooked à la meunière in foamy brown butter. The halibut was served atop risotto and vegetables.
That isn’t what the menu said it would be, but it was good enough. The halibut remained buttery and flaky. (There is a disclaimer on the homepage that due to Covid-19; some menu items would be different. However this is the only restaurant that I’ve been to recently that did not update their paper menus and failed to notify me of the changes when taking my order)
Lastly I had the pistachio creme brûlée and my dinner partner had the vanilla cheese cake.
Neither dessert was unsatisfactory, but they both had the heavier American dessert feel than the typical lighter French versions.
I forgot to mention we also had the gougères to start our meal and turns out that if you stuff them with the ceviche, the pairing works pretty well. Otherwise you are left eating a large serving of ceviche with two small tortilla chips.
By all the rave online reviews of Maison Pucha, I appear to be in the minority here for not loving it. Our total tab came out to about $186.20 before tip.
There are several places I’d go for a more focused menu and better French food.
But if I came back, I’d come back to try their soufflé as my two go to soufflé spots have succumbed to the pandemic economy, Rise and La Table.
Maison Pucha does have a large outdoor patio which could serve well for a coffee and soufflé on a random afternoon when the weather cools off a bit.
Maybe I ordered the wrong things and they do much better with their chicken and duck dishes. But if it is on the menu with a price next to it, then expectations come with it.
Long story short, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying Maison Pucha at least once. It wasn’t intolerable, but it certainly wasn’t on par with other restaurants that charge the same or slightly more, yet offer better return on time spent.