BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Husband and wife duo Zak and Sarah Baker met 15 years ago while the pair was working at Ristorante Bartolotta, Zak as a chef and Sarah as Joe Bartolotta’s assistant and later the HR director. After spending years dreaming of opening their own restaurant, and learning as much as they could from their other experiences, they finally made their dream a reality and opened Ca’Lucchenzo in Wauwatosa this past spring.
“There’s times in your life when all of the right things come together, and that was really what was happening [at Ristorante Bartolotta] at that time,” Sarah explains. “…I think ever since we’ve moved on to different places in our lives, we’ve been searching for that feeling again, and trying to recreate that in whatever subsequent jobs we’ve had. ... I think the best way to do that is to create it on your own.”
At the bottom of both the weekly rotating dinner menu and the carefully curated wine list is a sketch of two dogs, Sarah and Zak’s rescue pups, who, Sarah explains, are the namesake of the restaurant. “‘Ca’ in Italian means ‘house of,’ and ‘Lucchenzo’ is just Luca and Enzo squished together in one word,” Sarah says, noting that it’s Italian tradition to name restaurants after who or what is most important to you.
The eatery as a whole is devoted to the best of Italy. Its décor feels as though the door is a direct portal to the country’s modern, upscale ristorantes, and the extensive wine list — broken down by type and then by Italian region — may leave you longing to perch on a stool at the wine bar and sample every drop. The most intriguing aspect, though, may be the pasta bar where patrons can watch through the glass barrier as staff members make, roll out and cut pasta dough by hand every Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
“When we first met, Zak was going to Italy every year and spending a month in different regions learning different traditional techniques and cuisines,” Sarah says. “That’s his passion, and I know a lot of about Italian wine. We both really love Italian culture.”
The pair tries to travel to Italy as often they’re able to keep those fresh ideas for wines and dishes coming. Zak notes that the Raviolli della Casa — which translates to “ravioli of the house” — is a riff off a few different dishes he’d tasted throughout his travels, combining a filling from one and sauce from another to create the luscious dish shown here. Homemade ravioli is filled with goat cheese, ricotta and chard for a rich, savory flavor. “I really love goat cheese and I like the kind of tanginess it brings to things,” Zak says, though he notes he added the ricotta so the goat cheese wouldn’t be too overpowering. The dish is topped with what Zak describes as a walnut pesto, a sauce made of walnut and olive oils that he stumbled upon while in Southern Italy. “... It was one of those things that I tucked in the back of my brain,” he notes. “[I thought], ‘Someday when Sarah and I open our own restaurant, our ravioli is going to come with a walnut sauce, because that was amazing.” MKE
For a truly authentic experience, Sarah says she would pair the dish with a refreshing light white wine, suggesting the Pio Cesare L’Altro. “[It] has a little bit more of that butteriness to it that I think would bring out a really interesting note from the walnuts, but it still has a nice acidity that I think would cut through the richness of the cheese,” she notes.
Aside from a taste of Italy, the couple was adamant the restaurant felt like being in someone’s home enjoying dinner and wine with friends. To drive the feeling home, each dish they serve entrees on are donated plates and sets from customers looking for a new life for their China. Whether you’re returning from Europe or just longing for a taste of it close to home, the Bakers note that traveling patrons say this is the closest you will get to the original here in Cream City.
“The best compliments we get are from people that have traveled abroad,” Zak beams. “Sometimes they’ve even been to Greece or Spain or France or Italy and suddenly they’re like ‘This food is the first food I’ve had since Europe that reminds me of the food in Europe.’”
Ca’Lucchenzo, 6030 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa; (414) 312-8968; calucchenzo.com