In mid-March a new Moroccan restaurant called La Dolce Vita replaced the former Cousin Subs at 1673 N. Farwell Ave.
The eatery is another addition to the stretch of Farwell occupied by a milieu of various ethnicities -- Ethiopian, Indian, Thai, Turkish -- but nothing quite like La Dolce Vita has been done before in Milwaukee.
Although other restaurants have incorporated these flavors into an all-encompassing Mediterranean theme, owner Tarik El Bahmi says only his is representative of the authentic mix of Moroccan food with influences from Italy, France and Spain.
El Bahmi was born in Casablanca and lived there for 19 years, and this, he says, is how it's done in his homeland.
"What's unique about Morocco is that it is in Africa, but it's so close to Europe," he says. "We are not Africans, not Arabs and not Europeans, but a mix of all," he says.
And the food is an immediate and flavorful refection of the ethnic mash-up.
Spices like saffron and cumin are some of Moroccan food's biggest allies and dishes like Zaalok, fresh eggplant grilled and mashed with tomatoes, garlic and spices, and the world famous pastilla -- Morocco's decadent version of a chicken pot pie topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar -- are savory demonstrators.
At times the menu, which offers lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. until midnight (and until 3 a.m. on the weekends), showcases the country's proximity to Spain by offering tortilla del malaga, traditional Spanish tortilla with wild mushrooms, potatoes, bell peppers, onions and garlic aioli, and calamari a la plancha. The calamari is El Bahmi's own family recipe and rather than have his chef Saad Berrada prepare it, he prefers to make it himself each morning before opening the restaurant.
Other times, the menu turn to Italy with its selection of Italian style flat breads, which act like pizza when cheese and toppings are added.
Overall, the blending of cuisines at La Dolce Vita proves to be both interesting and accessible and the environment -- stark white walls and booths accented with pops of bright blue and orange -- make it a clean, comfortable and enjoyable place to grab a quick lunch or enjoy a relaxing dinner.
El Bahmi has selected a pleasant and diverse wine list (and features half-priced bottles during happy hour Sunday through Thursday) and offers beer from around the globe.
Service is friendly and prompt, making La Dolce Vita is a refreshing and welcome East Side accruement.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”