Wednesday, September 26, 2007

REVIEW: Pastiche- **** / $$$

Nestled along a back road of Federal Hill, Pastiche has been serving up some of the best desserts in all of Rhode Island since 1983, and the state has been all the better for it. Combing a good selection of some of the best coffee available, unmatched desserts, a bustling and friendly staff, and perfect atmosphere, Pastiche is a total gem.

Pastiche is so perfectly decorated. The outside, the sign, everything about it would allow it to just as easily sell drapes and knitting supplies as be a cafe. It's so friendly that you expect Meg Ryan to own it. Inside is cozy and can get pretty cramped during busy hours. The table density also makes any walkable areas rather treacherous what with wait staff flying around at Mach 4 with loaded platters.

Seating is first-come-first-serve, so if you show up on a Friday at 6pm, you may have a serious wait ahead of you. I've never waited much more than fifteen minutes for a table, which highlights the quick sojourns of most patrons. Everything is comfy and welcoming. While you're waiting, you can gaze upon their large selection of cakes, tortes, custards, pies, and other girth-enhancing items so by the time you sit down you're so freaking hungry you'd just as soon eat your waiter as order something.

Once settling in, and getting a new waiter, the coffee menu is generally whelming. It's got all the usuals --mocha, latte, etc.-- but nothing that really shows the hand of an inventive barista. The coffee is some of the strongest I've ever had, if not the strongest. As if when roasting the beans, they just set them directly on fire. The deep, powerful coffee flavor is something that will probably overwhelm Americans weaned on the weak concoctions of Starbucks (nothing against Starbucks, though). They seem to hand-make their espresso, since the varying strength of the drinks betrays the absence of an automated machine. Not really a bad thing, but sometimes the coffee is masterful, and other times it's just good. The only real Baristatic (Webster! I got a new word for you!) snafu is coffee that is sometimes not just strong, but burnt. If you have complaints, though, the friendly staff will happily replace your cup.

The pastries and cakes, which change seasonally, are the real stars. Everything is made in-house, and there are so many items to try it's pointless to try and list them. The standouts are the fruit tart, which is the best in Rhode Island, a chocolate mousse cake that leaves you always wanting more, and the airy Italian mascarpone torte. Their chocolate layer cake and chocolate torte have also, on occasion, been very dry. But don't think I'm saying it was bad, because it was still fantastic, but it was a simple mistake that shouldn't have been made.

Still, no errors can really detract from the ineffable charm of this quaint, Federal Hill haunt. Fabulous coffee combined with mostly amazing desserts gives Pastiche the honor of being one of the Rhode Island's best cafes and bakeries. I make a trip at least once a month, where you'll find me, nursing my latte and notching my belt seemingly forever outward. I may grow, but at Pastiche, I grow with a smile.

All orders and pickups must be made before 7pm. Oh, and don't get the large fruit tart. Believe me, you won't finish it.

UPDATE 9/6/2008: After a number of visits, I think it should be mentioned that Pastiche has a pretty dodgey record when it comes to the espresso drinks. Drip coffee is fine, but as I mentioned in my review, the espresso was very dark. Well, I've had more than a few drinks that aren't just dark, they're burnt, really burnt. Burnt, bitter, sour, with poor milk on top. I've had some drinks that were basically unacceptable. I feel that what I wrote didn't drive the point home.

I can find no pattern, as in the drinks are only bad on weekends, so it's a crap shoot if you're going to get a well-made drink or a slapdash. I'm not going to amend my review since when the drinks are good, they're good, and the atmosphere and baked goods overcome sporadic weakness... for now. So be forewarned. If you demand the best in espresso, you may want to stick with tea.

Pastiche: ****
Price range for two: $10-$25

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Pastiche Fine Desserts
92 Spruce St
Providence, RI. 02903

Tuesday through Thursday 8:30am to 11:00pm
Friday and Saturday 8:30am to 11:30pm
Sunday 10:00am to 10:00pm

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