Forest Park chef Gaetano DiBenedetto has operated Gaetano's since 2008.

Although it was mistakenly listed as being a River Forest restaurant, Zagat Chicago rated Forest Park’s Gaetano’s second on a list of the top Italian restaurants in Chicago Oct. 15.

The food-savvy rating organization’s website advised diners to “prepare for an experience” and referred to chef Gaetano DiBenedetto’s specialty tasting menu as “unbelievable.”

Former sous chef, now server Greg Mistak said the review was dead-on when they referred to menu items as “completely unexpected.”

“The calamari, for example, is not deep fried in a plastic basket with a piece of red-checked wax paper,” he said. Instead, the squid-like seafood is prepared lengthwise stuffed with asparagus drizzled with a soy-lime citronet and sliced, “like a sushi roll,” Mistak said.

Gaetano said his goal is to bring Italian cuisine influenced by “spices Marco Polo brought to Italy.” For example, he pointed out the beef and chorizo stuffed dates in a coconut/tomato sauce.

“Coconut is not [a typical ingredient] in Italian food in America,” he said. “Polo brought cumin and saffron to the big markets in Venice,” he explained. “I could talk about it forever.”

The goal of the restaurant is to provide “fusion original Italian cuisine with respect to tradition,” Debenetto said. “We play around with food and have fun.”

He’s known for his tasting plates at the bar, where tapas-like small dishes are served based on the chef’s assessment of the tastes of the patrons.

“You start out with the tasting menu and get talking to the chef and all of a sudden you’re eating crème brulee off a salmon belly,” Mistak said.

The Zagat review was created by Zagat’s staff, according to the website. The staff recommended Gaetano’s for “quiet conversation” and deemed the eatery “worth a trip.” According to Zagat, the average tab is $58.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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