Last night, Gena and I had dinner at Bensi in Denville. I should mention at this point that Anhabelle has sent me approximately nine e-mails suggesting a nickname for Gena. Most people who are mentioned in this blog don't get nicknames, the reason being that I only refer to people by their nicknames if I actually call them by said nickname in real life. I actually call Anh, "Anhabelle"; or Paul, "Pablo"; or Tara, "TK"; and I'm not a big believer in inventing new nicknames for a blog. That being said, if I don't refer to Gena as "G-Doll" at least once, I will never hear the end of it from Anh.
Anyway, back to Bensi. Bensi, which means "certainly" in Italian, is actually a chain in New Jersey, with several locations throughout Bergen and Passaic counties. Who new? Not we. The Denville one is located right off of Route 10 West in the Union Hill strip mall and it has an impressively large menu of Italian classics.
There was plenty of alfresco seating, but it was starting to cool off so we stayed indoors - there are a lot of booths with interesting tile work on the wall and tables in the center of the elongated dining room. The only drawback of the decor was that the wood floor was quite slippery.
As mentioned before, the menu is voluminous. G and I both had a glass of pinot grigio, after a momentary excitement about the Riesling on the menu - turned out they only had that by the bottle. Sigh. I started off with zuppa di muscles in a white wine sauce, Gena had the baked clams. Both were quite good - the muscles, of which there were many, were a really nice size and the broth was super garlicy - could have been saltier, but better to add salt at the table than have too much to start. There was a lovely crusty Italian bread at the table, which was nice for dipping in the sauce.
Gena's hubby, Mike, is a law school chum and he currently works his tail off every day for a large firm. As such, he is frequently eating out for various firm events and so on. In order to combat the excessive eating out, Gena and Mike have taken to eating lots of fish and veggies, and very few carbs for meals at home. For that reason, Gena, who is a great pasta lover, ordered the penne with vodka sauce, which she has not had in many weeks. I ordered the pappardelle alfredo, because I enjoy a heart attack on a dish. And I really like pappardelle.
Gena's penne with vodka sauce. "It's perfect!" she exlaimed. The penne was al dente and the vodka sauce contained shockingly fresh tomatos. I was impressed - vodka sauce is simple, but easy to eff up, and for a "chain" restaurant, the kitchen did a really nice job. The pappardelle was also nicely cooked and the alfredo sauce was creamy, but not overwhelming. I have not had alfredo sauce in quite awhile, and this did not disappoint.
Mike was able to meet us just before we ordered dessert - he ordered a salad and the potato crusted salmon, which looked colorful, with veggies and a sauce on top. Gena and I shared the chocolate lava cake, which was yummy and came with vanilla ice cream to cut the sweetness of the chocolate and a rasberry sauce.
On the whole, it was an excellent meal. Really, though, a restaurant of this style ought to have fresh parmigiano rather than a table shaker. Service was acceptable, if not particularly friendly, and by the end of the night, the waiter was certainly not bringing his A game. But considering the quality of service I experienced at Bread and Chocolate in DC, I can't complain too much about it.
And because Mike is of an excessively generous and kind spirit, this was all his treat. As ever, I am blessed with the kindest of friends. Mike, you will forever drink for free when I open my bar.