In Bay View, where one is always within a stone's throw of a sandwich, great pizza or Mexican meal, it's been somewhat surprising that something a bit more upscale hasn't yet entered the neighborhood.
Enter Pastiche Bistro and Wine Bar, 3001 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., a mid-range French Bistro that promises Mediterranean, Spanish and Italian influences to create a luxurious feeling, yet affordable venue.
Pastiche is tiny -- the dining room holds a mere 48 guests -- and on weekday visits, it was busy enough that on one occasion we dined at the bar for lack of unreserved space. No problems there, as the bar is small, but lovely, and packed with punch. An excellent varietal section is flanked by Pierre Ferrand cognacs (think high, high end, and a rarity in Milwaukee).
That said, Pastiche allows you to spend as little, or as much as you care to on a wonderful evening, which makes the new restaurant accessible to just about every walk of life-perhaps a kind parallel to the neighborhood in which it opened. Happy hour runs Monday through Thursday to 6 p.m. with half-price appetizers and wine by the glass for those looking for something a bit less expensive but with upscale flair.
Appetizers offer all the French standards (escargot Bourguignonne, $10.50; pate with cornichons, $7.50; onion soup, $4.95, and cuisses de grenouilles -- frog's legs, $9.50), but also offers some enticing, less commonplace selections like pork rillettes -- shredded pork with cornichons and French bread ($8.50).
Dinners begin with Pastiche's complimentary mini-martini glass filled with assorted olives, a tiny container of blanched almonds, and a basket of bread and butter. Following that up with an appetizer special of mussels ($8) on one visit, and the pate on another left us nearly full, and very happy before our entrees arrived.
Pastiche offers at least two nightly specials, usually a fish and then a meat selection. On one visit, we sampled a seared pork tenderloin and belly that was plated over a delicious wild mushroom and Armagnac risotto. The pork was cooked absolutely expertly and the slight hint of Armagnac made that risotto one of the better renditions I've sampled.
Halibut ($21.95) in a lemon beurre blanc-style sauce with capers was flaky to the fork, and popped with citrus flavors. Tiny roasted potatoes and haricots verts with slivered almonds well complemented the sultry fish.
Shrimp and scallops with homemade tagliatelle ($17.75) was also a serious winner at Pastiche, and is available in vegetarian form as well. The pasta was pure perfection, and the light sauce of garlic, butter, white wine, lemon and basil sang with bright flavors of spring.
While still in its infant stages, the menu still rings truly French, although a glimmer of Italian shows in the dessert menu with tiramisu ($5.95) appearing alongside crème brulee and a plateau de fromages (cheese platter).
But I elected the baked apple tart tatin ($5.95), an upside down apple tart served with just a small dollop of ice cream and a rich caramel sauce. It was a lovely sweet end, to a very indulgent and wonderful meal.
Still with wine, appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert, we came in well under what we would spend at other French restaurants in the area, and the weekday happy hour makes Pastiche even more attractive if you're in the mood for top-shelf escargot on a tighter budget.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.