Gaetano's Batavia has been open for barely two months, yet it fits into the last-century brick storefront at Wilson and River streets like it's been offering authentic Italian fare there forever.
I first enjoyed Gaetano DiBenedeto's food nearly 10 years ago at his Forest Park restaurants La Piazza and later Gaetano's. So I was excited to see Gaetano and his wife, Wendy, opened a satellite eatery in the Tri-Cities.
Gaetano's Batavia15 E. Wilson St., Batavia, (630) 406-3009, gaetanosbatavia.com
Setting: Contemporary with Old-World charm
Entrees: $19 to $36
Hours: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
The corner storefront is long and narrow; it's contemporary but with an Old-World feel. The smallish space is put to the best possible use.
There's no bar seating, leaving more seats for dining in the main room. On a recent Tuesday there wasn't an open table from 6 to 7:30 p.m. leaving me thankful I had made a reservation.
Tables are nestled together or spread apart as fits your party, but you don't feel as if you're dining with the strangers next to you, either. The blocky wooden tables are a tight fit for the long-legged, but they look great and seating along the one wall is a cushioned, communal bench. Making use of the east-facing windows, potted herbs provide a fresh green screen. No need for window coverings here.
A downstairs space nearly doubles the indoor seating for busy nights and weekends. When the weather cooperates, you can choose to dine in the gated, outdoor seating area adorned with strands of white lights and a couple of colorful glass lanterns.
Presenting my friend and I with menus, our server asked if we had any food sensitivities the kitchen should know about and noted the menu has fresh vegetarian options and several that could easily be prepared without meat or fish.
House specials reflect what's in season, as does the full menu. As much as possible, bread, some cheeses and all desserts are made in-house.
There are full bar options and a varied and comprehensive wine list. If you can't decide, ask. Our server made two excellent recommendations for dry white wines. I enjoyed a Pascual Toso Torrontes from Argentina, and my friend tried the Strele Soave from the Veneto, Italy.
The staff also requests appetizer and entree orders be made at the same time for the benefit of kitchen workflow, but I find it benefits the diner, too. Courses come one at a time; nothing is hurried and there's no lag time.
Our server brought to the table fresh onion focaccia with a creamy bean hummus, olive oil and red pepper flakes. No ordinary bread basket, here. I tried to resist this tempting starter in anticipation of what was to come. Epic fail. But that's what to-go boxes are for, right?
My friend and I started with the Fiori di Zucca al Drago or zucchini blossoms stuffed with pecorino cheese mouse, fried tempura style and served with a spicy tomato cream. It's something I've always wanted to try for it's no-waste, eat-everything-you-grow kind of way. Yes it's fried, but oh, so delicately. The cheese mousse was beautifully light; the sauce a balancing, creamy, brightening acid. It was a slightly crunchy, creamy mouthful. Wonderful.
We shared a house salad of baby mixed greens, tomato, cucumber and red onion with a sweet mustard vinaigrette with caramelized almonds, bits of crispy pasta and carrots. Without asking, our server graciously had the kitchen staff split it for us. The greens were gently tossed to coat each piece with the light dressing. No cloyingpuddles and pools of vinaigrette. All the flavors pop.
From the specials menu, my friend chose the homemade butternut squash gnocchi tossed with Kobe beef, wild boar and wild mushroom ragout and parmigiano. It just sounded like autumn to us. Tender slices of beef and pork were tossed among the gnocchi. A dusting of ground cinnamon on the rim of the plate gave it aromatic as well as a visual appeal. It was homey, delicious.
Off the daily menu, I choose the assortment of calamari, scallops, mussels and shrimp sauteed with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, white wine, herbs and tomato sauce over cannolicchi pasta. Our server asked if I'd like a drizzle of chili-infused oil, and it added a lovely kick. This is creamier and more tomato-y than it sounds, but the fat creamy bed of cannolicchi makes a perfect setting for seafood. All fresh and tender, the steamed mussels were especially tasty. Perfectly tender pillows. It's a lovely dish.
To end our dinner, I choose the caramelized phyllo layered with custard and peaches, drizzled with caramel sauce. Delicate, crunchy, creamy and not too sweet. I have dreamed about this since.
My friend chose a special creation of dark and white chocolate mousses served with chocolate genoise and topped with fresh raspberries. In layers, each bite a rainbow of tastes and textures.
If after reading the menus and discussing options with your server you can't decide, try one of the two tasting menus: "Gaetapas" or the Chef's Tasting. They cost $60 and $75 per person, respectively. Choose either a three-course -- nine small-dishes including pasta and dessert tray -- or the four-course -- 11 dishes with appetizer and entree style with dessert tray. You can also select the wine pairings with either for $34. It's a nice way to taste different wines selected to compliment each course. Chef Gaetano also hosts special events and cooking classes.
If you're looking for fresh, unfussy and delicious. You'll find it here. I won't say it's comfort food, but it is comforting. And lovely, too.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.