I went to Benny's last night, (Saturday) with my SO for the first time for my birthday dinner. I had read many positive reviews about Benny's on this forum and in the newspapers. My expectations were high that this was indeed a destination Northern Italian restaurant of the highest quality.
The place was mobbed and our 7:30 reservations were promptly honored, albeit a bit earlier as we arrived at 7:15. We were seated at a table for 2 in a highly-trafficed area where elbows from many different servers and patrons brushed against our table. We dismissed this as Saturday night "madness" and went on to enjoy our cocktails.
We noticed we were the only table without a bottle of olive oil so we had to request that along with bread and butter. The bread was not hot and we both noticed that the butter had a strange, stale taste like it had been sitting, uncovered in the refrigerator. We brought this to the waiter's attention, who sort of froze, shrugged and told us the busboy would bring us another dish of butter. It never came.
Appetizers were fresh mozzarella and I had rice balls. My SO commented that the rice balls looked and tasted just like the ones she gets from Iavarone Brothers. Maybe, I don't know but they were good as was the red, meat-based dipping sauce. The main courses of a chicken and veal special and simply-prepared pounded breaded veal chop were very good but not excellent in terms of taste, presentation and seasoning. We both felt the mashed potatoes that came with our main courses were a bit watery and my partner even suggested that they could be instant. THAT would be shocking and I hope they weren't; they just tasted amateurishly prepared. Tiramisu and apple walnut cobbler were both tasty but appeared to be commercially prepared.
I had read in a Newsday review that the restaurant was elegant on the inside albeit with a shabby exterior belying what lies in store for the diner once inside. With its suspended ceilings, gated and exposed windows, and catering hall appearance, we did not get the impression at all of upscale dining. Service was confusing with about 3 waiters assigned to us for the meal. Benny himself patroled the dining room, trying to quell too many scenes of commotion. I appreciated his hands-on style but it contributed to the feeling that we were dining on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange rather than in an "exclusive" Italian restaurant, venerated by many. Benny, when asked by my partner what would be the best nights to dine in order to avoid the Saturday night crowds, suggested either Tuesday or Wednesday night. He also brought us after dinner drinks when he found out it was my birthday; a very much appreciated gesture.
So ... Benny is a nice, hardworking owner who tries to cope with the rush of a Saturday night crowd. This crowd is testament to the fact that Benny's is a solid local Italian restaurant that might suffer from over-hype in reviews. I would go back once I adjust my expectations down a bit. Prices are high for what Benny's holds itself out to be; knock a few dollars off and it would be a great place to enjoy a meal that is a bit above average.
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