“In cooking, as in all arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection"

-Curnonsky

PASTICHE BISTRO & WINE BAR
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Pastiche at the Metro
411 East Mason Street

Pastiche Brown Deer
4313 West River Lane

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Musings of a Chef

 

The Best Thanksgiving Yet 
November 27, 2010

Every year, people ask me what I do on Thanksgiving. For probably the last eight or nine years, I've been grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with a group of anywhere between 10-15 good friends whose ages span anywhere from the early 40's to maybe the mid 80's. Four of us are working chefs and the rest are a delightful group of talented cooks and intelligent, well-traveled bon vivants. Each one of us brings a dish or two, so the cooking is pretty minimal, and a couple bottles of wine. The evening is always hosted by the same gracious lady who has a large enough kitchen to accommodate a half dozen of us working and drinking and talking at the same time, and it is truly an evening we look forward to all year.

True, it's not the typical Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. But it's just as special to each of us, and since it's a late-starter, we still get to see our families earlier in the day. This year, Angela and I met at the restaurant in the morning- her to finish her rice balls and me to work on a cauliflower and chanterelle gratin and some crab cakes. She finished and went to her Aunt and Uncle's house for their family Thanksgiving, and I was planning on heading to my Mom's after I was done, en route to the group dinner. As it always happens, things change; Angela decided to join me with the group dinner, so I went over to her Aunt and Uncle's to pick her up. When I walked in the house the whole family, numbering something like 20-22 people, had just apparently finished deciding where everyone was going to sit around this huge table, and were beginning to enjoy their dinner. Of course, Angela's Aunt is a fantastic cook, so when they asked me to join them I couldn't refuse. The food and family gathering was wonderfully traditional; I have to say that I hadn't really experienced that in a long time and it was very nice. After that, we scooted over to my Mom's and had a little time with her and my sister Lori's family (I missed seeing my other sister Lisa because she was enjoying her Thanksgiving at a restaurant) then onward to Beth's for the final stop on the turkey tour.

It's something amusing to see, I'm sure, watching us all working together in a home kitchen to produce Thanksgiving dinner. We're used to working in our little restaurant kitchens, though, so we all cooked without getting in each other's way, sharing the oven and stove burners, and managing to consume a truly impressive quantity of Champagne in the process.

Dinner was amazing. The company was even better. There is just something really wonderful about the chemistry of this group- the range of life experiences, ages and backgrounds; the personalities and camaraderie. The common denominator is that we truly enjoy each other's company and cooking, and we're all very thankful to be able to celebrate together each year. In whatever form it takes, I think for me at least, that's what Thanksgiving is all about.

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving, too. You must've eaten well because we were a bit slow last night. Tonight is busy again, though... one more thing to be grateful for.

 

I can't believe... 
November 11, 2010

...it's been a month since I've written anything. It isn't as though there's nothing to say; in fact, in the last several weeks we were awarded the "Best New Restaurant- Critic's Choice" in the 20th Anniversary Sheperd Express "Best of Milwaukee" poll, had yet another generous review- this time in "M" Magazine, and had our busiest week to date. We've opened on Sundays and hosted an American Institute of Wine and Food dinner, and seen lunch business spike dramatically after we stopped taking reservations.

I guess that's why I've been too tired to write. Tonight I feel good, though. My friend Dan Nerby and his family were in for dinner earlier and it was wonderful to see them all. I've known Dan for many years and worked with him in several different places. He's a very talented chef, and owns an artisanal bakery in Wales. He and his wife Michelle were taking his longtime assistant Lori out for dinner to celebrate her pending move to Tennessee. It's always tough to lose your right hand person, but hopefully there's another waiting in the wings. Bon Voyage Lori, and best of luck!

Another friend, Leo, came by a few weeks ago and snapped a few photos while we were working. We loaded a few on the home page here but more can be seen on our Facebook page "Pastiche Bistro".

For me, I think that the best feeling I have right now is that we finally seem to be hitting our groove- that place where you have a good feeling how busy you're going to be each night, so you can order and prep accordingly, staff the right number of cooks and servers, and have smooth days and nights. Not that everything's always smooth because that really doesn't happen. It's just not the wild ride every day that it was a few months ago.

Another good feeling is that I think people are responding well to our philosophy of good food and wine, well-served, at reasonable prices. Guests are constantly asking me when we're going to expand, open a second restaurant, move, or even raise prices. I don't know if or when we'll do any of those things- I'm happy right now. Very happy. That's worth much more to me than having lots of money in the bank. For the most part, our guests are very happy, and so are the people who work here. Why fool with that? I pay the bills and have enough left over to help the boys with school and even go out with Angela every now and again.

Anyway...

It's getting late and the waitresses are almost done polishing the silver and glassware, so I guess there's only one other thing I'd like to say tonight before closing up and getting out of here, and that's to our veterans- thank you very much.

 

We rolled out the Fall menu last week... 
October 10, 2010

...to a generally warm reception... except for the people who were upset because we replaced the chocolate mousse crepes with a chocolate ganache cake and a chocolate hazelnut tart. The sales have been slowly shifting from the warm-weather fresh fish and salads to the more fall-inspired dishes like cassoulet, coq au vin, and navarin (now with fall vegetables); and the onion soup has been flying out of the kitchen.

The air conditioner is off and the door is open once again. The farmers' market is winding down, and the neighbor's yard is decorated with a giant pumpkin and witch. I can hear the leaves blowing down the street and the kitchen isn't unbearably hot anymore. I love Fall.

The phone still rings for reservations; business remains steady, and we continue to work toward improving our food and service. Pastiche was nominated and is a finalist for "Best New Restaurant" in this year's Sheperd Express "Best of Milwaukee" feature; a nice surprise for us because there were so many really good restaurants opened during the last twelve months. Regardless of whether we win or not, we're all grateful to be thought of in such good company.

I'm proud of what we've done so far, yet I continue to find so many things we can improve upon. Moving forward isn't always easy, and we've lost a few staff and also a few customers in doing so. I've always felt that a restaurant can't be everything for everyone; that it should instead be a reflection of the owner's vision and passion and if that remains consistent then people who feel likewise will find the restaurant and make it succeed. So far, we've done well by not compromising on our dedication to providing good quality French food and a well-rounded wine list at reasonable prices.

One other thing I believe strongly in is that no matter what your price point is, service should be excellent. We are grateful for each person who comes through our door, and want very much for everyone to leave happy and full.

It's not always easy to convey this, and we don't always get it right. We'll still lose a reservation every once in a while, and are still sometimes in too much of a rush to remember to take a deep breath, smile, and greet the person walking in the door with warmth and humility. We're working on it, though.

We always try to remember that when you arrive here you're hungry; you may have had a long day, and just want to sit down and relax. We do our best to get you to your table in a timely manner. We insist that even if it's a few minutes after closing, we have the time to make you something to eat. We do a pretty good job of letting you sit at your table until you're done visiting, even if it's getting close to midnight and the last table left an hour ago. We're doing better at answering the phone. In fact, last week I bought a new one with two handsets, and one is near me wherever I am so I can hear it ring and answer it in the kitchen and basement, to cut down on the number of messages that are left. We check the answering machine first thing when we come in, and return calls as quickly as possible to make or confirm reservations.

In other words, we hear what people are saying and are always trying to do more to make it a better experience for them when they visit us. I'm always happy to hear people tell me how much they enjoyed themselves, but I also appreciate it when they tell me that something could be better. I know how hard that is. in fact, I'm the person who will sit quietly and eat a dreadful meal poorly served, never say a word about it, and still leave 20%. It's a funny business.

Anyway, it's way too nice out to spend any more time in front of this computer. There's yard work to be done, and I need to clean out my refrigerator- everything in it is out of date because I'm just not home enough to eat anything but an occasional frozen pizza or cheese and crackers. I just heard a motorcycle rumble past my window, and now I want to ride mine in to work. There aren't too many more good riding days left, so maybe I'll take the long way...

 

Summer's Almost Over... 
September 12, 2010

It's been a while since I've written. I haven't had too much to say really. Things have been going well; we've had several nights in the last few weeks where we've had open tables and been able to accommodate walk-ins and call-ins. I've had time to put some Fall menu ideas down on paper, and am working out a few details so we can get it on the table by the end of the month.

I've also had time to read a little bit on the customer review websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon. It's interesting to a point, because it matters to me what people think about their experiences- their perceptions, criticisms, and compliments. I tend to look at them like diving scores: throw out the best and worst ones and go from there. I also looked around to some of my other favorite restaurants and found that they were no different- a few unhappy people but mostly others who were really enthusiastic and positive. It's a very subjective business and everyone has their own views. People are always challenging us to get better, and we're always challenging ourselves to do so as well.

Lunch business has been steady for the last few weeks. Most days are right around 30-35 people, which is a good number for us. Since we stopped taking reservations for lunch, it's a lot easier to get a table, especially before noon. The business at dinner remains steady- not the post-reviews crush of June and July, but busy and right on our numbers. Our regular customers have been telling their friends, who have been coming in and then telling their friends, etc. so that's really cool.

Speaking of friends, we have a new Facebook page at "Pastiche Bistro Milwaukee". Since I know practically nothing about these things, it's being run by the sister of one of our staff members. She's been putting the daily specials up, and is going to be adding some photos soon as well. She's also doing the Twitter account but I don't know anything at all about Twitter. I've just been trying to tighten up the Fall menu and focus on the food and wine.

I bought some really cool wines this week that will be making the list as soon as we run a few of the other ones out to make room. They are small production and really tasty; almost all are organic and a few are biodynamic.

You'll see a few new faces at the restaurant, too. We lost Jay to Alterra Baking Co. last week, and hired Philip Godfrey to take his place at the cold station. After only a few days, Phil's been doing a very good job and proved to be a nice addition to the team. Joining us this coming week will be an old friend, Frank Harroun, who I worked with over a decade ago at another restaurant in Delafield. Frank's been a touring chef for many years, working for the PGA Tour and Cirque De Soleil. He'll round out the kitchen team and allow me to focus on some new things as well as accomplish a few old things I've neglected because I've been so busy.

We've got an AIWF dinner coming up next month, and Angela and I have been talking about maybe opening for dinner on Sunday evenings. We both work at the restaurant on Sundays, and are able to get a lot of work done because the restaurant is closed. We usually go out to dinner afterwords, and it seems that there is more potential for Sunday business than I'd thought. With AJ returning and the addition of Frank and Phil, we have the staff available. The only negative would be that it'll be that much harder for Angela and I to get our work done with other people in the kitchen getting ready for service. Like I said, we're just talking about it and if you'd like to give your opinion, just shoot me an email either through the "Contact" page on the site or directly at mike@pastichebistro.com and let me know what you think.

So that's it for now. I've got to get in to work to get set up for tonight. Have a good weekend, and I hope to see you soon!

 

We're finally starting to slow down a little... 
August 21, 2010

...which is good, because I'm not sure how much longer I could've physically kept up the pace we've been running at for the last couple of months. I mean, sure it's great to be busy, but there are different levels of busy, and lately, Angela and I have been literally running from one thing to the next to try to get set up for lunch and dinner every day. Even though she possesses a seemingly inexhaustible supply of enthusiasm and energy, in my case it's the trouble I get from my knees from going up and down the stairs and my back from constantly bending over to get things in and out of the reach-in cooler and oven. I guess that's why they invented Aleve, and also why I continue to be grateful to work with others who also put in long days without complaining.

Anyway, it's been a pretty fun week. I learned a long time ago at The Metro that you never know who'll you'll meet when you walk out in the dining room, and it was very nice to see Sen. Russ Feingold and a few associates eating lunch here on Thursday. I've always respected the senator for standing alone opposing the Patriot Act in 2001, even though it was clear there would be a lot of negative political fallout from doing so. He seems like a pretty nice guy and said he enjoyed his lunch- maybe he was heading down to Irish Fest and didn't want to go on an empty stomach... My good friend Sean "The Crusher" Jones, a chef who is as proudly Irish as anyone I've ever known, used to jokingly maintain that Irish cooking was little more than boiling the daylights out of things that no one else would eat, then drinking enough whiskey to make it taste good. We used to work in a small restaurant next door to an Irish pub in Delafield, and though there may be some truth in his observations, I'll still admit to liking a good Shepard's Pie, lamb of all sorts in fact, and pretty much anything having corned beef in it. Maybe that comes from the Irish on my Mom's side?

Well, even if it's not acknowledged for it's delicious cuisine, Ireland has given us Guinness and hurling, and that's a lot to be proud of right there. Even though I'm pretty sure you can't get a Guinness at Irish Fest, you can still check out the Milwaukee Hurling Club's booth there and get a taste of the "fastest game on grass". I used to enjoy hurling several years ago, when I worked days and could make the practices. It's a lot of fun and the hurlers are good people to hang out with...

But I digress. Getting back to the restaurant, we're now starting to have a few open tables on weeknights, and lunch is coming back nicely since we stopped taking reservations. We've hired Adam, Kira, and Nina in the front of the house to help out in AJ's absence and to fill the positions left by Brandice and Yesh. I've been told that Brandice may be moving to California but I don't know whether or not that's true, and Yesh has taken a job in Chile and will be moving down there in a week or two; I wish them safe travels and hope they are both very happy in their new jobs. AJ brought her baby boy in this week, too, and told us she'll be coming back soon. We're all looking forward to that; it seems like she's been gone a long time even though it's just been a few weeks.

Some really nice dairy and produce has been coming in from Dave Swanson and Braise RSA lately; it's good to see that it's a productive year for the local farms and the quality looks great. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting a professional mushroom forager, and he brought me some beautiful chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms- a sure sign of the changing seasons. I'm really looking forward to Fall, and starting to work out the next menu in my head. The salmon out of Alaska is fantastic, so it may make a comeback, replacing the walleye, which is getting a little scarce right now with the warmer water temperatures in Lake Erie making them head for the deeper areas of the lake to keep cool. Halibut season typically winds down in November, so we'll see how that goes. Maybe we'll bring back the osso bucco, or add another steak. So many choices.
All this talk of food is making me hungry- I've got no food here at home but I'm pretty sure there's a Guinness in the fridge.

Now that's what I'd call a good Irish breakfast!

 

Waiting for a table... 
August 4, 2010

Last week I received a call from a gentleman who wanted me to know how frustrated he was with the way he and his wife were treated on three occasions when they had tried to dine at Pastiche. The first time they came was within the first few weeks we were open. They had decided to come for dinner but had no reservation and were turned away because we were full. They came again a second time, a month or so later, but it was on the spur of the moment and again they had no reservation. When they walked through the door they were asked if they had a reservation and when they said no they were given attitude from the server who made them feel foolish for even thinking that they could just walk in and get a table without a reservation. The third time was just a couple of weeks ago. The gentleman's wife, knowing that he still wanted to come here, called on Monday and made a reservation for his birthday dinner on Thursday. She was so excited that she wrote about it on her Facebook page, and even called and confirmed on Wednesday. On Thursday they arrived at the proper time and were told by that same server that we had no reservation for them and no table to seat them at.

In talking to him, I could tell not only how disappointed he was, but also that he was still burning from being treated that way.

I felt, and still feel, ashamed and embarrassed that anyone who came to my restaurant would be treated this way not only once but three times. Of course, I couldn't change what had already happened, but Angela and I talked at length about how we can change reservation procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again, and we are working with the servers to provide them with positive ways of interacting with customers in these situations.

Reservation mixups happen for a variety of reasons; some are within our control, and we've implemented systems to minimize them. They can be as simple as having someone answer the phone who can count to ten. We only have ten tables, and you would think it's a pretty simple thing to do (I've messed up a couple of times myself), but we've now implemented a new system to keep better track of reservations and turns so that we can seat guests at the correct tables, on time. We've also made the commitment to have a dedicated host on the floor during dinner service- Angela has joined us full time now to do that, as well as to supervise the front staff to insure that our service is up to par.

When there's a problem with being able to get someone down on time for their reservation, it usually has to do with our ability to turn the tables. "Turning the tables" is how we refer to the process of serving a series of guests with reservations at the same table at different times during the evening.

Getting tables turned is a real, ongoing challenge in every small restaurant, everywhere. People have every right to expect to be seated within a reasonable period of time. There are a lot of different perceptions about why people get seated late; most of the time I hear it's because they think the restaurant wants to make more money by having them buy cocktails at the bar before being seated...

...I remember an experience I had years ago, at a well-known downtown steakhouse that had a reputation for doing just that; it was clear when we arrived that our table was set, watered and ready to go, with the server not otherwise occupied, yet still we were told that we had to wait at the bar- we were seated promptly after we'd finished our second round of drinks. I can't deny that may happen some places, but definitely not here. In fact, on busy nights, we'll take guests cell numbers, send them next door to The Palm and call them when their table is ready.

You don't want to have to wait for your table. That's why you make reservations, after all. Sometimes, though, things happen that prevent you from being seated on time. The most difficult turn is seven o'clock. To begin with, many of the five o'clock tables arrive late- anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half hour. We do everything we can to get their orders in, cooked and served promptly, without making them feel hurried, and most of the time we can get them contentedly on to whatever else they're doing that evening in time to have the table ready for the next reservation at seven. If the seven o'clock reservation is late, and we don't have another turn on that table, it's no big deal. If they are, we usually start thinking ahead to maybe moving that next reservation to another table if we have one available. Seven o'clock and later reservations sometimes tend to linger longer because they are there for the evening and may not be going anywhere else.

We want everyone to enjoy their dinners in a comfortable and relaxing way, and never ask for anything more than their understanding if indeed there is another group of guests waiting to be seated at the table they are occupying. In that case we'll simply ask them please if it's not too much trouble would they mind continuing their conversation and after-dinner drinks at the bar?

We believe that you should reasonably be able to expect to be seated within twenty minutes of the time you reserved, and are also willing to hold your table for that long should you find yourself running late. If we can't seat you within that time frame, I've asked Angela and the staff to offer you a glass of wine or a drink in appreciation for your patience. Having said that, though, if you're not here on time and twenty minutes goes by, and you haven't called to let us know you're running late, please don't expect us to hold your table for you if there is someone else who is waiting. We'll find you another table as soon as one opens up, and I think that's fair enough...

As for the gentleman I spoke with on the phone, I could do no more but express my regret that he'd been treated so poorly, give him my cell number to call should he decide to give us another chance, and my promise to do everything I could to personally see to it that he has a great experience. I truly hope he calls me and gives us that chance. He and his wife seem like nice people; exactly the kind of people anyone would want to have dining with them.

As with anything I do, I prefer to be straightforward. I've written about bad customers, and I'll never hesitate to write about us when we are bad, too. It's all part of the big picture. We're always going to be a work in progress. So far, people have been really cool about telling me both the good and bad things we do. Sometimes we change, and other times we don't. We still don't have high chairs, and we still don't serve Sunday Brunch. We do serve lunch, though. That's a big one, and that was your idea. We'll continue to evolve and improve, I promise.

 

Where's the Summer Going? 
July 25, 2010

As I stood at my saute station last night, enjoying a few moments of inactivity between orders and looking out the little kitchen window at the neon Miller High Life sign and the smokers across the street at Lee's Luxury Lounge, I was trying to think of what to take off the menu for Summer.

I've been so busy it's been nearly impossible to find the time to rework the menu, and it's become embarrassingly late in the season to be still trying to get it done. The truth is that there just aren't many things to change. It's not broke, so I think that if all we do is tweak a couple things that's probably for the best. I'm leaving the appetizers alone, adding walleye, and changing the tiramisu to a strawberry version to reflect the availability of good fresh berries. The mix of what's been selling has been all over the board, which is really nice, and also tells me that it's a solid menu, lending weight to my feeling that it's better to leave well enough alone. Barring anything weird happening, we should have it on the tables this week sometime.

One other thing you'll notice is that I've added a short note in the space above the salads that says, more or less, that we make lower acid dressings because they have less of a negative effect on the flavors of the wine you may be drinking and to allow the flavors of the salad ingredients to come through and stand out. I've had a few comments from people who want "more zip" in their salads, so we've upped the EVO to vinegar ratio a point or two, from 8 or 7:1 to 6 or 5:1 ("traditional" vinaigrette can be 4 or even 3:1), depending on the dressing; still fairly gentle and food friendly, but a little more assertive. European wines have an inherent acidity that is able to take on a little more vinegar in a salad than, say, wines from Napa or Sonoma. The note concludes by saying that we're always happy to add a little more vinegar to your salad if you'd like.

We had a nice review in The Shepard Express last week; thank you Jeff Beutner and Lindsey Abendschein for the nice article and pastiche of photographs of the restaurant. We were even featured in another national magazine called "The Week" last week, and had several people comment on how cool that was. It is cool, and also a little surreal. Having people come from out-of-state just to eat dinner can be a little unsettling. We've had people drive up from Chicago, take the ferry over from Michigan, and even a couple from Santa Barbara, heading to Chicago, who diverted to Milwaukee for a day to come and eat dinner with us. Being so busy is nice, but it also puts extra pressure on us and on the restaurant and equipment.

I realize that people make reservations a week or two in advance, and are really stoked about coming out to eat with us. I know that many look on the website at the menu and are excited to have something they see there. We are constantly making navarin and cassoulet, two of the biggest sellers. Rabbit legs are almost always going in the slow cooker, and I get fresh fish delivered almost every day from Milwaukee and Chicago. I try really hard to not run out of anything, but the restaurant kitchen is only so big and we only have so much storage space. The little walk-in cooler in the basement fills up with deliveries every morning then empties out as we process all the food for dinner service.

We seat 40 people at our ten tables and 8 more at the bar. In an average week we go through, more or less, about sixty to eighty pounds of lamb, maybe eighty to a hundred pounds of fresh fish and scallops, twelve to fifteen gallons of heavy cream, five to ten pounds of Callebault chocolate, thirty pounds of shrimp, two dozen ducklings and about as many chickens, two hundred pounds of potatoes, fifty pounds of onions, seventy five dozen eggs, and butter. Lots of butter. A hundred and twenty pounds or more, every week. We roll about twenty pounds of fresh tagliatelle, and make enough lemon tarts to blow through two or sometimes three big cases of lemons. We buy around a thousand dollars a week in fresh produce, not even including what I get from Braise RSA or the Farmer's Market, all of which has to be strategically jammed one way or another, along with the prepared food and desserts and cases of beer, into the tiny 8' by 10' cooler. It keeps everything fresh and rotating, for sure, but it is a logistical challenge every day to make sure nothing gets overlooked. The wine storage is a little better, though.

We'd originally had the wine stored on one side of the basement, but it was too near the cooler and freezer compressors (which generate a certain amount of heat) for it to be comfortable, so we moved it to the other side, cut a couple of small ducts in the air-conditioning stacks, tied a blue tarp up around it, and voila! The Pastiche Makeshift Wine Cellar and Chef's Office remains at a comparatively cool temperature and is much easier to keep organized.

I also bought a couple things last week that I'm kind of excited about- a new slicer for the kitchen and another new ice maker for the bar. The secondhand slicer I bought to open with made me pretty uncomfortable because it was all but impossible to use it with the hand guard in place and still get a reasonably decent result- the parts didn't fit together properly and I was always worrying that someone was going to get hurt, so I bought a nice, shiny new Globe that is much easier to use and clean. Because we've been so busy, and also had a little interruption of service with our ice machine a couple of Saturdays ago, we've been buying a lot of ice. I'd originally hoped that we could bag ice during down times and keep it in the freezer to use when we were busy but since we've opened for lunch and been so busy for both lunch and dinner, there really are no down times and that idea isn't working well at all. So I ordered another ice machine that we'll put in the basement and that problem should be resolved. The guy at the Marathon station will probably miss us, but I think the boys will still buy enough 5-Hour Energy drinks there that he'll be just fine.

So anyway, I didn't mean to go off on such a long jag, but that's why it's been a couple of weeks since I last had the chance to sit down and write. I'm going to try to do this every Sunday, because that's the only time I really have. Last Sunday I would have but we participated in an event down by the lakefront called "The Big Taste" which was pretty fun. There were a lot of restaurants there and it was cool to hook up with some good friends I don't get to see much of anymore. Because of the lack of time and storage space at the restaurant, we couldn't really make anything too fancy for the 300 or more people who were at the event, so we set up a little oyster station and Nick and Bobby shucked about 550 fresh oysters and got to meet a lot of nice people. My thanks to them and to AJ Dixon, who organized and supervised and talked me into doing the event in the first place. She's taking some time off right now to have a baby- we miss her at the restaurant and eagerly await her return in the Fall.

So look for the "new" menu this week (I'll change it on the web site, but maybe not today because I've got to get to the restaurant and pay some bills), and please let me know what you think when you come to dinner. I try to get to every table but it isn't always possible, so if you'd rather, send me a note at mike@pastichebistro.com and tell me. Good or bad, it matters to me.

 

"Being so busy is a good problem to have..." 
July 11, 2010

After the last table had gone last night, I took a quick look at the Micros reports before going down to the basement- it had been another busy week; our busiest yet, and by quite a bit, too. I was expecting a slow week; post-Summerfest, with the Water Frolics and Bastille Days going on. Not so.

"Being so busy is a good problem to have" is what people keep telling me, and though I know from a certain point of view they're right, I'm not sure I agree a hundred percent. I'm not in the restaurant business to make a fortune, or to get my "name out there". I love the work. I'm grateful to make a modest living, to pay the bank and bills, and be able to help my boys through school, the same as most people. People call and tell me to advertise in their paper, and to take advantage of the good press to market the restaurant and grow the business. There's a lot I don't know, for sure, about marketing a restaurant that's already as busy as we are. I do know that every time I see someone walk out the door, shaking his or her head after being told that we're sorry, we're all booked for the evening, I feel really bad- not (as more business-savvy people will tell me) that there are dollars walking out that door, but really that there was someone who thought enough of our restaurant to want to eat there and ended up having to go somewhere else. Should we expand upstairs? I don't know. Will the wave of business, fueled by good reviews, subside so we can establish a more realistic and sustainable business pattern? That's the real question. Time will tell, and then we can make some decisions and go forward. Right now, it's all I can do to try and keep food and wine coming in the back door so it can go out the front. We have so little storage space we have to get almost everything fresh every day. Sounds good, but it's still very difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy what's going to sell each night. One night we'll sell twelve chickens and three pork mignons and the next night that'll reverse itself. It's the same across the board, especially with the fresh fish. It makes ordering a challenge, to say the least. Don't get me wrong, that part of being so busy is a good problem to have. I just wish there were a few more hours in the day. If I just had a little more time, I could let my brain relax a little and be more creative. I could get working on the Summer Menu before it's time for the Fall Menu, and I could enjoy the time I spend working with the cooks and front staff so much more.

Right now, even just sitting here, I can't really follow a thought through from beginning to end without being interrupted by the work voice that says it's time to get going, there's so much to do and tomorrow will be here before you know it. Quiche crusts need to be made and rolled, bills need to be paid, payroll needs to be done, fish, meat and produce need to be ordered and I need to see if I can fix the front doorknob better so it doesn't keep coming off when people pull on it. The ice machine broke down yesterday, so I need to call my repair guy and leave a message to see if he can get out here tomorrow morning, and I need to leave Mario a note to let him know that the ADA access door on the South side of the building is sticking because the wood from the ramp has warped and the door scrapes against it. I just about throw my shoulder out every time I have to open it from the inside- I can't imagine how hard it would be in a wheelchair or with a walker from the outside. Then there's the stack of unopened mail on my desk... from the City of Milwaukee to the Sisters of St. Francis; you get pretty popular when you're in the restaurant business...

I love it, you know, and really can't imagine doing anything else. It's better than I'd ever dreamed, and being able to work every day with my boys, Angela and her son Frank, and the rest of the crew is more fun and rewarding than anything I've ever done before. Being able to share that with everyone who comes out to eat is an amazing feeling, and the times when I get to come out and visit with people make it all come together. The rest of the day recedes into the back of my head, the work voice quiets, and I just relax and soak up the happiness of the dining room. For a guy like me it just doesn't get much better than that.

 

"...please don't give us another opportunity to disappoint you." 
June 20, 2010

I met my friend Scott Williams and his wife Shannon at the South Shore Farmer's Market yesterday morning. Scott is the GM at Lake Park Bistro, and I first met him and Shannon when we worked together at Bartolotta's Catering. The Farmer's Market on a beautiful Saturday morning may seem an odd place to be talking shop, but we're restaurant people and that's what we do, pretty much.

A good review of your restaurant is a blessing; and three in as many weeks has brought a whirlwind of activity to our door that's been very difficult to deal with. In addition to the crush of calls for reservations, the phone rings off the hook with people trying to sell me everything from matted and framed copies of the review to noise suppressing fabric panels because the review said the restaurant gets noisy. People order all the dishes mentioned in the review, and it skews the normal menu mix dramatically. Customers pull copies of the review out of their pockets and purses to compare notes. Some take snapshots of their food with their phones; God only knows what they do with them.

The vast majority of the people who've been coming out to the restaurant have been totally cool, and get what we're doing. They'll be back and if we keep making them happy, will become loyal customers. Others come in to "kick the tires", and may or may not come back because we may not meet their expectations. Most of these people seem to think we're a fancier place than we are. Then there are the "one percenters", who just come in to rip on everything and everyone they can, which brings me back around to my original point in bringing up my conversation with Scott yesterday.

Every once in a while we have to 86 a customer. Telling them to not come back; they are not welcome, knowing full well that they will waste no time and spare no effort relating to all who will listen about how awful your restaurant is, is not easy or pleasant. It's not really a choice on our part, because the person in question has behaved in such a way as to put us in the position where we need to do it in order to restore order in the dining room and not let what's happening have a negative effect on the rest of the customers. We had our first one last week. I felt really bad about it, but this person was rude to the staff, disruptive to our customers, and clearly not happy with the food, drinks or service, so I picked up the tab for him and his guests and asked him not to come back in what was the most apologetic and courteous but firm way I could muster the energy for. I was telling Scott this, hoping he could give me some advice because he's been handling situations like that for years and is really great at everything having to do with the front of the house. He told me that the best line he'd heard for that type of situation came from Joe Bartolotta's brother Paul, who was Chef at Chicago's Spiaggia restaurant many years ago. "Please don't give us another opportunity to disappoint you". Respectful and just indirect enough to make the person think about it for a second or two, that's a great one, Paul. I just hope it's a long time before I need it again.

That aside, it's been another fantastic couple of weeks.

Ann Christiansen wrote a wonderful piece about the restaurant in July's Milwaukee Magazine. I've always enjoyed Ann's writing, and have always appreciated her criticism because she goes to great lengths to be accurate and fair. I can honestly say that in the case of both Ann's and Carol's reviews, the quibbles and criticisms were right on. Some things we've changed or may change, others we'll try to do better, and a few will remain because, well, that's just the way we do it. I couldn't be happier or more grateful because the reviews have brought in so many new people to our restaurant. I hope most of them come back many times and are always happy.

For those who aren't, all I ask is for the opportunity to address and correct whatever it is they don't like, and for those who won't be pleased, well, there's always that little gem from Chef Paul...

One last thing- to my Dad and all the Dads... have a happy Father's Day. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because I get to work with and spend time with my sons. It's why I do this, and my reason for getting up and going in every day. I'm so proud of them, and so grateful for their presence in my life. I hope we can have a long and successful run, and that the restaurant will help provide them with experiences and income that will enable them to have opportunities to live their own dreams. What could be better?

 

 

"The phone's for you..." 
June 6, 2010

Thanks, Carol, for the nice review and kind words- Pastiche remains a work in progress, and we'll work very hard to deserve the praise and even harder to correct our flaws and minimize our mishaps. Even with the incessant ringing of the phone, I couldn't be happier...

It's been a crazy week, for sure. We opened for lunch on Tuesday and by Friday we had a full house. Of course, Friday the review came out so the phone was ringing off the hook all day and night. Unfortunately, we'd already been booked for most of the weekend, and only had a few early and late tables available. On Saturday we had the same, with the addition of a note slipped under the front door by one of our neighborhood friends who couldn't get through. With a little juggling and some understanding from our customers, we were able to accommodate many of them and as far as I could tell we made it through the weekend with most people leaving happy and full.

On a side note, today is the 66th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied Invasion of and consequent liberation of France. As someone who holds all things French near and dear to my heart as well as having served in the 82nd Airborne Division many years ago, I'd like to say thanks to our WWII veterans...

... and I found out this week that one of my best friends' sons was wounded in Afghanistan- my best wishes to Steven for a safe trip home and a speedy and complete recovery.

Thinking about the big picture, our restaurant world seems small indeed... but the food doesn't cook itself, so I need to wrap this up. In the next few weeks, I'm looking forward to the Farmers' Markets and all the good things I can find there. In the mean time I'll be here at the restaurant, breaking down cases of chickens and ducklings (thanks to the review), and trying to juggle everything else without dropping any balls... or stepping in "le merde".

 

The reviews are coming in... 
May 28, 2010

Heading into Memorial Day Weekend and it looks like it's going to be a little slow. That's alright, though, because we have a lot of prepping to do in order to be ready for lunch service to start next Tuesday.

We've had a very busy couple of weeks. The reviewers have been in. Following the first review by the Bay View Compass earlier this month, onMilwaukee.com posted a nice piece on us this week, the Journal-Sentinal will be featuring us next week, and Milwaukee Magazine will have us in their July issue.

I'm grateful that the food writers think our restaurant is worth spending their time on, and even more so for the kind words they've given us. One of my favorite writers and critics was Roy Andries de Groot, who wrote for Esquire and died in 1983. He was blind and was always accompanied by his seeing eye dog, which may have been why he made no effort to dine anonymously. He told the restaurant when he was coming and to give him their best shot. I think that sounds like a fun way to do it.

Of course, I understand the anonymous approach, too. Ruth Reichl, when she was writing for the NY Times in, I think, 1993, wrote a famous review of Le Cirque in which she described the difference in dining there as a "nobody" versus after she was "made" as the NY Times Restaurant Critic.

Just like chefs, writers are all different and each brings his or her own art to our business. A good review can make a huge difference in our lives, and a bad one seems to hang like an albatross around our necks forever.

I try to just take it all in stride, and most importantly, not lose focus on what it is we're here to do. After all, we only have ten tables, and we've been quite busy. I'm concerned with all the day to day things I have going, and now that the last photographer has packed up and gone, I'm happy to be able to concentrate on getting ready for this weekend and lunch next week.

We're closed on Monday, to honor Memorial Day and to allow our staff to celebrate the day with their families and friends. We'll open at 11am on Tuesday for lunch. I'll be working on getting the luncheon menu posted on the website as soon as I can, but as I said before, we've been really busy and there just aren't always enough hours in the day...
Have a very happy and safe holiday weekend!

 

Why Restaurants Take Credit Card Numbers 
May 12, 2010

Midnight, sitting on the couch watching "Office" reruns with a bowl of mac and cheese and a half bottle of Premier Cru Meursault that a friend had left for me at the restaurant, I was turning things over in my head...

We'd had a busy night. In fact, if you'd have come in between maybe six and seven, you'd have been told that we were sorry but had no tables available. We'd set three tables aside for a reservation for ten that never called or showed up. By the time we finally decided that they weren't going to show and pulled the tables apart, several groups who'd wanted to eat with us and had been told we were sorry but couldn't accommodate them had gone somewhere else, disappointed. I was told that we'd turned away six or seven tables during that time, and felt very bad about that. Not so much from the point of losing business, but more because those people had thought enough of us to venture out in the rain and come to our restaurant, only to be told we had no table for them even though we had those three reserved tables that no one was going to be occupying.

With only ten tables, each one counts, even on a slower night. We normally wouldn't have taken a reservation for a group of ten people, but when the gentleman called last week, we had nothing else on the book and it seemed like it wouldn't be a problem. Well, we got burned, and so did those folks who came out and weren't able to get a table.

So, what do we do? We can do like other restaurants and take a credit card number for larger (6 or more) groups, or just not take those tables at all. I keep going back to the idea that we are trying to be just a small and simple neighborhood restaurant. It doesn't seem very cordial or neighborly to insist on taking someone's credit card number so you can charge them if they don't show up. On the other hand, it's a little inconsiderate to make a reservation for a large group and then no call-no show.

This is part of our business; it happens frequently enough to be a problem, and cause us to try and come up with ways to deal with it. One way is the credit card charge. I want to give it some more thought, and maybe some time to see if it continues to be a problem. There's also the possibility that somewhere along the line we got our wires crossed, and that those ten people will walk in the door tonight, or even next Tuesday. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

It was still a really good night, though. We had a table of wine guys, one of whom was French, having a great time. At the end of the night my friend Chef Jeff stopped by for a glass of wine and some frogs' legs. I joined him, and sitting at the bar, listening to the closing sounds of the restaurant- the slight clinking of silverware being polished and glasses being put away, the Velvets on the stereo, the French gentleman and the wine guys talking about great food and wine, and the staff talking about going out after work, I really felt like it was a good day after all.

 

Ups and Downs 
May 5, 2010

It usually takes me a few days to recover from Sundays. The restaurant is closed, so that's when I go in and do paperwork. After going over the weekly reports and doing payroll, I get out my checkbook and pay bills.

Even the most carefully prepared business plan can't take everything into consideration, and there will always be costs that can't be factored in because there is no way they can be accurately predicted. In our case, for example, energy costs. Because the building had never been used for a restaurant, there was no track record of how much energy it would require for a month of operation. I called around and got estimates to use for my planning, but when I opened my first WE Energies bills last weekend they were about 25% higher than I'd figured... and that's without even having the air conditioners installed yet (the landlords have promised me that they'll be putting them in soon). Last night I got my monthly charge from the company that processes our credit card transactions and it was over $900. And so on, with one thing after another; I'm sure you get the picture.

Of course, this isn't any different from what everyone else I know has gone through in opening their restaurants, and I've experienced it with every one I've opened as well. It's also not the end of the world. It's just a problem that needs solving, and with a couple of late nights and a little help from my friends, I'll figure it out and deal with it.

Anyone who knows this business knows that we don't get in it to get rich. You work your ass off every day just to be able to break even, and consider yourself lucky if you make it through your first year. There are so many things that can trip you up that you can't lose focus for a minute, and as soon as you think you're gaining ground, a refrigerator compressor breaks down on a Saturday night, or a new ordinance requires you to rebuild your handicap ramp, or a volcano erupts halfway across the world or oil spills in the Gulf and the prices of fish and shrimp go through the roof. No, you do it for love. For the passion you have for the food and cooking, the wine, the people who come out to enjoy your restaurant, and the people you work with. You don't have to beat people over the head with how passionate you are, either. They can see it and taste it. Me, I'd rather drive my old truck, wear jeans and sweatshirts and not have two nickels to rub together if it means I can buy good coffee, real butter, fresh fish and vegetables, Penzey's spices, and good chocolate. Belgian chocolate.

So, I try to balance out the additional bills by cutting down on some of the variable costs- the same as everyone else does. In a short time, we'll have another month of business under our belt, most of the initial and non-recurring costs will have been paid for, and we'll be able to refine things even more.

The important thing to me is that I want to keep my operating costs as low as I can so I can keep the menu prices as low as possible. We're not making money right now; in fact, we're still losing a little, but at least it's a little less than I'd figured. Since we opened two months behind schedule, it's going to take that much longer to recover, but it could be a lot worse. We've been doing great business and everyone has been really cool about sending their friends to check us out. With a few more busy months, things will be right back on track.

In the mean time, we're going to try something that's been working for other local businesses; asking people to please consider using cash instead of their credit card when they pay their bill. Help me keep the prices down, and keep as much of our money in the local economy as we can. Any little bit helps, and to show my appreciation, you'll receive a 3% discount off of your dinner bill whenever you pay with cash.

And by all means, keep coming out to dinner. People keep asking me why I came to Bay View to open a restaurant. There are a lot of reasons, but it all really comes down to the people who live there. When you are surrounded by people who like and appreciate good food and wine, and are so fiercely supportive of their local businesses, how could you go anywhere else?

...and I could be wrong, but it also seems that there isn't a single person here who's on South Beach, Atkins, or any other diet of the month, so even if there were nothing else, that alone would be more than enough reason for me!

Life is good again, and it's only Wednesday...

 

A Couple of Quick Things 
May 4, 2010

We rolled out the new Spring dinner menu last night to good reviews. We've replaced a few of the more cold-weather dishes with fresh fish, rabbit risotto, a couple of new salads, and several new desserts. Even though I'd intended to take the cassoulet off once the warmer weather came around, so many people told me to keep it on that I did, and will keep it on as long as you want me to.

We're going to open for lunch in a few weeks. I've always wanted to serve lunch here, but thought I'd be better off getting the dinner business established before trying to tackle that, too. With our evening business in full swing and the weather getting nicer, I believe it's a good time to make the next move. From 11-2 on weekdays we'll have a menu that features many smaller portions of our dinner items as well as several salads, soup, three or four sandwiches, and a quiche and omelette of the day. Maybe even a burger... what do you think, yes or no? Let me know the next time you're in or drop me a quick note.

Thanks again for your continued support- our first month was very successful and I couldn't be happier with all the people who keep coming back for more. I'm very grateful for your kind words and even for your criticisms as they all help us get better and let us know what you want.

 

Win Some, Lose Some 
April 25, 2010

A lady called for a reservation on Friday afternoon and asked if we have high chairs for children. We replied that, being a small restaurant and wine bar, we're really geared more toward grownups; a romantic dinner for two or a nice evening out with friends. She asked when we were going to get high chairs, and was upset when she was told that we weren't planning on it, at least in the near future. Later that evening, if memory serves, around seven o'clock, she came in with a group of other ladies, baby in tow, and sat down at her table. As she worked her way through dinner, passing the baby around the table for each person to take turns holding, nothing was right. At one point she told the waitress that the short ribs in the pot-au-feu weren't short ribs at all, and that she was a "foodie" and she knew what short ribs looked like. The waitress explained to her how we bone, roll and tie them for even cooking and presentation, but she wouldn't eat them and sent them back. During the course of the evening, she was able to spread her attitude to the other people at her table, and they hardly had a good thing to say about anything. At the end of their dinner, they ordered desserts then canceled just as the cook was finishing plating them, asked for the check, and then sat at the two tables we'd pushed together to accommodate them for close to another hour, preventing anyone else from being seated there.

These things happen. Not everyone will be happy, and we all accept that as part of what we do.

There is a difference between being unhappy with your dinner and walking in the door with a bad attitude and being rude all night just to make your point, and there is no good reason, ever, to take it out on a waiter or waitress who is trying very hard to please you.
When I go out to eat, I'm a good customer. I'm more inclined to help a struggling waitress open a bottle of wine than I am to criticize her for not being able to do it properly. Even if I weren't just generally disposed to be nice, I suppose in the back of my mind I might still hesitate to be abusive to a complete stranger who has my name, phone number, and probably my credit card number by the end of the night.

People in our industry, especially waiters and waitresses, take it every day and still manage to shake it off, smile and move on to their next table. It's a very difficult thing to do, and I admire them for their resiliency and professionalism.

I take a personal interest in your happiness every time you walk through the door to my restaurant. I want you to feel like you're a guest in my home, and enjoy every aspect of your evening with us. If you've already made up your mind that you're not going to be happy though, there's not too much I can do. If you're going to be rude to the waitress, or "punish" us by ordering food and either sending it back or canceling it after we've prepared it, and monopolizing a table for long after you've finished eating, then there's not too much I can do about that, either.

There's little likelihood that this lady will return. I know that, and even though I feel bad that she had a negative experience at my restaurant and will probably tell everyone she knows about it, it's all part of the business, and life goes on.

You see, for every one person like her, there are dozens of people who are happy and gracious. People who "get" the simple, straightforward food, wine and ambience that is bistro dining. When I go out to the tables I see people from the neighborhood who are thrilled to have a nice place that is affordable and different to come to. Many of them are dining with us once or twice a week, and I'm getting to know their names. I don't always get to visit with everyone; sometimes I get called back into the kitchen to cook, or if people are in heavy conversation and seem like they don't want to be disturbed I may move to the next table, but I do try to at least say hello to everyone and let them know how happy I am to have them here.

Things are smoothing out a little bit now. Aside from that one table, Friday night was wonderful, and last night was probably our best yet. The food is coming out a little better and faster each week, and I'm slowly catching up on my sleep and starting to feel like a human being again.

It really was a very good week.

I can't wait for Monday!

 

Requiem for the Savarin 
April 19, 2010

The savarin's off the menu. I knew we needed a fresh batch after the weekend, so I came in early this morning to make a new one. The first step is to gather all the ingredients, of course, so I went about doing that. In the process of looking for the yeast, I found croissant dough that hadn't been wrapped and therefore had dried out ($8.00), Cheeses that hadn't been wrapped and also had dried out ($25.00), Three cheese plates that had been assembled and not wrapped and had dried out ($4.00 ea.), some old soup from last week that had spoiled and was smelling up the cooler ($12.00), not to mention another half dozen other odds and ends (sample herbs from some purveyor that I never had time to look at and were now slimy, and a chunk of pork that somehow escaped everyone's attention and gone sour). All told, maybe $60.00 or so worth of food in the trash, which we really can't afford to throw away. But when you're a cook, and it's Saturday night and you have places to go and people to drink with after work, it's all too easy to miss a few things in the cooler...

And I never found the yeast.

With my disposition as sour as that chunk of pork, I decided that the savarin just isn't worth keeping on the menu. It's not the savarin's fault. He's just the victim of circumstances beyond his control. The dough is simple; just yeast, milk, butter, eggs- the usual suspects. The process is simple- mix, proof, mix, form, bake. He keeps well for days- submersed in a simple syrup. He's easy to plate and serve and tastes great. His downfall, though, was that no one seemed able to understand him, that he needed a little planning ahead, and time to do his thing.

He was a yeast dough, after all.

So now we have Angela's lemon tart, which, in reality, is more seasonal and popular. Maybe the savarin will make a guest appearance every now and again, who can say?
This is a strange business.

 

Checking In 
April 18, 2010

A lot's happened in the last three weeks, and all I can say is that I'm very grateful for the kind words and support of everyone who's come to visit the restaurant and enjoyed a glass of wine and a meal with us.

As with any opening or new venture, there have been a few misses and stumbles, but we've worked hard to correct them and appreciate the patience and feedback you've given us. We've also been about twice as busy as I'd planned for, which is a good problem to have, but also requires that more thought be given to things like reservation taking and ordering and storage of product... we're working on it every day.

I've had many people ask me interesting questions about the restaurant, the food and the wine list. I'll try to answer some of those questions as honestly and directly as possible, both on the dining room floor and here on the web site.

One of the most frequent questions is with regard to our wine prices. Many guests have commented to me that they find our prices to be very reasonable, which is exactly what my goal has been since I first started planning the restaurant. There is no set formula for wine markups in our industry. The same bottle of wine that you can buy for $10.00 at Woodman's might cost you $25.00 at a restaurant. People understand that in a restaurant you're paying for the service, but they also feel that in some cases restaurant markups seem excessive at up to four times the bottle cost (there are some cases where that kind of markup is entirely in order, though, as in the case of rare or older vintage wines). I understand, and I can tell you that we are set up so that our maximum markup is at two and a half times cost. Because every wine on our list priced under $50.00, it creates a situation where I have to find high quality, good tasting wines that pair well with food and are reasonably priced. Of course, I enjoy this, but it also means that you'll find that most of our selections are from Europe, and many are from smaller producers that aren't household names. One of the things I like most about going into the dining room during service is seeing all the different bottles of wine on the tables. We're selling lots of Albarino (one of the great seafood wines of Spain), Garnacha (a fruit-driven red wine, also from Spain, excellent for a light dinner), and of course the great wines of the Rhone, especially the Cotes du Rhone from Perrin and Roger Sabon, which are built for hearty braises like the pork osso bucco or short rib pot-au-feu.

On the menu side, much to my surprise, the cassoulet has been the biggest seller. We've been making duck leg confit two or three times a week, and big batches of cassoulet every other day. The shrimp and scallops with tagliatelle has been a close second, with the pot-au-feu and osso bucco coming along behind. On any given night, though, our fresh fish specials can take off, too.

Which brings me to another point... We do run out of fresh fish. The reason for this is that I'd rather sell no fish than fish that isn't fresh. I'll only order a few pounds of each kind of fish, and have it delivered or pick it up every day or two, and that means if we have a run on one thing or another, we may run out. As we go on and I can establish some kind of business pattern, it'll be easier for me to predict how much of each fish to buy, and we'll run out less often. Right now, though, I feel that if I have to disappoint a guest, I'd rather do so for not having the trout than for serving a piece of trout that isn't fresh.

Having said all that, though, I also want to say once again that I'm very grateful for how nice, patient, and welcoming everyone's been. So many people have commented on "how nice it is to have a fine dining restaurant in Bay View" that I want to close with one last thought...

I've spent most of my career in "fine dining" and I want everyone to understand that Pastiche is, and will always strive to be, nothing more than a simple and humble neighborhood restaurant. I've made many decisions during the course of setting the restaurant up that have been purposely geared away from fine dining. I want it to be a small local restaurant that you can stop in to after work or a walk and enjoy a nice glass of wine and maybe something simple to eat. We only have ten tables and eight seats at the bar, so there's not much chance that we'll ever be able to keep up with the big chains by the shopping malls. Milwaukee is a great food town, one of the most underrated in the country, and to be a part of the restaurant landscape here is really cool. Bay View suits me because of the independent spirit and the number of people who enjoy good, simple food that isn't overworked or overpriced (and my God, we like desserts, too!). I'm very pleased that people enjoy our food, and I hope to bring a new spring menu to print in the next three weeks (think lamb navarin, rabbit risotto, halibut with buerre blanc, lemon tart...). So don't let us ever get too stuffy or full of ourselves- and don't ever feel that you're under dressed or under appreciated. Just come in and say hello, and see what's cooking.

 

Week One 
April 5, 2010

We had a great first week, and thanks to everyone who joined us. It wasn't without a stumble here and there, but all in all, things went very well and I want to thank the staff for working so hard to make it a success.

I also want to let everyone who thought it was kind of warm in the restaurant last week know that Mario has assured me that he's buying and installing the air conditioners this week, so it should be more comfortable next time you come to dinner.

The warm weather also has me thinking about some Spring menu items and anxiously awaiting the first Farmer's Markets of the season. Look for escargots, rabbit, and a nice, refreshing lemon tart for dessert...

 

First Night 
March 30, 2010

We had a really good opening last night, and my thanks to everyone who joined us. It was much busier than any of us thought it'd be, and to give credit where it's due, the staff did a great job of keeping things running smoothly.

As much as I'd like to sit here and write, I need to get in to the restaurant to begin preparations for tonight. We went through a lot of food and wine, and I need to get on the phone and call some orders in before digging in to the prep work.

It's really nice to be busy again after all that waiting!

 

Open Monday! 
March 28, 2010

It's Sunday morning. I hurt in places I haven't even thought of in months; the last few days are kind of a pleasant blur, and I want to take my motorcycle out for a nice long ride to unwind.

In reality, I'm going in to the restaurant to assess the situation left from two shakedown nights, sort through the cash and reports, and maybe, if I have the time, remake a couple of desserts that didn't turn out the way I wanted them to.

A "shakedown" night, is when we open the restaurant up to friends and family members- people who are happy to come and eat, know that they're there to help you identify any problems that pop up, and are understanding when they do. The goal is to minimize the chance of something going wrong (i.e. the kitchen heat lamps draw more power than the electric circuit is designed to carry and the breaker keeps tripping, or three of the new wines are not correctly programmed into the point-of-sale computer, etc.) when the doors are finally opened to the dining public. In a perfect world, you'd invite, say, three or four tables the first night and double that the second night, to put a little more load on the system. Of course, it never really works out that way, but then again, this is the restaurant business. It's a three or four day mad scramble of ordering, triage, prep, running to the stores to pick up things like stick lighters, toothpicks, and a rondeau to make the French onion soup in (duh! How could I have forgotten that?). Then, you fight your way through those first few tables ("Who do I give this ticket to?") and things start to make a little sense. The next day you get right back to work, and it goes a little smoother and makes a little more sense. It's not easy, even after nine or ten restaurants, but it's fun.

There is no feeling quite like walking into your dining room and seeing your friends enjoying themselves.

After all the difficulties we went through to get open, it was worth it. My landlord and man responsible for building the restaurant, Mario, asked me the other day that if I knew last Fall what I know now, meaning that it would be so hard and take so long, whether or not I'd do it again. Of course I would. We still have work to do, and a lot of financial ground to make up for those lost months, but we're opening tomorrow, and right now that's enough to celebrate.

So come and have a glass of wine, and let me know what you think!

 

Down the Home Stretch 
March 18, 2010

I've been holding off writing this last week for two reasons- first, I wanted the next post to at least be able to include an opening date, and second, we're transitioning to another web hosting service and I thought it'd be nice to only have to type this in once! The last few days have been productive; the plumbers are done, the inspections are going well, and with the exception of yesterday when we suddenly and unexpectedly lost power to the restaurant, the electrical work is just about done.

It's really made a difference having two teams of workers going at this project. Judging by everything they've done, I think it'd have put us back another several weeks without them. We've started cleaning up, and will continue to do so today and tomorrow. We just have one or possibly two last inspections, and their outcome will determine when I can get occupancy and start cooking. It'll take several days to order and receive product, a few more to process and prep, and then we'll be ready to go.

Getting back to the new web site- it is, in my opinion, much nicer than the previous one because it's easier to navigate, much quicker, and focuses more on the menu and wine list. Everything is easier to read, and it has a nice look (except for the picture of me). The creative work has been done by Michael Sullivan, who lives just down the street. We're going to be filling it in with additional pictures as soon as possible, and it should be up and running any day now.

As for that opening, well, I have to think that next week looks good. If you drive or walk by, look for the cafe curtains in the windows- Angela's mom, Nanette, made them, and we're waiting until the last minute to put them up because they are really nice and we don't want them to get dusty from the cleaning! If you see the curtains, we're just about there. Also, starting on Tuesday, our phone will be operational (414) 482-1446. We'll take a limited number of reservations, because it's no fun to drive crosstown and not be sure of having a table; however, because we're a neighborhood restaurant first and foremost, we plan on keeping a few tables open for walk-ins as well.

I heard it's supposed to snow this weekend. If everything goes well, I just might be able to get a pot of cassoulet going; give me that and a bottle of Gigondas to tuck into on a chilly day, and I'm a happy boy.

 

Calling in the Cavalry 
March 7, 2010

3/6/2010 After several long discussions with the building owners, they've agreed with me that the quickest way to get the restaurant open is to call in a contractor to help with finishing the last few things that need to be done before occupancy is approved. I'm being told that the work should be completed this coming week, which means we could open as early as the following week. Should that actually happen, the only people happier than me might be Mario, Steve and Bob, the building owners (my landlords), who have actually been doing the build-out for the restaurant and dealing with me being in there every day bugging them to work faster!

If you happened by the restaurant last Thursday night you might've seen us all inside, participating in a two-hour wine training. Because the list consists mostly of French, Spanish and Italian wines, it's important to familiarize everyone with their names, characteristics, and what foods they match well with. We tasted through twelve wines, and all were delicious. As soon as I can get cooking, the kitchen crew and I will be doing the same with the dishes on the menu, so you can be confident when you come in that your waiter or waitress can speak from experience when answering your questions about our menu and wine offerings.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a radio story about veterans who are taking advantage of SBA programs to open businesses and create jobs in our community. It was for WUWM, and the reporter who was working on the story told me that it should air late next week sometime. It was an interesting experience- a first for me, but as I listen to public radio a lot, I thought it'd be fun and it was.

Two other things on my mind... the warm weather this weekend has me thinking of the Spring menu; and the number of people I've encountered lately eating lunch at other nice Bay View restaurants has me reconsidering my position on serving lunch...

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and comments; just drop me a quick line at mike@pastichebistro.com

 

Milestones 
February 28, 2010

So, we didn't make our goal of opening in January, and now we've missed February as well. Nothing is going to bring those weeks back, so let's instead look forward and be grateful that we're almost there.

The guys are working hard this weekend in a push to finish the last few things. The hood fan and make-up air units over the hot line are finally done, the new ADA accessibility ramp is done, and the walk-in cooler is running and holding temperature nicely. They're hanging a new vent hood over the dish machine today, and finishing up work on the walk-in freezer. The plumbing team is working tomorrow to hook up all the sinks and appliances, and the building owners have scheduled the fire suppression system tests and building inspections for tomorrow as well.

There is a lot of cleaning up to be done, and still a few small things like hanging towel dispensers in the rest rooms and smoke detectors in the dining room, but if everything passes, I may be able to get occupancy this week. "Getting occupancy" is the term used to indicate that the building has passed all the necessary inspections and is fit to be used by the public. Once that happens, I'll be able to go downtown and pick up my licenses and permits, which will in turn allow me to order food, liquor, and wine to prepare and serve in the restaurant.

Opening a restaurant is, admittedly, something of a quixotic undertaking. As difficult as it can be at times, what keeps you going is the belief, however fanciful, that you're doing something that will benefit others. Some you provide with a nice dining experience, others you provide jobs for. If you do your job well, you teach the people who work for you, and pass on skills that will enable them to be successful in their own right someday. We'll continue to work hard to earn our place in the restaurant community. Not one part of this process has come easy, but on that day when we finally do open the doors, all it'll take is seeing one person enjoying their dinner to make it all worthwhile.

On a side note, my Grandmother passed away early this morning at the age of 96. My cousin David and I are both chefs, due in no small part to the happy times we enjoyed at her table. Grandma was a wonderful cook and never failed to put out a bountiful spread of food and wisdom whenever anyone visited. She leaves behind a rich legacy of love for her family and delicious food that we'll all try our best to carry on in her memory.

 

Eleven Things! 
February 22, 2010

WE Energies has the sidewalk and street in front of the building torn up this afternoon, so I'm enjoying the hospitality and fine coffee at Anodyne. Once the gas gets hooked up, we can crank up the new furnace and have heat again; maybe even get the ranges connected and start cooking soon. The building owners and their architect met with the inspector last week, and are getting close to finishing the list of eleven things that need to be done before we can get our occupancy and finally open up. Eleven things sounds like a lot, but most of them are either already done or in the process of being done. The only three that are concerning me at the moment are getting the compressors and fans for the walk-in cooler and freezer, installing a code-compliant condensate hood over the dish machine, and building a new ADA ramp outside the South side door. If those things can be finished this week, then some tests can be run (balancing the air exchange, fire alarms, etc.), permits can be issued, and we can start cooking next week. Unless something else goes sideways on us, that is. Really, though, I have to say once again that I'm impressed with the quality of work they're doing. As much patience as it's taken, and as hard as it's been to deal with the delays, the place looks really good. I can't wait for you to see it. Maybe next week??

 

Happy Valentine's Day! 
February 14, 2010

Had anyone told me, back in November, when the building's owners promised me that they'd be finished with the construction and ready for occupancy by December 15th, that I'd be sitting here today writing this, I would've had a hard time believing it. Yet, here I am, trying very hard to be patient, knowing that there are people I've hired to work at the restaurant who need to get started in order to pay their bills. Each day that I go to the building and see only one or two guys working makes it harder for me to understand how the owners expect me to believe they are doing everything they can to get the work done... and it will take just "one more week".

Having said all that, though, there is work getting done. The exhaust hood seems to be nearing completion. It's kind of hard to tell. As anyone who's ever dealt with contractors can tell you, they can be difficult to keep track of and nearly impossible to get answers to questions like "When is the work going to be completed?" from.

The guys are working today to repair the walls they had to tear apart to build support headers for the exhaust ducts, hang the ceiling in the kitchen, finish the walls and floors in the walk-in cooler and freezer, and tie up a bunch of electrical loose ends. There may also be some plumbing happening, too. After that, I think they're down to a list of relatively minor things to finish- when I say minor, I mean things that don't require walls to be deconstructed or blueprints to be redrawn and approved. I won't even speculate anymore on when it'll be done- there are just too many factors involved that I have no control over.

When things go poorly, we all have a tendency to blame other people- especially when we have no control over what's going poorly or any reasonable recourse to correct it. I try hard to stay focused on the big picture, and to try to see things from the other person's point of view. As long as I believe that people are being honest with me I'll stick with them. I wanted to open Pastiche on this corner in this building because it's the best place for me to be. People who know me know how much I love Milwaukee and how happy I am to be coming home to the city after all those years in Lake Country.

I had a good idea of what I was going to be dealing with. People told me that the owners were "dreamers", and that they'd been working on the building for anywhere from 5 up to 8 years (I'm told it's 6). Those people were right, and I appreciate their candor- these guys are definitely dreamers, but they're also human and after the last several months of dealing with them, I've come to believe that they simply underestimated the amount of time and money it would take to complete the space for the restaurant (it happens all too frequently), and that's put us all behind schedule. Because they are new to restaurant construction, it's possible they didn't realize all the extra requirements they require as opposed to, say, a retail shop. They've been working hard to deal with everything that's been happening, and have been trying to bring the same high level of quality to the construction that I will bring to the restaurant. So yes, they are dreamers. I'm a dreamer, too. We all are when we get to the stage in our lives when we embark on our own enterprises, whether they are buildings or bistros.

All things considered, I think I can remain patient for a little while longer. As hard as it is for me (I haven't been in front of a stove for almost three months now), it just makes me that much more enthusiastic to finally get going. To help alleviate the frustration, I've spent a lot of time diving into my old cookbooks and notes, looking for things I've missed or rediscovering some long-forgotten dishes that I think will be cool to have on the menu. I've been sourcing out great ingredients and tasting some fantastic wines, so that when we finally do open the doors, it'll be worth the wait.

This business is all about love- a passion for cooking and for making people happy. Which brings me back around to Valentine's Day. I'm so sorry that we couldn't be open for you today, because nothing would've pleased me more. Next year (if they're done by then), it's a date!

 

Closer Still 
February 6, 2010

We're still working toward resolving issues with the hood fan. As many people are aware, restaurant fires are often related in some way to the exhaust hood, so it pays to be extra cautious when installing it in a hundred year-old wooden building!

Otherwise, things are rolling along steadily. Signs should be going up late next week, and the walk-in coolers are being built today and finished Monday or Tuesday. Thanks everyone for your patience and encouragement!

 

Menu & Wine List 
February 4, 2010

I know the menu and wine list are small and hard to read. They're there, though; I consider that a small victory- and even a small victory is pretty sweet these days.
Tomorrow we start cleaning up the dining room; all the dust from the construction, baseboards, ductwork, and windows. The window graphics are scheduled to be applied tomorrow afternoon, so I'll be able to take down those "Opening in January 2010" signs that have been taunting me and put them away. If you pass by this weekend, you may see us assembling the tables, dusting off the chairs, and polishing glasses. The hi-fi stereo needs to be hooked up, and so does the new telephone. By the way, our new number is (414) 482-1446, but the phone's still in a box in my office so give us a few days.

If nothing else goes sideways on us- and there really isn't all that much left that can, we'll be putting the finishing touches on the dining room and bar this weekend, Monday and Tuesday. We'll then move into the kitchen on Thursday or Friday and start cleaning that up. If we get our licenses promptly, we'll do a shakedown night next week, and then open the doors the following evening.

I had a very nice surprise several days ago. Rachel Karr, an MATC student I met a couple of years ago at a Ronald McDonald House Dinner at the Italian Community Center, stopped by to say hi and check out the restaurant (I was so impressed by her work at the ICC that evening that I offered her a job at the club I was at; she accepted and has done excellent work there since). We talked and she has decided to join us at Pastiche. Rachel is very talented, and has a really nice touch with food. I believe she'll be a very successful chef and I'm pleased to work with her again.

So we're almost there. Just a matter of days now, I think, and we'll be able to fire up the stoves, roast some bones and get the stocks and demis going. Which brings me back around to the menu. Combining tips from my sister Lisa and my neighbor Hap. I saved the Word document as a PDF, then the PDF as a JPEG. The site server accepted the JPEG, and voila, it was posted. If anyone has an idea how I can blow them up a little bigger, please drop me a line and I'll give it a try. I'm sure it's something simple, but then again, I'm a chef, remember?

 

Computers aren't my thing.
January 30, 2012

Websites aren't either. I've been trying in my spare time to try to figure out a way to get the menu and wine list up on the site, but have been repeatedly foiled by the host server's inability to deal with any of the formats I've tried to upload them in. I think I made some progress yesterday, but I'm not sure... I also recently made the switch from a PC to a Mac, and the website plan is set up in Windows. As if just opening the restaurant wasn't enough! There is, of course, a learning curve when switching, and I'm navigating through as best I can. I'll keep working on it this weekend. If you check the menu page and see it up, you can smile knowing I've succeeded.

The restaurant construction continues. Thursday, the city informed the owner of the building that the hood fan in the kitchen needed to exhaust out the North side of the building instead of the South side. This set into motion all kinds of craziness, as the original blueprints showing the exhaust on the South side had already been approved and the construction had commenced. Of course, this will once again set our opening back, as we can't do anything without a hood fan. It's really frustrating for all of us, and very costly as well, but those things happen and you just have to take a deep breath and then let it go...

On the bright side, though, we've managed to forge ahead with everything else. Hiring is complete, and once again I'll say that I believe we've got the best opening team I've ever had the pleasure of working with. We're all very anxious to get going. All the equipment is here, the chairs and tables, china, glassware, lights, artwork... everything but the food and wine, which has to wait until the inspections have been completed.

Patience...

 

Paint Fume Euphoria 
January 22, 2010

I'm very sorry to hear about the fire at Pizza Man- I enjoyed many great pizzas and bottles of wine there over the years and my heart goes out to everyone who worked there. I hope for a rebuild...

As I write this, the fumes from the fresh yellow paint are making me feel slightly euphoric and almost willing to believe that we just might be open the week of February 1st... This has been a busy week for us, as we've taken delivery of pots and pans, china, silverware and glassware, and light fixtures. AT&T is here hooking up our phones and internet, and vendors are coming out of the woodwork.

I've met with and hired a few more good people to round out our staff- Charlie, Chris, Valerie, and Jenny, all with great experience and anxious to get started. I'm anxious to get started too. It's really hard to sit here surrounded by pots and pans and stoves and not be able to cook!

The wine list is done- at least for the opening few weeks. It'll change constantly to keep things fresh and interesting, of course, but for now we've got what I consider to be a pretty solid list of nice wines that you won't find everywhere else. Being that we're a French restaurant at heart, the list is mostly French, with some really nice Spanish and Italian selections, and also some from the USA. They're all tasty, many of them are from organic producers, and are priced from $16-$50, with glass prices starting at $4.

 

Neighborhood Stuff 
January 6, 2010

Construction continues as we enter the final weeks before opening, and with a lot of hard work and a little good luck, it may still happen by the end of this month. Alderman Tony Zielinsky hosted a neighborhood meeting at Pastiche on Monday night, and I had the opportunity to meet upwards of twenty people who were nice enough to stop by, ask questions, and enjoy some Anodyne coffee and snacks.

Three people from the neighborhood have joined our staff in the last week or two, and their energy, experience and enthusiasm are impressive. AJ, Alex and Marita- welcome aboard! There are still about forty or fifty more resumes for bartenders and waiters/waitresses to sift through, which I'll try to narrow down to a more manageable number and call next week.

We posted an ad on Craigslist looking for tables and chairs this week. The goal is to have a "pastiche" of several different but somewhat similar chairs and tables purchased from consignment shops, on Craigslist, etc. (reduce, reuse, recycle). We need more, so if you or someone you know of has chairs or pedestal-based tables that need a good home, please let me know.

The kitchen and front of the house equipment has continued to arrive. We received our wine cooler yesterday; it was damaged and we had to send it back, but so far everything else has been just fine. China and flatware are ordered, and wine glasses will follow this Friday.

One last thing; thanks for the nice notes and kind words of encouragement. This is a nerve-wracking, anxious time, and it really helps. Thanks also to Michael Timm and the gang at the Bay View Compass for the great article this week! As always, if you're in the neighborhood and want to get in out of the cold, please feel free to come in and visit.

 

 

 

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