Who doesn't like Italian food? The cuisine of Italy is one of the best-known worldwide and one of the most popular as well. And for good reason. It tastes great, with its zesty tomato sauces, gooey cheese, tangy olives and anchovies, and comforting pasta and breads. Pizza -- the hallmark of Italy -- has become such a part of our American fare that it's considered by some to be one of the four main food groups.
Italians who settled in New York opened pizzerias, where Italian pastas, pizzas and other specialties were offered at their small, neighborhood restaurants. In this same tradition, Chris Bennett opened Bennidito's Pizza in 1996 on the South Hill.
"I wanted to have a great pizzeria like you see back East," Bennett says. "It's a place to hang out where you can run into your neighbors."
Bennidito's on the South Hill has proven to be just that -- a popular neighborhood pizzeria. Its unusual pizzas, calzones, Italian hot sandwiches, wings and salads utilize recipes that Bennett and his mom perfected.
On Monday, Bennett's second local pizzeria opened in the Indian Trail neighborhood. The eatery features the same popular menu with gourmet thin-crust pizzas baked in deck ovens from New York that are lined with brick and stone. The house-made pizza dough is covered with creative toppings, like basil, kalamata olives, Italian sausage, pancetta bacon, pepperoncini, pesto, proscuitto and sun-dried tomatoes.
At the opening party Sunday, we sampled an array of Bennidito's pizzas. All the Italian pies sported a savory, thin crust with interesting toppings that weren't heavy or gummy. Our taste testers concluded that Bennidito's offers a refined pizza with a distinctive taste and just enough cheese to impart a soft texture and flavor, but subtle enough so that the other flavors shine through.
The Classico's fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Gruyere, mozzarella and goat cheeses blend nicely with the garlic sauce and jalapenos. The Florentine brings a European flavor, with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, roasted garlic, mozzarella and goat cheeses. Creamy fontina and fluffy ricotta cheeses add a unique texture to the savory Original Pesto. Roasted garlic, marinated chicken, fresh mushrooms and pesto sauce garnish the NC Primo.
Bennidito's d & eacute;cor of warm colors and bright copper accents are the perfect complements to the festive food. Beer and wine are available as well as carbonated beverages.
Bennidito's, at 9025 N. Indian Trail Rd., is open Monday-Saturday from 11 am-10 pm, Friday until 11 pm and Sunday from noon-9 pm. Call 466-2790.
Small but Tasty -- Another Italian staple that has been embraced by Americans is the panini. Literally, it means "small bread," but it packs a big taste. Traditionally, it is a grilled sandwich with the bread crust brushed lightly with olive oil.
Cheryl Swedo is now offering authentic paninis at the chic Carter's Coffee in the historic Hutton Building downtown. "They are made on traditional foccacia bread and lightly grilled," she says.
The Black Russian sports roast beef and pastrami, with red onion and provolone cheese. The Tuscan chicken panini features garlic chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper and feta cheese. And, just like a pizza, the Pizzazz has pepperoni, mozzarella, onion and pizza sauce with an added touch of cream cheese.
In the New York tradition, you can also find coneys at Carter's. These hot dogs are covered with a meat sauce that is from a recipe from George's Coneys (if anyone remembers that far back in Spokane history). Swedo also offers quiche, cold sandwiches from Carnegie Square Bistro and hearty soups. And, of course, good, strong coffee.
Carter's Coffee, at 7 S. Washington, is open Monday-Friday from 7 am-3 pm. Call 624-8075.
Japan by Way of Vietnam -- For more than two years, Inland Northwesterners have flocked to the Valley's Teriyaki House for Japanese cuisine. Owner Tom Huynh is originally from Vietnam but has much experience at Asian restaurants.
When smoke damage closed the restaurant last October, customers had to go without what many call the best teriyaki in town. After extensive cleaning and remodeling, Teriyaki House is now celebrating a reopening. The dining room has a more open feel and is decorated with Japanese lanterns, paper parasols and fans. Japanese wall hangings, tiny origami birds in pastel colors and a big, golden Laughing Buddha adorn the walls.
Huynh follows one of the golden rules of Japanese cooking -- alternate consistency and taste. He also understands the Japanese principle that the color, texture and shape of food are as important as the taste.
We sampled the seafood special that had a subtle fish flavor of prawns, scallops and imitation crabmeat. The accompanying vegetables were crisp and cut in interesting shapes. The authentic teriyaki sauce brought the different textures and flavors of the dish together perfectly. And the accompanying rice was sweet and moist, lending a nice chewy texture. Another dish, seafood yakisoba, featured soft noodles that gave just the right consistency and flavor to the seafood and vegetables.
Other menu items include teriyaki chicken, tuna, pork, steak and beef. Tempura, gyoza (pot stickers), curries and eggrolls are also available.
Teriyaki House, at 11516 E. Sprague (at the Bowdish Center), is open Monday-Saturday from 11 am-9 pm. Call 928-8893.
A Bevy of Benefits -- This Friday, you can indulge for a cause at the Chocolate Champagne Gala. The 19th annual event begins at 6:30 pm at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel and features gourmet chocolates, desserts, champagne, coffee and hors d'oeuvres.
Boehm's Chocolates, the Davenport Hotel Candy Shop, Hallett's and Spokandy will offer a wide variety of chocolates for sampling. Desserts and confections from Just American Desserts and Paul's European Pastries will also be featured at the popular charity event. Guests can enjoy premium espresso from the likes of Thomas Hammer Coffee and Starbucks as well as champagne from Mountain Dome Winery. Hors d'oeuvres provided by the Coeur d'Alene Resort, Spencer's, Quinn's and Great Harvest Bread Co. will be served later in the evening along with the live music of Tuxedo Junction.
Live and silent auctions offer vacation packages, sports memorabilia, art and elegant home furnishings. All proceeds will directly benefit the Sexual Assault & amp; Family Trauma (SAFeT) Response Center, which provides advocacy, education, prevention and clinical services in the Inland Northwest associated with sexual assault. Tickets to the March 14 event are $50 in advance and $60 at the door. Call 343-5086.
On Friday, March 28, the first Cask & amp; Keg will take place. This fundraiser for the Spokane Valley Firefighters features wine and beer tasting from well-known Northwest wineries and microbreweries. Percy's Caf & eacute; Americana will provide the scrumptious hors d'oeuvres to complement the beverages being sampled.
Cask & amp; Keg also features a silent auction with unusual items as well as a wine store. The benefit begins at 6:30 pm at Decades, 10510 E. Sprague. Tickets are $25 each and available at Vino! (838-1229) and Williams Seafood (922-4868).
Also on March 28, The Lands Council's 8th annual auction and dinner will take place at 5:30 pm at the Rendezvous and Fat Tuesday's. Guests can enjoy wine selected by the knowledgeable staff at Vino! and a buffet dinner of prime rib or vegetarian lasagna prepared by chefs from the Davenport Hotel and Clinkerdagger. Live and silent auction items include wines, trips and artwork. Proceeds from the event benefit TLC's local conservation programs that protect aquifers, rivers, national forests and wildlife in the Inland Northwest. Tickets are $40 per person. Call 838-4912.
On Saturday, March 29, the Countdown to a Cure benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation takes place at the Davenport Hotel. A cocktail reception and silent auction begins at 6 pm. Selected wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery will complement the three-course dinner, at which Congressman George Nethercutt Jr., will be honored. Tickets are $100