By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published May 14, 2012 at 9:03 AM

It's not all that unusual for a restaurant to pick up and move.

North Star American Bistro migrated to a new space across Oakland Avenue in Shorewood a year and a half ago. Two venerable Milwaukee eateries, the Boulevard Inn and Chip & Py's, made cross-town moves before eventually closing.

But a 70-mile relocation is definitely out of the ordinary. That is what Chris and Jennifer Giaimo have done with their Bellafini's Trattoria. (The name is a mashup of their two daughters' nicknames.)

The Giaimos have moved the restaurant from Fond du Lac to New Berlin's City Center development on National Avenue. It is in a space formerly occupied by Baker's Ice Cream Parlor & Eatery.

"We missed Milwaukee," Chris Giaimo explained while discussing the relocation. "We are Milwaukeeans."

Chris is the chef, handling all things food, while Jennifer runs the business side of Bellafini's, which was open in Fond du Lac for five years. "We are a traditional trattoria, with the addition of super-authentic 10-inch pizzas in the Naples style," Chris said while chatting a few hours before opening one day last week.

The chef bubbles with energy and enthusiasm for bona fide Italian cooking. While he has never been to Italy, Giaimo intensely studies regional cuisines, and his bloodlines are impeccable.

"I learned all of my cooking from my grandparents, who were from Sicily," he said. "They made their own cheese and sausage. My grandmother would have pasta laying over her bed on a plastic sheet."

In that spirit, Giaimo took the unusual step of buying yeast cultures from Sicily and raising them in the restaurant kitchen and in Mason jars at his home. "I ferment them," he said.

The yeast is used in Bellafini's bread and pizza crusts. Pre-packaged yeast is the dining industry norm, but the chef believes his Sicilian cultures improve the taste of the products he serves. "And I am intoxicated by the smell of yeast," he added.

Giaimo grew his own San Marzano tomatoes outside his Fond du Lac location, and he plans to do the same, along with herbs and arugula, at the New Berlin restaurant. The San Marzano is an Italian plum tomato that many chefs believe makes the best sauce in the world.

More fresh produce will come from Giaimo's brother's farm in West Bend. Chicken and eggs used at Bellafini's are free range. "I like to be right about what I do," the chef said.

Giaimo is calling his place "a modern Italian restaurant." "We're not so cliched," he said.

That means the dishes are more sophisticated than mom and pop eateries, and he pays attention to plate presentation. For instance, Bellafini's Torre di Melanzane ($14) is breaded eggplant piled in a pretty tower, layered with cheese and marinara sauce, and served with linguini.

Lasagna and ravioli are not on the menu, although they sometimes appear as specials. Pasta offerings include breaded wild shrimp and spicy sausage with peppers over linguini ($21), grilled chicken with spinach, artichokes and mushrooms in a parmesan cream sauce over bucatini ($16) and a basic vegetarian linguini pomodoro ($13.)

A selection of nine starters range from house and caesar salads and the soup of the day (all $4) to fried calamari ($9). The most expensive entree is a 6-ounce tenderloin steak served with vegetables and priced at $23. Bellafini's home-baked bread, accompanied by an olive tapenade and garlic butter, comes with every order.

Seven individual pizzas include a vegetarian ($11), a prosciutto ($12), and a white ($11), consisting of parmesan cream sauce, ricotta and other cheeses, and fresh basil. The entire menu frequently changes.

A small bar specializes in Italian wines.

Giaimo was a young entrant into the restaurant business, helping his mother, Marian Giaimo, run several bars and diners in his youth. After that, he learned the corporate side of the dining industry on Blue Mound Road.

"I worked in almost every restaurant on Blue Mound. I was a restaurant hoodlum," he said.

The experience ranged from cooking to managing the front of the house at such spots as Chili's, Olive Garden and Tony Roma's.

Bellafini's interior design is contemporary with dark tones rather than traditional Italian-American. Giaimo said he gutted the former ice cream parlor, and he hand made and stained his restaurant's tables from distressed lumber. The trattoria seats 50, and patio dining will be added during the summer.

Business has been good in the few weeks since Bellafini's opened in its new location, and Giaimo reports his biggest problem is finding cooks and servers. His elderly mother has been going into the restaurant several hours before it opens at 4 p.m. to help with prep work. Giaimo is eagerly accepting job applications.

He wants to serve lunch but can't consider it until he is fully staffed.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.