Musings of a Chef....
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".Updated: June 6, 2010 11:08 AM
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!Updated: May 28, 2010 11:29 AM
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.Updated: May 12, 2010 8:26 AM
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...Updated: May 6, 2010 8:12 PM
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.
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!Updated: April 26, 2010 5:51 PM
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.Updated: April 19, 2010 9:33 AM
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.Updated: April 18, 2010 9:10 AM
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...
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!Updated: March 30, 2010 8:05 AM