Bartolotta’s Best - The View from Bacchus - 2007
July 05, 2007
Food, atmosphere and service are the three keys to a truly good restaurant. Few places are able to excel at all of them. One that does is Bacchus, which I consider to be the finest in the Bartolotta Restaurant Group. It benefits from a prime location on the ground floor of the Cudahy Tower, where the wood-paneled lobby presents the solid feel of old money.
While warm brown tones predominate in Bacchus' front bar, the main dining room lightens up considerably with off-white walls and spacious booths and tables. An impressive wine collection, displayed behind glass, fills one wall. Last year another amenity was added: an outdoor terrace converted to a glassed-in sunroom with wide wicker chairs. This is the perfect place for views of Lake Park and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Bacchus' executive chef, Adam Siegel, holds the same job title at the Lake Park Bistro. Recently, Siegel was a James Beard Foundation finalist for "Best Chef: Midwest," an impressive accomplishment. Bacchus' menu allows his creativity to flow. The theme is contemporary American with seafood and meat entrees, including a selection of steaks. The lunch menu adds sandwiches and pastas.
Crab cakes seem to be on every menu lately, but Bacchus' lump crab cakes ($12) depart from the norm. The three cakes are the size of jumbo sea scallops, meaty but with small, diced pieces of vegetable to add some crunch. A few dollops of spicy aioli pack a jolt of hot pepper—a good touch on crab cake. A citrus salad is on the side with frisee, oranges and pink grapefruit. The orange tames the slight bitterness of the frisee, putting everything in balance. At dinner there is tuna tartare ($12), raw tuna layered over a bed of chopped cucumber with a hint of rice vinegar. Crispy won tons add texture and wasabi tobiko caviar injects vivid hues of green as well as a pungent shot of horseradish.
Although soups change daily, the lobster cream soup is often available. The pieces of meat are tiny, but the luxuriant, buttery broth is abundant with lobster flavor. The roasted beet and goat cheese salad ($8) has been slightly altered from its previous incarnation. Arugula is substituted for mesclun greens, and the new vinegar is aged sherry. The roasted red beets still work with these updates.
Rarely encountered locally, barramundi is an Australian fish living in both fresh and brackish water. The flesh is firm, much like Chilean sea bass, but a hint sweeter. At Bacchus the wild barramundi is sautéed ($26). How does a fish shipped from Australia retain freshness? The answer: very well. A slice of the fish is placed over a bed of fennel with artichoke hearts and bits of carrot and onion in another skillful preparation.
Bacchus has it all, from the soothing dining room to the inviting sunroom. The accommodating service, much improved from the restaurant's early days, is the best in the city. How many restaurants replace flatware at every course? The menu has depth, the ingredients are fresh and the preparations are confident. Don't be surprised if Adam Siegel is a James Beard finalist again in 2008.
- Journal Sentinal