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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

Restaurant Reviews: DiBenedetto's Italian Bistro * * * *

The location is perfect, situated close to the prime Wooster Street intersection with Main Street in downtown Bowling Green. The interior is cool and comfortable with loads of urban atmosphere. The servers are fun and friendly, and the food is excellent.

So, why isn't this place packed?

No one seems to be aware of the classic Italian bistro that has a long history. On our visits we found the restaurant surprisingly vacant. Maybe it was the move to this location a few years ago. Maybe it's some confusion with the name. Maybe the sign and building are just too subdued and easy to miss. Is it possible; a hip Italian bistro with fantastic food and an available table?

Dark gray walls and flickering candles along with subtle modern rock music give the place a sophisticated ambience perfect for a relaxing meal. That said, we arrived wearing shorts with a brood of preschoolers in tow and didn't feel at all out of place.

We started out with an antipasto plate ($8.99) that was generously heaped with excellent prosciutto and salami and provolone drizzled with olive oil, fresh herbs, and cracked pepper. I couldn't resist the house red sangria ($5). With berries and citrus it was heady and quite sweet; some might say too sweet and maybe a little too pricey. Yet, it did what few restaurant sangrias can do; remained crisp without tasting sour or overly fermented.

We were thrilled to see penne carbonara ($9.99) with pancetta, garlic, and lots of parmigiano-reggiano cheese. The smoky sauce seems to be a rarity in the area, and we found DiBenedetto's version magnificent, although fresh pasta would have pushed it to the next level. The four cheese baci ($14.99) when paired with the meat sauce was like an inverse lasagna. The creamy combination of ricotta, parmesan, romano, and fontina cheeses played beautifully against the pasta and bold sauce.

The true star of the table was the chicken saltimbocca ($15.99.) The moment I opened the menu my heart missed a beat. Chicken sauteed with prosciutto, spinach, and mushrooms in a white wine sauce topped with provolone: What isn't to love? The execution was impeccable. The chicken was tender and juicy, the mushrooms fresh and firm, the sauce beguilingly sweet, and honestly you can never go wrong with prosciutto. Perched atop fresh garlic potatoes, it was like a mountain of mouth-watering perfection.

We decided to end with the tiramisu ($4.95) and the amaretto parfait ($4.95.) The tiramisu was rather dry and forgettable but the amaretto parfait was rapturous; so good we ordered a second. It sounds sort of pretentious and it is, but in a good way. Ice cream and tons of fresh whipped cream are infused with amaretto, soaked in amaretto syrup, and served in a martini glass. It's a guilty pleasure dessert masquerading as high cuisine. We loved it.

The evocative evening atmosphere became fresh and vibrant for lunch. Known for their long history of providing classic Italian subs, we preferred DiBenedetto's nontraditional offerings such as the chicken Philly sub ($7.50.) Smoky charred peppers were the perfect complement to herbed chicken and crisp thick bread. The soup of the day was a superb romano onion with capellini, fresh cheese, and a hearty broth with thick herbed croutons. We were seated, served, and settled on our bill in less than a half an hour thanks to the exceedingly efficient and friendly staff. Well that, and the confounding lack of customers. If our experience is any indicator, word of mouth should hopefully rectify this oversight quickly.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com



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