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Think Italian cuisine and you think of all the things that go with it — great wine, garlic-infused bread, fresh ingredients and classic herbs like Italian parsley, oregano and basil. Thinking of it made us go to the online menu of Bene Vita. There we read a lengthy menu that offers no fewer than nine pasta entrees and 12 secondo course offerings.
When we made our real world trip to Bene Vita we found the parking lot packed as full as the menu ... but a lackluster list of wines, the first order of business.
The prices were reasonable, but the Cabs, Merlots, Pinot Noirs or Zinfandels weren't out of the ordinary. We faltered when asked for our drink order, but our server was wonderfully accommodating: He offered us a taste of any wine Bene Vita offers by the glass. We sampled a handful of mainstream reds before settling on a Renwood Zinfandel, which we ordered a bottle of for $29.
We had no problem, however, with the setting in which we dined: the patio, which is simple, unobtrusive and relaxing.
Selecting an appetizer came easily, too. We settled on the cream of spinach and portabello mushroom soup ($5.95), which was fine, though we were surprised it was pureed and only lukewarm. There were large chunks of marinated portabellos placed atop the soup and they were quite tasty. Our companion was delighted with the lobster- and crab-stuffed mushrooms with a veal stock-wine reduction sauce ($8.95).
The main act featured a six-ounce Tuscan filet ($19.95), which was cooked exactly as ordered, thank you. The kitchen butterflies the steak and stuffs it with cheese and portabellos and it too is slathered with a veal stock-wine reduction. Steak entrees come with garlic mashed or scalloped cheese potatoes and asparagus. Our companion devoured the dish.
The eggplant parmigiano, usually a classic, was decent enough, but nothing about it captured our affection. The tomato sauce had the right texture, but the taste fell flat. Where were the fresh herbs?
Service was outstanding. Our waiter never skipped a beat, and his timing was precise. The prices were right. The food and the wine weren't bad, but they were somewhat prosaic. When all the components of a restaurant coalesce beautifully, you leave a meal feeling inspired. In this case, we left with no regrets, but with the hope that Bene Vita would renew its sense of imagination.
3710 Cantrell Road
Lunch specials average $7.95 a plate and come with toasted ciabatta cheese bread and a small salad. Items like spinach-ricotta cheese spread, homemade pizzas or prosciutto and grilled asparagus bruschetta are available for appetizers. Your wallet will not suffer from the prices — several wines by the bottle are especially affordable. Bene Vita also caters for large groups.
Lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Full bar, credit cards accepted. $$-$$$