Casual Italian done right at DiBenedetto Trattoria
Vittorio Di Benedetto, a veteran of Tuscany in Wheeling and Tavern on Rush in Chicago among others, is part of the team behind this suburban neighborhood spot that bears his name.
There's an old-world, almost '80s feel, to the main dining room at this Hoffman Estates strip mall eatery: hardwood floors, deep navy table cloths, a half wall topped by black-and-white photographs of famous Italians, such as the eternally beautiful Sophia Loren, in their prime.
1766 W. Algonquin Road, Hoffman Estates (847) 496-5016, dibenedettotrattoria.com
Cuisine: Italian comfort food
Setting: Nicely appointed strip mall eatery
Entrees: $14 to $28
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m. to: 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
A recent Saturday night visit found DiBenedetto Trattoria filled with a more mature suburban crowd, both in convivial spirits and more muted, filling tables small and large. But the common element was the absolute delight found with the generous portions of food.
A younger wait staff cut the air with a lightness that implied good service needn't be stuffy and diluting the atmosphere with a more casual vibe. Our busboy in particular seemed rather intrigued with our table, and we'd be lying if we said we didn't love the attention.
Live entertainment touched on light jazz, as well soft renditions of '80s hits like "Man in the Mirror," "Careless Whisper" and "Time after Time," inspiring a few chuckles among the younger patrons.
Instead of being showcased in a separate and overwhelming wine list found at so many Italian restaurants, the bottle collection here enjoyed a nice presence behind the cherry and granite bar. A nice selection of 40 red and white options are available; almost half can be poured by the glass.
The restaurant promises that if you've got a taste for something other than what's on the menu, the kitchen is happy to accommodate. Personally, this is a refreshing take on more dictatorial restaurants proclaiming in no uncertain terms that "absolutely no substitutions are allowed!"
On the night we dined a chilly air had descended on the area, demanding a more serious inquiry into the meat of it all, despite appealing starter choices like fresh mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and goat cheese in marinara sauce. The mood simply asked for a no-nonsense approach: a duo of meatballs in a light, springy tomato sauce. With a sprinkle of the Parmesan and bites of the fresh bread already adorning the table, they were, quite simply, delightful.
The dinner menu is quite predictabe and comforting, divided into the usual sections: griglia, parmigiana, pasta and peace. A reading by our server of the night's specials revealed a penchant for the peace: giant scallops with pine nuts and frutti di mare over linguine.
It might be a little old fashioned, but when a soup or salad comes with your entree, as ours did, it's never a bad thing, even if it's just enough fill the pause between courses.
Pounded pieces of lightly breaded veal soaked in a Marsala wine sauce held promise. The meat was impeccable, but the sauce was undersalted and underwhelming, despite the nicely cooked mushrooms.
The pasta — in the two iterations we saw — was flawless. The first was as an accompaniment to the veal: garlicky marinara sauce over penne, which, aside from the fact that it seemed slightly at odds next to a Marsala sauce, nevertheless highlighted the comfort of the penne in a simple way.
The second pasta appearance was that of perfect, plump homemade gnocchi. The hearty bowl of dumplings was, to my companion's request, altered to include a strong, meaty sauce, rather than the original vodka cream (which we suspect would have been stellar as well). Our request was generously attended to — crowd pleasing seems a top priority at DiBenedetto's.
A homemade tiramisu (enough for perhaps three people) was fresh and rich, even when readdressed two days after the visit.
At DiBenedettos, the food wasn't the only thing that left a good impression. Our server not only didn't bring us our bill before we asked for it, despite the fact the restaurant was nearly empty by this point, but also waited to leave until after we had. It really is all about the details.
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