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Cool, Calm and Culinary

At benjy's, a tasteful restraint is a harbinger of a tasteful meal

I also liked benjy's pizzas and pastas, even though they didn't inspire the raves that some of the other dishes did. There's a spinach pizza with small rounds of sunchoke, sharp kalamata olives and feta cheese, all assembled prettily on the best kind of crust: sooty, crackly and wafer thin. The kids in my group, in the midst of all this very grown-up, fancy food, ate every bite of their plain cheese pizza (not on the menu, but available for the asking) except for the crusty edges. What was sooty to me was burnt to them. The fusilli pasta with vegetable ratatouille was like a home-style vegetable stew jazzed up and gone moderne: a thin, herby tomato sauce housed a mash of colorful, confetti-like vegetables upon which rested three golden, lightly fried goat cheese fritters.

The tasteful restraint found in benjy's decor carries over to its one-page wine list (which includes one of the best deals in town for a decent bottle of restaurant wine: $16 for the Chilean Underraga Cabernet) and to their small selection of desserts. One dessert in particular, the chocolate seduction (try explaining that name to a nine-year-old), had me wishing for the stamina to endure seconds. It's a fudgy, cylindrical cake tumped next to a scoop of Mexican vanilla ice cream, all doused in a warm, fragrant fudge sauce. This decadent concoction was final proof that, austere decor aside, when it comes to food, benjy's is a restaurant that knows how to indulge in tasty excess.

benjy's, 2424 Dunstan No. 125, 522-7602.

benjy's: Oriental seaweed salad, $5; portobello mushroom tamales, $6; caramelized baby snapper, $17.

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