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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Dining

Wild Earth Cucina Italiana channels the tastes of Italy for its new, revamped restaurant.

In Dining

Seasonal heirloom tomatoes help create the caprese salad.

In Dining

The chicken carbonara with with asparagus, mushrooms and pancetta.

In Dining

The menu also includes traditional favorites like spaghetti and meatballs.

In Dining

Frutti di mare is yet another unique option.

Italian comes to Potawatomi: Wild Earth Cucina Italiana


On Sept. 7, Potawatomi Bingo Casino will welcome a new eatery to its chambers – Wild Earth Cucina Italiana.

The new Italian concept will take the place of the former Wild Earth, which closed in early 2009 after only a few months in operation. Under the guidance of former Wild Earth chef Audrey Vandenburgh, the restaurant will serve seasonal variations on classic Italian and Italian-American dishes.

"It was important for my team and me to create an Italian menu that was familiar but still exciting," Vandenburgh explains.

"Fresh, local ingredients will play a big role in establishing the menu items on our seasonal menu. For instance, heirloom tomatoes were incorporated into the caprese salad. We also use sustainable seafood such as Laughing Bird Shrimp and Alaskan Halibut and Salmon."

For starters, diners can select from a delicious list of appetizers including orange- and rosemary-marinated olives ($4), antipasti ($8), as well as calamari fritti ($8) and arancini, Italian risotto fritters ($7). Classic Italian salads, like the aforementioned caprese ($8) flank modern classics like roasted beet with arugula, Gorgonzola, pine nuts and dried cherries ($8). And house-made minestrone ($3.50/5.50) promises to warm even the chilliest of autumn evenings.

Other starters like the mussels ($9) and Italian sausage sliders on house-made Italian bread ($8), along with a variety of topped Italian flatbreads ($9-11) would be just as enjoyable as stand-alone bar foods or shareable late-night nibbles.

On the pasta menu, which will include traditional as well as gluten-free options, comforting Italian favorites like lasagne ($14) and spaghetti and meatballs ($13) sit comfortably amid chicken carbonara ($15) with asparagus, mushrooms and pancetta, and duck confit ($16) atop orecchiette with porcini mushroom broth.

Hearty entrees include a range of offerings, from Bell & Evans chicken ($16) marinated with herbs and served with grilled escarole and cheesy polenta, and roasted beef strip loin ($25) with rosemary pesto, oven-roasted potatoes and broiled garlic tomato, to lighter entrees like pan-roasted pacific halibut ($27) with tomato ragu, spinach and parmesan-olive oil mashed potatoes.

Desserts will include a sweet variety of items from classic gelato ($3 single/$6 trio) to zuppa misu ($7), a caramel variation on traditional tiramisu, to torta de pignoli ($6), a sweet custard enhanced with rosemary and pine nuts and served with mascarpone cream. Pair dessert with a classic espresso or cappuccino, or take a lighter approach and opt for a chocolate and pistachio biscotti with Fiori di Sicilia, a jasmine-scented extract most well known for enhancing the flavor of classic Italian panettone.

The full bar will also operate with Italian flair, featuring 40 bottles of fine Italian wine from every region in Italy, Italian-inspired craft cocktails and cordials, house-made limoncello and Italian sodas in a variety of flavors.

Vandenburgh, who began her Milwaukee career at Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro, has worked at an impressive array of local eateries including The Pfister Hotel, Mason Street Grill, the Woodland Dreams Ballroom and Expo Center at Potawatomi and most recently SPiN Milwaukee, where she developed the menus, developed the kitchen from the ground up and hired and trained staff.

"Before opening the restaurant we surveyed our guests and they requested an Italian restaurant," Vandenburgh says as she underscores her excitement about heading up the new concept.

"Italy has a very diverse culinary landscape and it has been fun exploring the different regions to see what local products are highlighted in their cooking. Everything in Italian cooking is very fresh and vibrant, and we want our food to reflect this."

Wild Earth is located near the skywalk on the third level of the casino. The restaurant will be open 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.


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