Off the charts, off the map
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 20, 2008
4.0 4.0 Stars

My favorite entrée was grilled salmon ($27). Because of the leanness of wild Alaskan salmon, it works with a rich sauce. Benatti provides a genuine beurre blanc, with lemon refreshing the pungency of the reduced wine and butter. Whipped potatoes are brought to haute cuisine with a topping of caramelized leeks.

Not that there was anything wrong with my ossobucco ($32). Veal shin falling off the marrow bone? Check. High but savory salt content? Check. Saffron risotto? Double check. In the food world, there’s a lot of discussion about how risotto can be melty and al dente at the same time. The discussion ends here, with perfect risotto and a forthright saffron flavor.

Filet mignon ($36) came to the table rare, as it would be served in Florence, instead of medium as ordered. No problem, it was whisked back to the kitchen for reheating. The sauce of reduced Barolo wine, cranberries, and mushrooms with a dose of truffle oil was excellent. What’s up with the whipped potatoes? Perhaps to an Italian chef this exotic Peruvian vegetable is the latest thing.

The wine list is all Italian, including Sicily and Sardinia, and a couple of bottles from a castle owned by a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (S.M.O.M.), which is almost another country. Prices begin in the high $30s. Our bottle of Cannonau di Sardegna riserva ($11/glass; $44/bottle) was excellent wine, although the list has it as a 2004 and the bottle we got was a 2005. Cannonau is a traditional grape of Sardinia that genetic research declares to be grenache as grown in Spain and Southern France — all one part of a Catalan empire. Based on the high alcohol and sophisticated dark bramble fruit nose of this Sardinian wine, I’m not so sure. Grenache, even in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, makes for a lighter wine with more of a strawberry aroma.

Though a tiny restaurant, Benatti’s menu credits a dessert chef, Dianna Macedo, and lists six of her creations. The star might well be roasted apple raviolis ($12), three ravioli-shaped pastries in a stack with a thin slice of apple and a sauce like caramelized honey. Chocolate lovers will have to resort to the sautéed banana ($12) topped with a wafer on which Belgian chocolate mousse is piped into little rosettes. And for sophisticates, there’s the heirloom poached pear with gorgonzola gelato ($14). The lightened and near-frozen cheese is a revelation. The only coffee is espresso ($3) and decaf espresso ($3). Nix on the decaf.

The room is mostly stucco in a kind of teal-gray, with some interesting curves. If you’ve been thinking about getting one of those new free-standing bowl sinks, check out the bathroom. Based on our quiet early-weeknight visit, the crowd is going to be Phoenix readers, so don’t embarrass me, okay?

Service in a small, uncrowded room was excellent; we’ll have to see how it goes when tested. Benatti has had mixed press, I suspect because the location primes one for lower prices. You can manage your check with pasta entrées, wine by the glass, and perhaps by walking over to Christina’s Ice Cream for dessert. But on an occasion when price is not so important, you can hardly do better than Benatti.

Robert Nadeau can be reached

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