Bartolotta's Bacchus is something special
Bacchus, the Roman adaptation of the classic Greek god of wine, Dionysus, represents not only the intoxicating properties of varietals, but also their social and beneficial influences. Bacchus was a peacemaker, a lover of serenity, a lawful god. It is fitting then that the Bartolotta restaurant Bacchus, 925 E. Wells St., boasts an impressive wine list and a professional, yet beautifully calm environment for which to pair those wines with impressive food.
Two visits two Bacchus brought us two very different experiences. Diners are able to sample selections in the bar area, a decidedly more casual and boisterous environment, or in the painstakingly formal dining area, which bears little if any resemblance to Milwaukee's much loved former romantic restaurant, the Boulevard Inn.
The formal dining area shines with lovely mirrors, leather chairs and banquettes, and while our server pointed out that the close proximity of tables leaves little room for intimacy, the layout and the glass wall that displays the hundreds of bottles of Bacchus' wine selection are most impressive.
Dining in the bar area left us with some server issues; on a busy Thursday evening, we waited for initial service, and then watched our appetizers sit at the bar for more than five minutes before, upon our request, someone finally brought them to our table. But once delivered, the food was very good. The presence of intermingled cuisines and culinary techniques is prevalent here, one of the aspects that truly makes Bacchus something special.
Bacchus tuna tartare ($13) came with complements of wasabi tobiko caviar and fried crisp wontons. We loved the buttery texture of the tuna and the caviar, but preferred to sample both without the wontons, which while delicious, we felt overpowered the delicacy of the tuna. Roast beef carpaccio ($11) arrived with fried onions, baby arugula, and a mustard-mayo combination that was truly delicious. Crispy Gulf shrimp ($13) was served "feuille de brick," wrapped in a crepe-thin French pastry, and drizzled with agrodulce, an Italian version of sweet and sour sauce.
Service issues at Bacchus continued on our second visit, this time in the formal dining area, where we were the first table to arrive on a weekday evening. Timing for servers is often more difficult when a restaurant is slow, and we seemed to fall prey to this issue on our visit; we found ourselves sitting too long with empty plates and having to seek out help for water, bread, and cracked pepper for our soup. Perhaps I carried too high of expectations because service at Bartolotta's sister restaurants, Lake Park Bistro and Ristorante Bartolotta, is impeccable, but nonetheless, I have come to expect that quality of care in Milwaukee's better restaurants.
A scallop appetizer ($15) was a delightful combination of flavors and textures featuring a mache salad (a light, buttery lettuce with baby oval shaped leaves), roasted roma tomatoes, and a truffled parmesan risotto cake that was heavenly. The seasonal soup of porcini mushroom served atop a single lobster ravioli was rich, creamy, and utterly divine. Red wine braised beef shortribs ($26) were the best rendition we have tried in town and arrived picture perfect with a potato and celery root puree and fresh horseradish garnish. The sautéed Atlantic salmon ($24) was also excellent in a light Dijon and herb crumb crust, appearing over a bed of sautéed rapini, and with a creamy potato puree surrounded by rich red wine sauce in a faultless presentation.
Bacchus follows the French practice of offering cheese for sampling after entrées, but we had little room to sample the five lovely cheeses they offer, which are brought in on a rotating basis, and would be reason enough for a stop after work for a glass of wine and a sampling of both local and regional cheeses. Après cheese, desserts at Bacchus are godly as well, true to form for a restaurant named after one who valued quality and richness; envision fresh crème brulee, molten chocolate hazelnut cakes, and other delicacies that make for a heavenly end to dinner at one of Milwaukee's better restaurants.
Food-Great Service-Friendly, but unprofessional. We were at Baccus last night and the food was great, but the service did leave a lot to be desired. You should not have to ask for water glasses to be refilled at a place like this. Everyone was very friendly, it just wasn't very professional service.
I was at Bachus once because I was given a gift certificate. It is a gorgeous restaurant but the food was defintely nothing to write home about. The service too, was equally underwhelming. I've been to other Bartolotta's restaurants and the service is usually not the best but the food usually is pretty good. Bachus needs to step it up a bit in service and food, especially considering there are at least 3 other restaurants within walking distance that are far better: Yanni's Steakhouse, Coast and the new Mason Street Grill.
For what I paid, Bacchus wasn't worth the trip. Sure the atmosphere is nice, but the service was significantly sub par. The breaking point for me was when I ordered the Tuna. The server asked how I wanted it, and I said medium rare. It came to me well done, not something you would expect at a place like this. When I asked the server about this, her reply was "we have a new chef and he has a problem with temperatures". I have been to other Bartolotta restaurants, and they have been very good. Based on my experience, and reading some of the coments that others have made here, it will be awhile before I decide to give Bacchus another chance.
I too would have to agree about the service. It can be spotty. In the last three times I have been there the service was great once and not great twice. The most recent visit we had to ask for drinks after being seated and handed a menu. The appetizer and salad course flew out and then there was a long, long gap before dinner arrived. If dinner is going to take a while why rush through the first two courses? After dinner we were expecting to be offered a look at the cheese cart that had been circulating all night, but were handed a dessert menu instead. Again we had to ask to see the cheese cart. Shouldn't a server know that they should be offering the cheese cart. It is especially ironic because this was right after they introduced this new cheese service, you would thing the servers would have been instructed to roll the thing out to every table. Our servers also seemed to go MIA after each course was served. We were never asked how anything was. My wife had to tackle someone to get a fork. I should also say that these servers were not new. I had seen them there on previous visits. All that said I would probably go back there. The food was great. So was the cheese cart, once we got it. I always assume that service problems will get better. I am somewhat of an optimist. The ironic thing about this is I have always had good service at the other Bartolotta restaurants. You would thing they should get things worked out at their five star flagship place.
I would have to agree with the comments about the service. We had some friends who went on Saturday night and said it took about two hours to get their food. They did say the food was outstanding and enjoyed their time, however, the service was not good. The restaurant did provide them with some free wine and desert for their troubles.
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