By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published May 29, 2007 at 5:36 AM

Romantic dining is something of a rarity these days with upscale restaurants going more and more sleek and trendy, but Milwaukee has a few old classics that tie dinner, food, wine and ambience together in a passionate bow -- to name just a few: Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro, Osteria del Mondo, Tess and the venerable The Pasta Tree, 1503 N. Farwell Ave., which celebrates its 26th anniversary this year.

For a restaurant to survive 26 years in Milwaukee means it must be something special; but unlike its competition, The Pasta Tree has done little to reinvent itself, because there is simply no need.

The classic décor, homemade breads, pastas, and sauces have survived the test of time. And while an already sizeable menu is supplemented with multiple daily specials offerings, patrons here will find the same essentials the restaurant opened its doors with; your choice of homemade egg, wheat or spinach noodles served with a wide array of toppings from gorgonzola cream with mushrooms and herbs to chicken pesto linguini with black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and olive oil-based traditional basil pesto.

Décor here, like the food, is classic and Victorian style. Banquettes line the rose-colored walls, and tables are closely spaced, giving the space an intimate feel, like you are dining in someone's parlor. The wine list is respectable, and service here is good; many of the servers have tenured themselves and are very conversant with the food and wines.

Recent dinner visits to The Pasta Tree confirmed that it still has its panache; the food is simple, but delicious and expertly prepared. Appetizers of antipasti plate ($6 for two, $11 for four) and mozzarella in sugo ($6 for two, $11 for four) were both simply elegant. The antipasti featured a ball of the house pesto, fresh olives, Italian cold cuts, cheese and artichokes and was basic but very, very good. Mozzarella in sugo was one of the more flavorful breaded mozzarellas we have sampled with a lovely marinara featuring its own simmered vegetables.

Scallops and artichoke cream with spinach pasta ($18) came with a mixed green salad and a basket of The Pasta Tree's heavy, rich homemade bread, as do all the dinner entrees. The bread alone is worth a visit; it is the kind of delicious homemade bread that begs to be covered in butter and thoroughly enjoyed. The scallops were cooked to perfection and the artichoke cream sauce is enough to make you want to take the remaining portion home -- and since servings here are generous, you will almost certainly have leftovers.

Carbonara ($15), a traditional dish from the Lazio region in Italy (although some say it was born in Polesine in the Veneto and many believe it was born after World War II. -ed.), offered a rich arrangement of heavy cream, eggs, bacon, onions, garlic and parmesan cheese and with the addition of just a little salt and pepper was unbelievably delicious. Two specials -- chicken and pork ravioli in tomato cream sauce ($18), and meatball pasta ($17) -- were also delectable, and the meatballs in the second dish were the best any of us have had anywhere in the United States.

The only letdown at The Pasta Tree was that it is still so busy even after all these years that if you do not get there early in the evening, items tend to run out. On our first visit, the meat lasagna special was gone by 6:30 p.m.; on the second visit, my pasta pagliara ($24), a wonderful mixture of shrimp, crab, mussels and lobster in garlic olive oil, received the final two scallops in the house.

The very good news, however, is that if The Pasta Tree is out of one item, it narrows down your options for a second choice, because with a menu this good, the most difficult decision is determining exactly which of the many mouth-watering items you should choose, and knowing that you cannot possibly go wrong.

Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.

The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.

Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to