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Mar 15, 2008 04:27 AM

2nd excellent time at Benatti (Inman Sq)

Four of us went last night to Benatti near Inman Square, the second time we've been. I have to say, this place is an absolute gem. If you like interesting and extremely well-prepared upper-end Italian, you must go if you haven't been. We were blown away.

The room was about half full at 8 pm, and we started with a bottle of represso Valpolicelli, really solid and rich. For apps we split the scallops in orange juice reduction, simple grilled vegetables with olive oil (asparagus, eggplant, tomato, zuchini) and a simple mixed greens with balsamic and walnuts. The reduction sauce on those scallops-- oh! Fennel, sauteed spinach, incredible.

Mains we all passed around included half portions of the risotto e funghi porcini and the gnocchi, both great-- the risotto was incredibly fragrant with white truffle oil and parmesan, and very rich. Portions here are small but very filling and satisfying. We had the tortellini a aceto balsamico, with its creamy balsamic and walnut sauce over fresh spinach and ricotta pasta-- really balanced and different, a little revelation. A simple fettucine bolognese was very nice, although alongside the lasagna we had on our first trip, Benatti's red-sauced pastas are less interesting than the other sauces.

Our fifth main was a special, a spectacular rack of lamb dish, with four good-sized chops in a Barolo reduction with a touch of fresh mint, panko and a nicely sharp mustard crust. Simply the best lamb dish I've had in years. Superb quality meat, so well cooked, and like everything at Benatti, really well-thought out complementary flavors in the sauce.

For dessert, we had the croccanti, an almond meringue semifreddo-- superb; the carmelized banana with cardamom creme anglais and a thick belgian chocolate mousse, and a cheese plate with a great funky Corsican goat as the best selection-- all were well handled and delicious; my only critical note is that the three cheeses offered were narrow in range-- less variety than I generally like in a cheese plate.

Service was easygoing and attentive, and we lingered over a second bottle of wine. Anna, the hostess, remembered our first visit, and both the chef and pastry chef came by to chat. This is a little place-- only ten tables or so, and intimate. I worry a bit about their fit for the neighborhood in the long term, but truly I think they deserve a shot. I don't think you'll be let down--

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  1. Chef/owner Andrea Benatti is from Modena in Emilia-Romagna, and does an upscale, authentic take on the food of his homeland. I think this is pretty obviously a tough location, a neighborhood I usually visit for modest Brazilian and Portuguese food. But there's enough craft and care going on to make a point of checking it out.

    The short menu emphasizes fresh herbs, housemade fresh pastas, and grilled or roast meats. Grilled vegetables are a perfect example of an eminently simple Emilian dish, beautifully embellished with real aged balsamic vingear (not hard to tell the real thing). The standouts are the pastas and risotti: very fresh with deeply flavored sauces, including a creamy risotto (maybe not enough resistance in the center of the rice) with foraged mushrooms and truffles, featherweight potato gnocchi with in a light pesto, and airy mushroom-stuffed agnolotti in a gorgeous clear broth of vegetables and fresh herbs.

    Meat entrees show similar Northern Italian simplicity and heartiness, like roast pork with oven-browned lasagna on the side (oozing fontina, very rich). Desserts are brilliant, like a "terrine" of Campari panna cotta and orange semifreddo: original, clever, delicious. The wine list is smart if not terribly bargain-rich, a few modest Tuscan bottles to balance the pricey Barolos and Amarones.

    Service is friendly and attentive, the Brazilian co-owner running the intimate, modern-looking dining room (stucco, backlit mirrors, abstract art, leather chairs). We really enjoyed it and will be back: I just hope it can survive in a neighborhood that isn't used to this level of fine dining.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      If Oleana can make it, why not Benatti?

      1. re: phosho

        Oleana has free parking across the street, a great patio, and a lower price point; Sortun also had something of a following when she opened, from her work at Casablanca. I hope Benatti makes it anyway.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Oleana also brings something immediately distinctive to the table with its upscale North African menu. Setting aside Benatti's quality (and Oleana's for that matter), how distinctive does "upscale Italian" sound to Boston's restaurant scene?

          1. re: finlero

            Benatti is not in Boston, and there are relatively few "upscale Italian" places in Cambridge, especially Inman Square. As for Oleana's lower price point, as far as I remember its not cheap to eat there regardless. Furthermore, the point made by MC Slim was that the neighborhood wasn't used to this level of fine dining, not the price of the food. I am sure that you both would agree that Oleana is fine dining.

            1. re: phosho

              Totally agreed. And believe me, I'm not prognosticating Benatti's imminent demise, and certainly not revving my schadenfreude engine and hoping for it. But I'm afraid I would have to agree with MC Slim JB that it's got a bit of an uphill battle. Quality aside, it's further off the T than Oleana, a bit more expensive, and the menu is less distinctive.

              1. re: finlero

                On the positive side: its location is actually pretty good (and one could argue better than Oleana's) due to the fact that it is on Cambridge St. which has a ton of foot traffic and lots of other restaurants/shops in the immediate vicinity. As someone who grew up in Cambridge, I never cease to be amazed at what people are willing to pay for things (housing, food, drinks) in my hometown, so I'm not sold on the idea that Benatti's prices might hinder its success.

    2. I took a friend to Benatti last night for her birthday. What a fabulous meal! Besides the great design of the restaurant and the attention to detail of the food, the owners make the experience worth the visit. They exude the passion that they have for their food and wine.

      My friend and I decided to create a tasting menu on our own. We ordered five courses that we shared. We started with the prosciutto and melon. The prosciutto was of the highest quality and we both had to remark on the perfect ripeness of the melon. Second course was the gnocchi with heirloom tomato sauce. The gnocchi was the best that I have had in Boston since Marissa Iocco of Galleria Italiana. We were hoping to have the spaghetti with clams next but we were told they weren't currently serving that dish. They haven't been happy with the quality of clams lately so they have temporarily stopped running it. Instead we were talked into the scallops. The reduction they are in is a great compliment to the seared scallops. The presentation is simple but the flavors are nothing near simple. They are well thought out and executed expertly. Next we had the fettucine bolognese. This may have been my least favorite but I think that is only due to personal taste. I couldn't find any real fault with the dish. It may have been that it was getting harder for me to keep eating! Next we had the field greens. The balsamic reduction was the real thing!! Because it was my friend's birthday, they surprised her with the almond meringue semifreddo. Although I didn't think I could eat any more, I did! And I was glad I did!

      We had started our evening with a glass of prosecco and then enjoyed a bottle of the Petit Rouge from Aoste. It's an organic wine that was recommended by the owner. She choses the wines herself and described this one as her favorite. We enjoyed it and it was reasonably priced. To finish, we had the moscato d'asti which ended up being a great accompaniment to our surprise semifreddo.

      It was a great evening. I do worry that the restaurant won't be supported by the neighborhood. According to the owners, they are pretty slow during the week but busy on the weekends. That usually isn't enough to keep a place going.

      Give this place a try! You will definitely be pleasantly surprised!!

      1. Schaffer in the Herald gave Benatti an A- this morning, a review I really agree with. I'm hopeful this is the kind of boost this place needs to get on the map.

        1. Still no website?

          Found menu online has all pastas listed at over $20? lol...

          4 Replies
          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            Try the pasta first, then decide if you want to lol. Seriously-- try the place!

            1. re: newhound

              You're right. It is not very chowhound-y of me to scoff at the prices without trying. It's just that my pesky New England Yankee-brand Y.G.B.S.M. detector! *shake* *shake*

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                No harm, no foul! We've found that everything is so distilled and concentrated at Benatti that a small, high priced portion still seems very worth it. And as good as that pasta is, it's really just a vehicle for the incredible, deeply flavored sauces as MC slim notes up top of this thread.

                Um, what does YGBSM mean?

          2. i live around the corner and pass by often enough to notice that it is mostly empty. me, i miss the chicken sanwich w/ fried tatters for exactly 5.20. plus tip that O Cantinho used to serve.