By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Nov 23, 2009 at 4:16 PM Photography: Whitney Teska
Ristorante Bartolotta could potentially be deemed the patriarch of the now robust Bartolotta empire, a restaurant group that holds with it Lake Park Bistro, Mr. B's, Bacchus, and Pizzeria Piccola.

Ristorante, 7616 W. State St., opened its doors over 15 years ago, shines quietly on a corner in downtown Wauwatosa. If you aren't paying close attention, you might accidentally drive by the quaint restaurant, which has minimal signage and low lighting.

A bar filled with Italian wines and a plentiful grappa selection lines one wall, decorated with tastefully taxidermied pheasants, while the rest of the intimate dining space is laden with small, white-tableclothed tables. The walls showcase family-style photographs and lovely cobalt glass bottles shine from a shelf overhead.

The menu at Ristorante is simple and focuses heavily on the Northern Italian style of cooking. Additionally, Ristorante offers a seasonal menu, which at this writing, was a four-course dinner featuring white truffles for $120 per head, or priced à la carte for diners who wanted to sample one or more of the dishes without venturing into all the seasonal courses.

Diners at Ristorante can choose from Gli Antipasti (appetizers), Le Insalate (salads), I Primi (selections showcasing predominantly pastas), and I Secondi (predominantly carnivorous entrées).

The simple, 16-selection daily menu calls dishes by their Italian names which sometimes can appear intimidating to non-speakers, but offers fairly straightforward options like Carpaccio di Manzo alla Veneta ($10.95), a beef carpaccio with capers and Grana Padano -- a delicate, semi-hard Italian grating cheese which makes multiple appearances on Ristorante's menu -- and a pairing of cheeses, frittata and cured meats and olives in an antipasto della casa ($10.50). The latter also contained a savory duck liver pâte over thumb-sized crostini on my scouting visit.

Salad selections include a mixed greens ($7.95), cesare ($8.95), and tomato, red onion and gorgonzola ($9.25) platings, and can be shared at the diner's request.

  Pappardelle con Sugo d'Anatra ($15.95/$23.95) plates wide ribbon pasta with a red wine-braised duck ragu, while Ravioli di Magro al Burro Nociola Tartufato (15.95/24.95) fills ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach, in a brown butter sauce.

Secondi ventures into beef, pork chops, and chicken, with some seafood options as well. Expect to see some unique applications to traditional Italian dishes, for example, a bone-in pork chop (Braciola di Maiale al Marsala, $24.95) is served over Marsala wine pan sauce with potatoes and roasted mushrooms. Polletto Ruspante al Mattone ($23.95) highlights a traditionally grilled chicken beneath a brick, with rosemary and garlic, and serves it with caramelized brussel sprouts, potatoes, and a white wine sauce.

Due to the popularity of this spot, and the small size of the restaurant, reservations at Ristorante Bartolotta are recommended.

Ristorante will also start welcoming diners for a holiday lunch menu on Nov. 30, featuring Panini, salads, soups, and entrees of risottos, pasta and fish or meat selections.

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