There’s no shortage of articles and television shows that showcase the dishes that chefs love to cook at their restaurants. But, what do they love to eat at the end of their exhausting 16 hour days? Or on their days off?
In this series, we ask Milwaukee area chefs to share their favorite dishes – both from area restaurants and for eating at home. In this edition, we talked with Chef Juan Urbieta of Ristorante Bartolotta.
Juan Urbieta was born in Oaxaca, Mexico's culinary mecca. His family got together often, and he says he has fond memories of watching his mother and grandmother prepare extensive meals for family celebrations. His home, he says, was just four blocks from the Oaxacan market, Central de Abastos. It was a place he traveled with his mother on a regular basis. It was a place teeming with fresh produce, meats and cheeses. It was also place that fed Urbieta's appreciation for fresh, high quality food.
But, being a chef was never at the top of Urbieta’s mind.
Intent on being a commercial pilot, his dream was shattered when he was denied entry into the Air Force due to a prior appendectomy. Disappointed, he took a job working at a Japanese restaurant in Santa Monica, California.
It wasn’t until moving to Colorado with a friend at 19 that he says his interest in the hospitality industry began to move from a passing curiosity to an enduring interest. There, he discovered his love for Italian cuisine. It was a passion that drove him from Colorado to Chicago, where he worked for a number of restaurants, including Charlie Trotter’s. More significantly, he landed a position at Spiaggia with Paul Bartolotta, a mentor who opened the door for Urbieta to live and work in Italy.
From there, he came to Milwaukee, where he opened Nonna Bartolotta’s in 1998 before moving on to became executive chef at Ristorante Bartolotta, where he has been at the helm for 16 years.
Pollo al Mattone at Ristorante Bartolotta
"It’s a Tuscan recipe. And for such a humble ingredient, it’s a really fantastic preparation. It’s chicken that is cooked underneath a weight so that the skin has constant contact with the hot pan underneath. To me, what’s not to like about that? If I came here to eat, it’s what I would order."
Bistec en chile de arbol at El Senorial
"I love their steak with the chile de arbol sauce. It’s so hot, but it’s so good. I crave it every time. I love truly spicy food, but this is a dish that also has incredible flavor. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but even if you just try a bite or two, you’ll see what I mean. I also love their parrillada. The cuts they use are so humble. Maybe a chunk of chorizo or steak made from the meat you’d use for short ribs. It’s what you’d get in Mexico. So, on top of everything, it’s a very traditional experience."
Pizza Capricciosa at Il Ritrovo in Sheboygan
"It’s a pizza that I ate quite a bit in Italy. I love pizza, so I’d go to pizzerias quite often. I appreciate some of the traditional ones like margherita and quattro formaggi. But, this one has mushrooms, olives, artichokes and prosciutto. And I always go back to this one. In fact, I go there and and think to myself: I’m going to try something different today. And I just can’t."
Ultimate comfort food
"Tacos. I truly love tacos. Well-made tacos. And when I say that, I mean traditional tacos with cilantro and onion. And a great salsa. I love asada. But I also love the real al pastor. There’s a place on Mitchell and 11th Street called Los Gemelos, and they have al pastor on weekends that's made in the traditional way, roasted on a trompo. The owner is from Oaxaca, too, and he worked and trained in Mexico City. He also makes his own adobo; it’s light and flavorful and balanced. And his salsas are outstanding. He has a morita pepper salsa that’s just fantastic.
"I’ve also become very much a fan of a really good burger. But when I eat burgers, I don’t want to take chances. So, right or wrong, I find myself going to places that are known for their burgers and where I know what to expect. I think Five Guys makes a great burger. When they cook it right, I think their burger is one of the best. I also think Kopp’s has a great burger. People keep telling me to go to Oscar’s. And that’s definitely on my list."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.