By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 15, 2004 at 5:36 AM Photography: Neil Kiekhofer of Front Room Photography

Straddling fine dining and casual cuisine is no easy feat, but restaurateurs Brian Zarletti and Mari Cucunato-Zarletti appear to have hit on the right combination for their new Milwaukee Street eatery, Zarletti, which opened the first week of November.

The Zarlettis, who also run Café Zarletti in South Milwaukee, had planned to open the restaurant in the old Crescent City Beignets space in July, but the transformation was worth the wait.

Brown walls might seem ill advised, but at Zarletti they create a warm understated yet classy vibe and are nicely contrasted by some great light fixtures. It's cool enough for the new Milwaukee Street, but not too cool for everyone else, either. There's a full-service bar with a friendly staff in the short leg of the L-shaped space, and the larger portion is dedicated to tables.

On its first Saturday night, Zarletti started out quiet at 5:30 or so, but slowly filled, until a couple hours later, when it suddenly felt like the place to be. We started with drinks at the bar and pleasant conversation with the bar staff and that friendly vibe carried over to the wait staff when we moved to a table to dine.

If there's one obvious shortcoming at Zarletti, it's a lack of adventure. The wine list suffers from the Milwaukee wine list disease: there are but a few by the glass and they're not taking any chances. The result is the continuing lack of opportunities to try less well-known varieties in Milwaukee. Only two Italian reds are available by the glass and both are the fruits of Sangiovese. The dinner menu, similarly, doesn't go too far out on a limb.

But it's hard to find many other faults at Zarletti, even though it was just days old during our visit. And if the menu wasn't earth shattering at first glance, the dishes were uniformly delicious and satisfying.

{image2}Along with a basket of warm bread and butter, we began with salads: a Caesar and a garden. Both had scrumptious croutons and crisp, fresh greens. Neither, thankfully, was drowning in dressing. The garden salad got a boost from a subtle Balsamic vinaigrette.

We followed with pasta-based dishes. One was an aglio olio that was freshened with a healthy dose of fresh herbs and given a bit of zing with chili pepper flakes, elevating it above a plain old garlic and oil dressing.

The other, more exciting, entrée was a plate of linguine topped with four grilled scallops -- cooked to perfection -- and tossed with tender chunks of sweet potato and fresh herbs.

We shared a tiramisu' that was fresh and felt like an extremely guilty pleasure after two very satisfying entrees.

There are about a half dozen appetizers (portabella mushrooms, bruschetta), a few sides (including a risotto Milanese), minestrone and a zuppa del giorno, a half dozen pasta options (shrimp scampi and a good ol' red sauce like nonna used to make, included) and about the same number of "secondi," featuring pork chops, beef and chicken. A number of the dishes are stalwarts of the Café Zarletti menu, too.

Pastas range from about $10 to about $15, main courses are in the $18-$30 range.

Zarletti is located at 741 N. Milwaukee St. and is open for lunch from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on weekdays -- with a different, panini-heavy menu -- and dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Reservations are accepted. Call (414) 225-0000.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.