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At Bartolo, the menu’s the art

Longtime Ridgefield chef and wife open new restaurant

Chef Arthur Michaelsen, owner of Bartolo, made the chalkboard menu a prominent feature of his interior design — along with a window into the kitchen. —Jake Kara photo

For chef Arthur Michaelsen and his wife, Julia, running restaurants is a life’s calling. Bartolo in Copps Hill Common is their fourth in town.

“We’re calling it kind of a ‘rustic Italian,’” he said. “Every entrée dish doesn’t come with pasta and salad.”

For instance, the grilled pork chop comes with pancetta mashed potatoes and apple-fennel cole slaw.

“We’re taking a different approach. We’re giving you new flavors. It’s not so traditional.”

The chef’s favorite dish?

“I love the short rib ravioli” made with short ribs braised with vegetables, mozzarella and mascarpone, he said. “We do a nice brown bitter cherry sage reduction with it. … They’re a completely new dish.”

Mr. Michaelsen previously owned 33 1/3, an “innovative American” eatery he ran with his mother and sister; The Catch, a seafood place he sold to B&G on 7; and 59 Bank in Branchville, which got a three-star review in the New York Times when it was open. The original 59 Bank in New Milford, named for its address there, is still open. Mr. Michaelsen also owned an Italian restaurant in New Milford, Cucina 51, and an ice cream shop.

One item he’s been serving at his restaurants for many years, a burger made with Jack Daniel’s sauce, is on the menu at Bartolo — unchanged but with a new name.

Elsewhere known as the “Jack Black Burger,” at Bartolo, it’s the “peppercorn pressed prime rib burger.”

Flatbread pizzas at Bartolo are grilled and then finished in the oven. “It’s more of like a crispy, cracker style” than a doughy crust, he said.

To ready the 103 Danbury Road location, formerly occupied by Cello, Mr. Michaelsen had the front wall moved forward and big windows added.

“I always do all the design work of my restaurants,” he said. “I tend to be somewhat of a control freak.”

“It was a little too small,” he said. “It’s also a little tucked away in Copps Hill Common, but that hasn’t been a problem.

“I think that we’re really lucky in that there’s always been a good restaurant in this space,” he said.

Mr. Michaelsen had big blackboards installed, covering two walls, with the menu professionally lettered across them.

“The blackboard is new for us. That was sort of the featured piece of artwork,” he said.

He brought in tables made from wood reclaimed from a Minnesota train depot to give the place a rustic vibe. There’s also a bar with an array of wines and an eight-head draft system to keep a selection of brews on tap.

Finally, he added a chef’s window, which doesn’t just provide entertainment for diners.

“The window is cool,” he said. It allows him to “control the front of the house as well as the back of the house.”

“I’m able to go out and talk to folks after the meal, see if they enjoyed the show.”

He likes to have his hand in every part of the business. He said he’s seen the industry gain a more “glamorous” image than it had when he became a chef in the late 1980s after attending the Culinary Institute of America, especially with television chefs and restaurant-related reality shows.

But it’s more hard work than glitz, he says.

“It’s definitely not a business for someone who is not willing to devote most of their life to it,” he said.

Fortunately for his marriage, Mr. Michaelsen’s wife understands the ups and downs of the restaurant life — they’re a team in the business.

“We met at my first job out of culinary school at Morgan Restaurant. She was always the front of the house,” while he was a chef, he said.

They married in 1996.

Mrs. Michaelsen’s grandfather, an Italian cook, is the namesake for the new Danbury Road eatery.

Bartolo is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and the menu is the same for lunch and dinner. For more information, call 203-894-8141.

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