By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer Published Dec 03, 2015 at 11:02 AM

I’ve just finished up my leftovers from a visit to Ruscello, the new restaurant on the lower level of Nordstrom at Mayfair. And the sheer smell of the brick-oven pizza reheating in the toaster oven reminds me of how pleasantly surprised I was to find "mall food" that went above and beyond my expectations.

The Ruscello experience begins with a well appointed dining room that’s bright and comfortable, decked with floor to ceiling windows and plenty of seating options, from booths and tables to community and bar seating. And it continues with attentive service and notably delicious food.

In terms of edibles, Ruscello offers up a limited breakfast menu, including an omelet; traditional breakfast with eggs, bacon, potato and toast; a breakfast sandwich; and a mixed berry bowl (priced $6.50-8.50).

Lunch and dinner options include appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and entrees, along with beverages including a small list of (mostly) Wisconsin brews – including Spotted Cow and Hinterland Packerland Pilsner – a moderate selection of red and white wines. There's also a list of just over 10 cocktails, including classics like the negroni ($11), along with more inventive offerings like the mezcal-based margarita riff "Smoke & Heat" ($10), with jalapeno syrup, Grand Marnier, orange juice and alderwood smoked sea salt.

A children’s menu is also available with the usual options: chicken fingers; grilled cheese and tomato soup; macaroni and cheese; and pasta with tomato sauce ($5.25-$6.25). Each entree is served with fresh fruit, a box of organic raisins and milk, juice or soda.

Starters include options like cremini mushroom flatbread ($10.75), hummus ($8.50) and artichoke tempura featuring long-stemmed artichoke hearts served with lemon basil aioli ($9.95).

Fresh roma tomato basil soup ($3.95 for a cup; $5.25 for a bowl) hit all the right notes with its classic flavor and hearty texture. It would be perfect with a grilled cheese sandwich, which you can order off of the children’s menu, if you are so inclined. The soup of the day was also delicious: steak with mushrooms and barley – a homey choice with chunks of carrot, celery and steak in an earthy broth.

A nicoise salad with salmon ($15.25) was fresh and cleanly flavored with organic baby salad greens, romaine, green beans, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, red onion, roasted potatoes, hard boiled egg and capers in a dijon balsamic vinaigrette. The salad is topped with herb and mustard roasted salmon that’s both fresh and well prepared, cooked just to medium.

Meanwhile, the Pizza di Parma ($11.95) sported a chewy crust with crisp edges, topped with a sweet tomato sauce, herbs, three cheeses, spinach, arugula and thinly sliced prosciutto.

Pastas were a highlight of our meal, with the chicken gnocchi carbonara ($12.75) presenting the first of two tasty options. The chicken (roasted and pulled daily, in house) was succulent and accompanied by tender potato dumplings, crisp pancetta, sweet peas and a luscious creamy sauce. A bit of Pecorino Romano gave the dish an umami burst.

The mushroom ravioli with short rib ragu ($15.75) was also a delight. Large ravioli are filled generously with mushrooms and topped with a slightly sweet roasted garlic and tomato sauce studded with plenty of pieces of pulled braised short ribs. A dollop of ricotta brings a freshness to the dish, which is otherwise sheer comfort fare.

Ruscello is also the perfect spot for dessert and a cup of coffee. Options like creamy cheesecake served with salted caramel sauce ($6.25) are rich and filling.

White chocolate bread pudding is gorgeous (and huge), served with fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce, along with a dollop of whipped cream ($7.50).

The lemon ricotta shortcake is also a good bet, and not what you’d expect, featuring a pillowy lemon ricotta cookie topped with berries, lemon curd and whipped cream ($7.25). You can also order up the tender cookie on its own for $2.95, a decision you won’t regret.

Ruscello is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dine-in or carry-out are both available.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer

Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.

Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon. 

Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.