BOWLING GREEN -- Every self-respecting Midwest town should have a family Italian restaurant where the wait staff is friendly, the meals are large and homemade, and the vibe screams: Eat and be happy.
Welcome to DiBenedetto's Italian Bistro in downtown Bowling Green near the corner of Main and Wooster streets.
Formerly Cucina di Betto before changing names a few years ago, DiBenedetto's might be in the heart of a college town, but it's atmosphere and prices are solidly middle income and up. Put another way: You're not going to find too many college students digging into the $16 linguine di mare.
We did though, and found most of the dishes at the restaurant in a former storefront to be a mix of sumptuously satisfying and a tad disappointing.
The linguine di mare combines shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels with linguine. There are two choices of sauce -- casino style, which is garlic and white wine sauce, and pescatore, which is marinara and white wine sauce with cracked red pepper -- and we opted for the former, which was rich and smooth.
Perhaps our favorite dish was the gamberi con aglio ($14), which featured fettucine in a garlic cream sauce, shrimp, bacon, grape tomatoes, and fresh-torn basil. The various flavors -- the salty bacon, fat shrimp, fresh tomatoes, and minty basil -- complemented each other superbly and worked in concert to create a dish that might be described as high-end carbonara -- and we mean that as a compliment.
The penne gorgonzola ($13) is a heavy dish that tosses penne pasta in a creamy sauce with mushrooms, spinach, grape tomatoes, and prosciutto. The gorgonzola became overwhelming after a few bites, which is a gustatory hazard with the strong cheese and it eclipsed the other flavors in the dish.
The lasagna bolognese ($11) is a typical lasagna dish only not as dense or rich as others. It was too salty, which robbed the meal of some of the subtle combinations of ricotta, meat sauce and tomato flavors that it should present.
Gnocchi al pomodoro ($13) was exactly what you would expect: American Italian comfort food in the form of a potato dumpling pasta with a vodka sauce. The gnocchi were pillowy and prepared exactly right in terms of consistency.
Finally, the bistecca di gorgonzola ($18) was good, but featured a flaw. The 8 ounce filet was ordered medium, but it came out more in the well-done range, which made it too chewy. With gorgonzola gnocchi, brocolli, and caramelized onions, the dish was beautiful and the tastes worked well together.
An appetizer of shrimp scampi ($9) presented fat shrimp lathered in a creamy garlic sauce that was decadent and could work as a meal on its own. The bruschetta ($8) was pedestrian and not worth the price or the calories.
Which leads to a pair of quibbles about DiBenedetto's: Neither the bread nor the desserts is homemade. We understand that this is likely a cost issue, but at the price range of the restaurant's meals, a hearty, warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread would kick the dishes to a higher level, and a homemade dessert would add to the warm, glow that comes after a big Italian meal.
The service, however, was impeccable. Our waitress was charming, well-informed and enthusiastic about the menu choices, and briskly efficient in a friendly manner. The overall feeling in DiBenedetto's conveys a welcoming warmth. The restaurant has a full bar and an extensive wine and drink list.
It should be noted that if you want to explore the restaurant online, for some reason the Web site that results from a Google search comes up in Japanese and the translator does not work. The restaurant has a Facebook page, however.
Contact Bill of Fare at email@example.com.
DiBenedetto’s Italian Bistro: ★★★
Address: 121 S. Main St., Bowling Green
Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: Facebook.