Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I should've known this was going to be a good one, deemed the only French restaurant my very French friend will dine at here in New York.  Granted, he is Lyonnaise, and Benoit is tres Parisienne, but it turned out to be all I had hoped for and more.  But it's been around awhile and no one really talks about it...  but then again, it's been around awhile, which definitely in this fickle real estate and economic climate says something.  It is nestled into an unassuming stretch of west 55th street, right next to Bar Milano- which is always packed on such clear, breezy summer nights as was this one.  It doesn't have the luxury of outdoor seating for such occasions, but a whimsically painted sky on the ceiling offers a touch of levity indoors.  Chef Phillipe Bertineau holds reign over Alain Ducasse's New York iteration of his mini-chain of Benoits.  It has all the pomp and nostalgia of classic French cuisine paired with a lighter touch and glimmers of modernity that maintain the restaurant's illustrious appeal.

Red velvet banquettes and etched glass, sparkly chandeliers and low, glowy lighting prevail.  Waiters are handsomely suited, warm  and welcoming.  The wine list is no tome, but it is one thoughtfully curated list.  They have a well-rounded variety both by the glass and bottle, and more importantly, a selection of "by the ounce" option made possible by a state-of-the-art dispensing system, allowing for the sampling of some otherwise out-of-budget treasures.  I splurged on a few ounces of a white Latour, which at $9/oz. was the cheapest options, whereas a full glass (which is rare to find) would then have been easily over fifty dollars, and some of
 the offerings were almost  that costly for even just one ounce (such
 as the '91 Y'quem) .  I was happy for just a daub, as this one was a profound wine, intense and mature, whereas my normal preferences tend more fresh and floral.   All the same, I was impressed by the experience.

A small silver bowl of fragrant gougeres are bequeathed to each table, melting clouds of pungent cheese, their tantalizing aroma a compelling appetite-provoker alone.  In fact, all the perfumes of the kitchen were enticing, and plentiful, which made deciding what to order somewhat more difficult, but also pretty much guaranteeing satisfaction.  Even as appealing as were the rainbow beets with goat cheese and my adored mache, I couldn't pass up that ephemeral opportunity for morels, from Oregon, to boot!
 Deemed a "cookpot", a generous crock of spelt stewed with gloriously meaty morels and enormous favas were anointed
tableside with verdant spring pea coulis and topped with a leafy tuft of fresh greens, featuring notably flavorful, tangy and pleasantly bitter leaves amongst others sweet or frilly.  Easily shareable, although I hardly wanted to.  I mean, at ALL.  Morels are spelled with "more" for a reason, after all.  (Ha.)

The entrees have a lot of variety while still adhering to traditional bistro offerings.  There were several fishes, a few poultry renditions, and meat options from tartare to T-Bone.  I chose an exceptional golden tilefish, and while I was not even really familiar with the fish,  as it was described by our waiter it sounded ideal- and lived up.  The thick filet, similar to cod, was assertively smoked which  enhanced its firm texture and elevated the sweet flaky flesh.  Its sliver of silvery skin attained the Platonic ideal of crispness atop.   Plated atop a raft of delicate white asparagus and a gently smooth lemon mousseline (I opted out of the urchin- I know... I need to become more adventurous), novelly and more seasonally garnished with sprigs of purslane rather than predictable parsley.  Hangar steak with
excellent  frites aside couldn't have been more expertly done, even if we did suffer waiting for the medium-cooked steak we received to be replaced with the medium-rare one requested.  But aside from the delay, the steak was lusciously rich and flavorful, the bordelaise accompanying multiplying those qualities exponentially.  Seriously, I even put it on my fish.  That sauce I could've mainlined.  Nary a daub of ketchup or mayonnaise provided was needed to  augment the impeccable fries, but they too found a fine  bedfellow in that sauce.
A simple side of broccoli was a lovely sautee, brilliant green and assertively garlicked, but I even couldn't restrain myself from dipping a few of the florets in the bordelaise as well... was really that wondrous.

The only thing that wouldn't have benefited from a drizzle of that sauce were the next courses to arrive, as we moved on to a sweet finale.  My tablemate had had his eye set on the profiteroles from reservation time, so his order took no contemplation.  And mine was nearly as automatic, as I jumped upon my first rhubarb of the season.   For that, the batons of piefruit retained enough firmness to be arranged into a bed for the a luscious mascarpone sorbet, studded with juicy morsels of strawberry and a few crisp, freeze-dried ones with a delightfully crunchy texture that melted on the tongue.  I loved this dessert as much as I have any in recent history, the rhubarb sweetened just enough to tamp its alluring, pucker-worthy tang.   The profiteroles, too, were honorable, although for my own taste, I prefer bigger ones with greater filling
 potential than these single-bites nuggets.   But the were golden and toasty orbs, bursting a gush of luxurious cream with the bittersweet chocolate sauce, that boasted the heady, cocoa-heavy richness typical of Valrhona.  The profiteroles, in fact, are for two, but my tablemate polished off the entire plate himself but for the one I stole... in his assessment, the best examples of this iconic sweet in  New York.  As we left, I was gifted a mystery treat in a small, folded paper bag.  Assuming it was a breakfast morsel, I opened it the next morning with my coffee, only to discover a plain, featherweight meringue.  I wasn't quite sure what to do with it... I don't eat such sweets for breakfast, and for as dessert it certainly wanted for some fresh strawberry compote or even a dollop of jam.  Ideally, I would've replicated the rhubarb, but that was probably beyond my capabilities.  I guess it should've come with a little recipe of what-to-do with this puffy-sweet cloud, but luckily I had some wild hibiscus flowers in syrup that had also been wondering what to do with.  So it ended well, actually a pleasant surprise quite in keeping with the prior evening's repast at Benoit.

60 West 55th Street - New York 
tel.  646.943.7373

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