Restaurant review: Pistacia Vera's expanded North Market spot spreads joy to all
From a distance the sign resembles a huge disembodied eyeball elevated above a corner space toward which it gazes. Moving closer and tracing its focus - the intently "staring" peeper encourages this - your own eyes settle on handsome sculptural forms above beautiful, glittering objects placed in what could be a museum case. But you're not in an art gallery, you're in the North Market, and what you've come upon is the new Pistacia Vera shop and its ocular-like pistachio nut logo.
For the affordable and incomparable Pistacia Vera, I haul out superlatives like: the most elegant and spectacular treats from the best Columbus pastry shop ever. In fact, if you said Pistacia is better at what it does than all other food operations in town are at what they do, I couldn't argue. Pistacia's that outstanding, and now that it's expanded, I have more access to its incredible offerings.
Located in North Market's northwest corner, Pistacia's modest-sized set up stands out for many reasons; immaculate tidiness plus an apparent ban against the extraneous are just two. So there is gleaming stainless steel machinery, a lengthy and impeccably maintained butcher board plus homey cupboards. Practically everything else is near-flawless scrumptiousness - and there's plenty of it.
This edible art, which starts with doughs mixed at Pistacia's German Village home base, is formed, freshly baked and gorgeously decorated on-site here every day by talented bakers in pristine whites. So far (as gracious front-of-the-house employee Katie Petro explained), old friends have welcomed Pistacia back to the Short North, where it began in the now-Tasi location, and new friends - who for incomprehensible reasons didn't know about Pistacia - are being made daily.
So grab some smooth-yet-robust coffee ($2; it's a three-bean blend specially sourced and dark-roasted for Pistacia by Cafe Brioso) and dig in. Like all great French pastry, Pistacia's fare is delicate-yet-sensual, with textures frequently proceeding from flaky to much denser.
Perfect Parisian macarons ($1.50) helped put Pistacia on the map, and the lovely "nut meringue" cookies with evanescent shells and intense centers are still their most popular item. The pure-tasting vanilla version (Petro's favorite) is an excellent gateway nosh for Pistacia novices.
If brunchy stuff beckons, the exceptional quiches ($11 with a nifty little salad/lemony vinaigrette) feature pretty golden-brown "lids," crazy-great puff pastry crusts and dreamy, custardy curds. Try the intoxicatingly smoky Bacon, Kale and Onion or the refined-cheese-driven and diced-veggie-laden Ratatouille.
Pistacia's large and remarkable croissants ($3) crush everybody else's. Even the "healthier" (if characteristically unshy with the butter) Whole Grain - nutty, heartier and just-sweet - is insanely delicious and an unmitigated joy to eat.
Other joys are aromatic tea cakes with impossibly moist interiors (canneles, $2) and jewelry-like dessert slices of almond-paste-based Pear Cranberry Frangipane ($5) plus Pistacia's glorious Lemon Tart ($6).
Wanna have a morning-roll epiphany? That's what I had after ripping into the glazed, fruit-popping and baker-recommended Pain (it's French for bread, silly) au Raisin ($4). Sure, that crinkly-yet-chewy, dainty-yet-powerhouse whorl of many-layered lusciousness made my hands sticky, but it also made my brain grateful for simple-yet-ineffable pleasures in a sometimes tough and always complicated world.
More people deserve access to such transporting and affordable treats. Who knows? Maybe if this branch takes off, it'll spawn an army. And how great would that be, to be hungry and flustered in a distant airport when suddenly you see … a giant "eyeball" showing you the way to happiness and relief?
Pistacia Vera, North Market
59 Spruce St., Arena District