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A culinary mission: Gaetano’s Batavia restaurant features Italian fusion recipes

BATAVIA – Above the doorway to Gaetano’s Batavia is scrolled the phrase “with respect to tradition.”

That sums up the culinary mission of Gaetano’s Batavia, an Italian fusion restaurant that recently opened at 15 E. Wilson St. in downtown Batavia in the former space of The Rhino Room.

“Not to be disrespectful in any way, but there’s definitely a difference between American-Italian cuisine and Italian cuisine,” said restaurant owner Wendy DiBenedetto, who is married to executive chef Gaetano DiBenedetto. “The American-Italian cuisine that we eat here in America is nothing like the food that’s in Italy. The food that we serve here is like what you are going to eat in Italy. It’s respecting the traditions of the old recipes, and Gaetano putting his own fusion and modern twist on it.”

Gaetano DiBenedetto is a native of the coastal town of Bagheria, located just outside of Palermo, Sicily. The couple, who live in Batavia, also have owned Gaetano’s restaurant in Forest Park since 2008.

Gaetano’s has been rated as one of the best Italian restaurants in the Chicago area. In addition, in 2011 the Italian government awarded Chef Gaetano with the prestigious “Ospitalita Italiana” award for having an “authentic” Italian restaurant.

Wendy DiBenedetto attributed the acclaim that Gaetano’s has garnered to her husband.

“My husband’s creative genius has a lot to do with that,” she said. “On top of that, he only uses the highest quality level of ingredients that are available on the market. He doesn’t go cheap on anything. We have fresh seafood and fish each day. We do not serve frozen fish here. We make our own bread and pasta, and he is just a talented chef.”

Along with being the restaurant’s executive chef, he also is a jazz guitarist. Diners might catch him playing at the restaurant on occasion.

“He played here the other night,” Wendy DiBenedetto said. “We had some musicians here ... to celebrate our opening week, and he jammed with them for a little while.”

The restaurant plans to have live entertainment at the restaurant once a week starting in the fall.

“It will be primarily jazz or classical jazz,” she said. “We do that at our other restaurant, too.”

Before opening Gaetano’s Batavia, the couple spent several months renovating the space to meet their needs. For one thing, the space was lacking a kitchen.

“There was a room that had a free-standing electric oven and a sink and a cooler, and that was it,” Wendy DiBenedetto said. “One of the necessities of our kitchen is a wood-burning oven. Approximately 70 percent of our dishes are cooked all the way in that oven, or they are finished off in that oven somehow. That means steaks, fish, appetizers, lots of dishes.”

Gaetano’s Batavia features a wood-burning oven from Prato, Italy. Diners can see their food being prepared as the restaurant features an open kitchen.

The restaurant offers a wide variety of Italian dishes, including risotto.

“People are crazy about his risotto because it’s so creamy,” she said. “It really takes a lot of skill to make a good risotto.”

Another item, Rigatoni alla Trasteverina, features the restaurant’s homemade sausage. Gaetano DiBenedetto also takes great care to make sure the restaurant’s Ribeye di manzo al Fumo is bursting with flavor.

“He has a rib eye that he wet ages and dry ages for 21 days,” Wendy DiBenedetto said. “We then cook it in the wood-burning oven.”

Couples who want to have a quiet night to themselves but also don’t want to leave their children at home are invited to bring them to the restaurant. The restaurant plans to offer a parents night, where parents can come and enjoy a quiet dinner in the main dining room while Wendy DiBenedetto and a helper have a pizza party and make crafts on the restaurant’s lower level.

She said the concept has worked well at their Forest Park location.

“They don’t have to hire a babysitter,” she said.

Currently, Gaetano’s Batavia is only open for dinner.

“We’d rather focus on dinner and just make it fantastic,” she said.

To learn more about Gaetano’s Batavia, call 630-406-3009. More information is available on its Facebook page, “Gaetano’s Batavia."

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