I’d been chomping at the bit to check out this little known place in Little Italy getting big talk. The Ferrari of Italian restaurants flaunted floor to ceiling windows and streamlined silver railings, welcoming us to the minimalist sleekness that was Bencotto. Even with reservations, we were tucked into a tiny table next to the entrance, so I asked if we could move upstairs and with a nod of the head, we found ourselves reveling in a birds-eye view from the romantic roost above.
Calamari: Tender bites of squid swam in spicy, red broth and earned my respect - good calamari is hard to find.
Caesar salad: I knew there was a problem when I saw the size of the bowl, or should I say the fish bowl. The Ferrari was overcompensating and hoped volume would distract from taste...sorry, not this girl. Caesar salad had become my Holy Grail of Greens – I was on the eternal search for rare excellence and had yet to find it in San Diego. The enormity of the salad only magnified crummy croutons, lack of fresh parmesan and bland dressing.
Gnocchi: I loved the idea of picking my own sauce (from a choice of eight) and the ability to mix and match them with a separate list of pastas. Gorgonzola stuffed gnocchi, the size of silver dollars (and as heavy as one) were ok, but the Bencotto sauce – pink sauce with pancetta – could be slathered on a shoe and still seem flawless.
Ravioli: I’ve got pretty strong opinions about raviolis because my family used to make homemade ones for the holidays and Bencotto’s proved a bit dense in the dough. The Bolognese sauce tasted as if it had been cooked down a few hours too long, but for as long as it seemed to have been on the stove, there was an absence of depth - very one note…and that note was flat.
Dessert was the final disaster. Doesn’t semifreddo mean half cold? Because this was definately half and half...half freezer burned and half rock solid. The tiramisu was all cream, no cake and a whole lotta cocoa goin’ on.
Waterboy: You would think this kid was getting paid by the drop. I was afraid to take a sip that he might see and rush over for the twentieth time. I admire your attention to detail kid, but if you like water so much, go jump in a lake.
Second chances, new orders: My criticisms may seem a bit harsh, but let me add this:
1) There was warmth here beneath the cool exterior and it was already drawing me back like a neighborhood diner where I would be comfortable enough to come in and order “my usual”. The owner was constantly on the floor, checking tables and teaching his staff with fatherly benevolence, passing on his skill set to the next generation and truly enjoying the process. There was heart here…it just missed a beat now and then.
2) We decided not to order the delicacy I had been dying to try…gnocco fritto = fried pasta. Served with paper-thin proscuitto from their fire-engine-red slicers, my appetite's alarm had been sounding since we sat down and that fire had yet to be put out. Next time, "gnocco fritto" would be the first words out of my mouth (and the first thing in it).
3) Affordable: apps, entrees and dessert for about $80 total. Quite the deal and understandably why they’re so packed - comfort food at a nice price.