A Horticultural Retreat in Corona del Mar
Caf. Jardin @ Sherman Library & Gardens
2647 East Coast Hwy | Corona del Mar, CA 92625 | slgardens.org
hose who brunch have a reasonable notion of what to expect. Overflowing champagne flutes, plus countless stations of carved meats and freshly baked sweets set off a familiar tryptophan effect usually reserved for the holidays, resulting in a midday nap. If you’re Pascal Olhats, however, brunch takes on a special meaning. Situated in the floral landscape that is Sherman Library and Gardens, his quartet of courses is a tale of inception: an experience within an experience.
Prior to Chef Olhats, the café was a space where lunch was served once a week by volunteers. While the site primarily catered to locals, Pascal learned that his clientele from other concepts were members of Sherman Gardens. The foundation representing the gardens approached chef to see if he could provide daily lunch fare. In addition, they requested he offer in-house dining for weddings and other private events; this additional revenue would help generate the funding needed to maintain the grounds. Pascal would craft a garden-style menu, reminiscent of classical French cuisine.
Aside from his weekday lunch, weekly tea is also served. Yet chef’s Sunday brunch is the only service with a limited run, available from early spring through the end of summer, and then some (the final date this season is in October). Café Jardin’s dining room overlooks the central flower gardens, providing a muse to the seasonal menu known to utilize herbs grown on-site. A morning or afternoon here is best spent arriving early to orient oneself with the property. Depending on where you decide to park and enter, all pathways will find their way to brunch.
From the Pacific Coast Highway entrance, make a quick left and meander along the perimeter. You’ll come upon the Sun Garden, a juxtaposition of classic perennials and rare heirloom varieties. Further down the walkway is the entrance to the Tropical Conservatory. Visit the inhabitants of the koi pond at the base of a cascading waterfall. An ever-changing orchid arrangement is maintained within this climate-controlled environment. Remember to take a moment to glance up at the whimsical parasol display, sure to put a smile on your face.
Visiting from the Third Avenue side, you’re greeted by a bubbling fountain and vibrant shades from the Central Garden. Desert blooms lie towards one corner of the cafe, our favorite section of the property. Here, the thriving Succulent Garden is a comprehensive study in muted hues and mixed textures. From this landscape, you can observe their 70-something-year-old, South American Pepper Tree. Acting as a natural focal point, it doubles as a proverbial fork in the road.
Both paths lead to equally noteworthy stopping points. In one direction, the Historical Adobe House currently displays a collection of retro menus from restaurants of decades past. However, the more frequently traveled road finds us in the spacious Tea Garden. A charming patio, its layout contributes to moments of reflection and conversation.
Pascal’s decision to embark on a brunch menu was thoughtfully conceived a handful of years ago. His interest was neither on volume nor classic buffet fare. Chef strived for his diners to have a quality experience. He didn’t want food sitting in chafing dishes; everything would be made to order. “You order a beef tenderloin from me; it’s going to be in one pan only. And I’m going to use that pan to make your sauce. Everything is like a masterpiece; an original. It’s kind of a mad thing, but this is the way I want it to be.”
Regional produce is treated to interpretation by Chef Olhats and his coastal surroundings. Delicately steamed beet salad is finished with herb feta, roasted walnuts and lemon vinaigrette. Lyonaisse salad isn’t quite complete without a warm, poached egg and meaty lardons. Fresh thyme beurre blanc dresses savory striped bass. And be sure to request the subtle Macanese egg tart—inspired by a summer excursion to Macau.
Embarking on a leisurely brunch in Corona del Mar doubles as an afternoon getaway when pairing the lush beauty of Sherman Gardens with an artisanal selection from Chef Pascal Olhats. And yes, endless champagne is most definitely an option.
Café Jardin brunch is served on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is four courses for $39.50 per person, before tax and gratuity. Call or go online to reserve. There is a $5 admission fee to enter Sherman Library and Gardens.