October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."
It's a pretty safe bet that any restaurant or bar that Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro attach their names to is going to be good. They've simply nailed every genre they've tried, from café to dive bar to tapas to lounge. After a quick lunch today at their new entry into nuevo-Mexican fare at BelAir Cantina, I can comfortably say the pair has done it again.
You have to feel for the owners who built Good Life, where BelAir Cantina now stands, at 1935 N. Water St.
On the south end of the Humboldt Bridge, it's an eye-catching space in an excellent location -- but with the bridge out for so long, it had no chance.
But now the bridge is open, and so is BelAir. For Johnson and Montemurro's first take on Mexican, it's really good.
The aesthetic is Baja meets Southern California, but it feels consistent with the other places in this restaurant group; just a little like Palomino and Comet but more airy and bright.
And the food speaks for itself. Mind you, I'm not a professional food writer, but I like great Mexican food. Today, I mixed and matched three tacos: carne asada, Korean beef and pollo Yucatan. All three were quite good, and with my colleague Bobby Tanzilo's tilapia taco/tostada lunch, our bill came out at a reasonable $20.
Bobby said his Baja tilapia tacos were delicious, with lightly battered fish and a mellow sauce, though his shrimp tostada was a bit oversalted.
But we both raved about the medium-hot salsa verde that we enjoyed with the complimentary chips.
I'll definitely come back after sundown soon to sample their creative and expansive tequila list; from top to bottom, everything at BelAir looks and feels inventive and original.
Our service left a bit to be desired, as our waiter seemed fairly confused and inattentive, but being brand new, it's understandable the management has a few kinks to work out. The music being played didn't match, either -- I hardly expected to hear The Cranberries, Modern English and The Wallflowers when I could've been listening to Manu Chao or Calexico.
But those are just small knocks on what is otherwise set to be a quality addition to the area's dining scene.
I know we write a lot about Johnson and Montemurro's restaurants, but they deserve it, not just for their food, but for how they raise the bar in Milwaukee. BelAir will do just that, breathing new life into an area that so badly needed a shot in the arm.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.