Style and Tradition Abound at Benoit

By Nadia Ghattas
Nadia Ghattas
Nadia Ghattas
August 10, 2013 Updated: August 10, 2013

Benoit is a quintessential Parisian-style bistro, located in Hell’s Kitchen. The restaurant is an exact replica of the original century-old Parisian Benoit, and it echoes the same feeling. Benoit takes you on a gastronomical journey filled with culture and history. Commitment to every detail makes the experience unforgettable.

Of course, this should be no surprise, since it is owned by Alain Ducasse, the internationally acclaimed chef who owns a number of restaurants, including Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London, which has been awarded the top rating, three Michelin stars. Ducasse is soon to release a smaller format of his coffee table book “J’aime New York,” a visual diary of his 150 favorite culinary destinations throughout the five boroughs, along with a pullout guidebook and an e-book, which will debut this September.

Ducasse is known for his love of tradition and style. This beautiful bistro has gone through ups and downs since its opening, so I am happy to see that Ducasse has finally found the ideal chef, one who understands bistro cuisine well.

Executive chef Philippe Bertineau was raised on a farm in France. He has harbored a passion for cooking since childhood, and has trained in “cassoulet country,” the province of Languedoc in southwest France, where the dish originates. Bertineau understands natural food, and has extensive experience at renowned restaurants, including 15 years at the old François Payard flagship. Bertineau is an “Ambassador of Cassoulet,” awarded the title by an exclusive group of chefs in southwest France.

The Experience

Benoit exudes Parisian charm. When you enter, you will be cordially escorted to your table in a large and brightly lit room that emanates warmth and sophisticated elegance. Etched panes of glass with old posters adorn the walls, covered with wood paneling.

Beautiful lamps hang from the ceiling and between the huge mirrors, which are set into the walls surrounding the entire room with well-spaced out tables. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “a place where I can easily read the menu and have some privacy—a place where one can carry a conversation in a civilized manner.”

Let yourself sink into the plush red velvet banquettes in the dining room, while sipping on a fabulous Benoit Martini or a nonalcoholic lemonade.

The service is impeccable. The wait staff seems to know when to appear. To my surprise, the waiters knew what my preferences were before I looked at the menu. They are so personable and make you feel at home. It is wonderful to see that level of care.

Timeless classics abound on the menu, compelling dishes with hundred-year-old stories, which tell more than what you see. Terrific examples of good old-fashioned dishes include the Tarte Flambée ($12), Onion Soup Gratinée ($13), Twice Baked Upside-down Comté Cheese Soufflé ($14), or Lucien Tendret’s 1892 recipe of the Pâté en Croûte ($16).

The Vegetable Bayaldi Cookpot ($14) caught my attention. I thought, “How interesting, a Turkish name has become a common dish in a French bistro.” It was a refined presentation of perfectly sliced Mediterranean vegetables, placed in a white casserole with a wonderful bouquet of herbs. So exhilarating! I swooned with pleasure at the flavor. My friend told me that this is the first thing she orders at Ducasse’s in France.

From the cold appetizers, you may want to try the Maine Lobster Salad ($25). It was well-balanced. The lobster meat was just perfectly cooked, served on quinoa, and topped with micro-greens, which sat in the middle of a circle of spicy tomato syrup. The freshness of the ingredients is instantly clear upon the first bite.

The Duck Foie Gras Terrine ($28) is one I never miss—so delicate and time-consuming to make. The meat was placed on a plate. It had shades of pink and was accompanied by a scoop of peach chutney and a toasted Parisian Brioche “Heavenly,” I thought. It felt like silk and melted in your mouth like butter.

The main course was the unforgettable Steamed Loup de Mer for a meager $31. It was rustic and beautiful, simple and light, just like the chef used to make for ladies’ lunches on the Upper East Side while at Payard’s: branzino, taggiasca olives with basil, fennel, and other secret ingredients, all cooked together.

If you are in a decadent and gluttonous mood, the traditional Cassoulet ($29) is a must. I was so happy to see such an item on the menu, since this kind of cooking is hard to find these days. The preparation alone takes three days. It is made with imported Tarbais beans, pig ears and skin, hot sausage, duck legs, salty bacon, and drowned in duck fat. Hearty and comforting, ideal for a cold winter day, but available any time of the year.

The wine menu is the size of a book, and enclosed in a beautiful leather cover. Crafted by the in-house sommelier André Compeyre, it features 550 selections of white and red varietals. Should you wish to indulge, I suggest one of the rare selections from Ducasse’s personal collection, listed under the “Secrets de Cave,” which you can also taste by the ounce.

For dessert, the glorious Peach Melba ($10), prepared by pastry chef Alexandre Macaud, makes a perfect ending to the meal.

A special cadeau awaits you on your way out, but I will leave it to you to discover it yourself.

60 W. 55th St. (between Fifth and Sixth avenues).
Lunch, Monday–Saturday: 11:45 a.m.–3 p.m.
Dinner, Monday–Sunday: 5:30 p.m.–11 p.m.
Brunch, Sunday: 11:30am–3:30 p.m.

Nadia Ghattas
Nadia Ghattas