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docsconz

Bistro Benoit

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no, it wasn't byo on Friday.

do you mean that they waived the corkage for your group?

I am pretty sure they did waive it, but then again, I didn't pay the bill,

a nice gentleman at our table invited everyone...

ps. about the decor: I too found it just a tad tacky, not as traditional-looking

as the Parisian Benoit, but rather a bit too new-looking and bright.

The dim, black-and-white bar with checkered floor and striped walls

looked much nicer, I found.


Edited by AlexForbes (log)

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We had a wildly successful dinner here last night!

Based on the thread, I wasn't so sure we would.

(Just a note to anyone used to my partner's usually spectacular photography - it seems that he left his photographic expertise at home last night, for which I give apologies in advance.)

Rather than share the Charcuterie platter, we split three full starters,

Lucullus-Style Langue de Veau:

gallery_11181_5972_17885.jpg

(Sliced tongue stacked with a 'mortar' of delicious foie-gras mousse; what could be bad?)

Pâté en Croûte, Lucien Tendret recipe of 1892:

gallery_11181_5972_14557.jpg

and the Duck Foie Gras confit:

gallery_11181_5972_52158.jpg

The first two were show-stoppingly good. The cold foie gras was neither the worst nor the best I've ever had, certainly not up to the standards set by the first two dishes, and I wouldn't order it again.

The evening's special was a "Côte de Bœuf 'Rossini' " for two: a rib steak (grilled to perfection, I might add, crusty on the outside and exactly as rare as we had ordered) topped with generous slabs of sauteed foie gras, and a sauce that was a very delicious rendition of the traditional version, which (of course) is a veal reduction with Madiera and truffles.

The cooked steak was presented:

gallery_11181_5972_104453.jpg

then taken away and sliced and presented with the foie gras:

gallery_11181_5972_17290.jpg

and we asked to serve ourselves, as we started with small helpings:

gallery_11181_5972_16557.jpg

(Sliced steak topped with foie gras; what could be bad?)

This dish was wildly successful, and made us wonder aloud why in the world people stopped eating like this, "nouvelle cuisine" and its successors be damned, as far as we're concerned.

Dessert was perhaps the best Tarte Tatin I've ever had (and extra-difficult to photograph):

gallery_11181_5972_96914.jpg

While we were savoring every bite of steak, we realized that we hadn't been told and hadn't asked the price, so we started to speculate. Surely we thought, because of how superb it was, and how generous the foie gras was (each piece was at least 4 or 5 times larger than what Jean-Georges puts on his Roast Pigeon plate), that it would have to be at least $125 for two, and perhaps more.

When the check came, the steak, for two, was..... $80.

With the exception of the cold Foie Gras starter, which wasn't terrible by any means, this was a wildly successful and wildly delicious dinner.

And both the manager and our waiter were as nice as could possibly be hoped for.

I hope our experience wasn't a fluke!

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Any mention of how often they run that special?

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Any mention of how often they run that special?

He said it had been the special all week, and that there would probably be a new one next week, but as I was pressing him for details, he explained that they're newly opened (duh) and have just started having specials so they're feeling their way.

I'm thinking of, and working on, starting a thread about "A return to 'real' food?" using this meal as an example, so I gotta ask: is this to say that the "Côte de Bœuf 'Rossini' " appeals to you? This is the kind of food I had told you that I would want to eat in Paris; Perhaps I'll have to start the new thread for your answer, but how does this dish appeal to somebody as "molecular" as you?

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Any mention of how often they run that special?

He said it had been the special all week, and that there would probably be a new one next week, but as I was pressing him for details, he explained that they're newly opened (duh) and have just started having specials so they're feeling their way.

I'm thinking of, and working on, starting a thread about "A return to 'real' food?" using this meal as an example, so I gotta ask: is this to say that the "Côte de Bœuf 'Rossini' " appeals to you? This is the kind of food I had told you that I would want to eat in Paris; Perhaps I'll have to start the new thread for your answer, but how does this dish appeal to somebody as "molecular" as you?

I'm not Bryan, but I tend to like "molecular" or technoemotional cooking so I'll take a shot at your question. It looks great, but I see no reason that both approaches need to be mutually exclusive. I like great food- period. What I love about quality technoemotional cooking besides the appearance, texture and the taste is the imagination that makes it extra special. That doesn't mean that I don't also love more primal dining!

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Any mention of how often they run that special?

He said it had been the special all week, and that there would probably be a new one next week, but as I was pressing him for details, he explained that they're newly opened (duh) and have just started having specials so they're feeling their way.

I'm thinking of, and working on, starting a thread about "A return to 'real' food?" using this meal as an example, so I gotta ask: is this to say that the "Côte de Bœuf 'Rossini' " appeals to you? This is the kind of food I had told you that I would want to eat in Paris; Perhaps I'll have to start the new thread for your answer, but how does this dish appeal to somebody as "molecular" as you?

I'm not Bryan, but I tend to like "molecular" or technoemotional cooking so I'll take a shot at your question. It looks great, but I see no reason that both approaches need to be mutually exclusive. I like great food- period. What I love about quality technoemotional cooking besides the appearance, texture and the taste is the imagination that makes it extra special. That doesn't mean that I don't also love more primal dining!

Doc-

I know that you love both extremes, and I think that Bryan may too; I was curious to hear his answer. But in any case, I started a thread about this here (to get it out of the Benoit thread)

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FWIW, Tenderloin of Beef Rossini is the menu at Del Posto, where I just had dinner.

And FWIW, it's only available on the $175 per person tasting menu. Their other tenderloin for two (with potato crisps, butter lettuce and Spring onion) is $135.

I don't mind throwing down some serious cash for really great food (i.e. the former ADNY) but I'm getting a bit tired of what seems to be a recent trend in NYC towards stratospheric pricing at more than a few places. I guess there are enough hedge fund managers to keep these places full no matter how ridiculous the pricing gets. Del Posto is also charging $17 for a "snipped greens salad" with vinaigrette dressing. :hmmm:

I think in comparison, Benoit provides a lot of bang for the buck.


Edited by Felonius (log)

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I tried to get a reservation for tonight and was told they had nothing until 10:15. Not even an early-bird table before 6pm, which I'd gladly have taken. I guess somebody is eating there.

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I was there past 10pm last night and it was humming along as we left. There were no seats in the main room when we came in at around 9. So, we ate in the bar area and for what it's worth I found it incredibly loud and difficult to carry on a conversation.

The food is uneven. As others have mentioned, the langue de veau is outstanding. I'd take it over a Katz's pastrami sandwich if I had to make a choice. The onion soup was subpar. The gougeres along with the other breads were delicious. The marinated salmon which comes with a potato salad of sorts required a touch more seasoning. All that plus a nice glass of white wine came to under $50, not including tip. Worth it in my opinion, although obviously I would make different choices in the future.

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Would whoever goes there next be kind enough to post what that night's special is, even if you don't order it? Thanks!

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I know it's a lot to ask, given the incredibly annoying loading and set-up process of Benoit's website, but can someone who has been recently for lunch tell me if the online menu is anywhere near accurate to the real (current) menu?


Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

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I know it's a lot to ask, given the incredibly annoying loading and set-up process of Benoit's website, but can someone who has been recently for lunch tell me if the online menu is anywhere near accurate to the real (current) menu?

As far as I can tell, or that is to say, the only difference I can spot, is that the Charcuterie platter on the real menu is $39 and includes more things like the Foie Gras and the Tongue. If there are other differences, I failed to spot them.

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I know it's a lot to ask, given the incredibly annoying loading and set-up process of Benoit's website, but can someone who has been recently for lunch tell me if the online menu is anywhere near accurate to the real (current) menu?

As far as I can tell, or that is to say, the only difference I can spot, is that the Charcuterie platter on the real menu is $39 and includes more things like the Foie Gras and the Tongue. If there are other differences, I failed to spot them.

Thanks, markk. Actually, if you click on the lunch menu in .pdf, the Charcuterie is so listed ($39 for 2 - and assortment as you suggest).

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Beautiful Brazilian Barmaids were not sighted at my meal at Benoit this evening but otherwise I came away with a relatively favorable impression. It's not raising the bar for bistro cooking in NYC as was portrayed in the opening weeks nor is it headed for disaster as more recent blog and message board reports have suggested. It's a very solid spot but with some inconsistency across the menu. Some items are truly great, others a bit perplexing, and still others disappointing.

My meal began with a cocktail in the bar, a French Mojito. This was a rather sweet drink with rum, lime, mint, and grape syrup but fine for the occasion. The bartender wasn't particularly friendly or engaging, and the restaurant wasn't even close to full--we were having an early dinner so I showed up at around 5:45. In general I find the bar for the staff here to be set quite low. What little interaction we had with management types was more encouraging--enthusiasm, friendliness--but everyone else was simply doing their job, no more.

Bread service is fine; the mini-baguettes at Atelier are analogous but much better. Gougeres were appreciated; we asked for a second tray and received one shortly. For starters, the much discussed charcuterie for two and the lobster bisque. Both of these items were pretty killer. I'd go back and share these two items with a friend, add a dessert, and call it dinner, not even thinking about mains.

The charcuterie platter was well-made and extremely delicious. Weakest part was the too cold, too thick proscuitto. There was just too much of it. Some people have complained about the cooked ham; it was fine as a salty, familiar palate cleanser of sorts between assorted gamey and livery bites. The pate en croute, foie gras terrine, and langue de veau were all awesome.

Lobster bisque was the only dish of the evening that received a bit of table side flourish. Four plump nuggets of lobster sat beneath a garnish of creme fraiche. The bisque was then poured over by a food runner. Really nice soup, neither too rich, salty and bracing nor too thin and watery. We ordered this because we didn't really feel like escargot--the only other viable option to us--and were pleasantly surprised.

Mains were a half-step down. All three items--halibut with asparagus and champagne sabayon, duck a l'orange, and cassoulet--were better than good, but each plate showed some weakness that kept them from being unequivocally very good.

The asparagus and sabayon were the stars of the fish plate, especially the latter; the halibut itself was fine but overcooked and a bit dry. Also, our piece had a decent bit of the blood line running through it.

The duck was good if a bit boring. I realize this is a classic dish but the duck itself wasn't particularly memorable. Perhaps it needed to be a bit more tender or the skin a bit more crispy. The condiments, the sauce served on the side and the orange marmalade, gave the dish some more excitement.

Finally, the cassoulet was quite successful and a huge portion, too. I liked what to me seemed like a cinnamon- or five spice-esque quality. Only disappointment here was that it was served with pork loin instead of pork belly as I'm used to. Oh well. I would've probably loved this dish two months ago when it was a bit chillier, at least I got in there before Memorial Day.

Weakest point of the evening, without question, the fries. I guess I should've trusted people but I wanted to see what the big fuss was about. Technically speaking, these were not good, and the portion appears to have shrunk dramatically. Our portion was hardly a heaping tangle but rather a small mound that barely crested the ring meant to act as its base. As others have said, not crispy enough, too thin, not even in size. They were surprisingly useful for soaking up all the tasty sauces left on the plates but weak as stand alone items.

Desserts were surprisingly good. The nougat glace much more complex than I imagined with a great interplay between passion fruit and pistachio. I've had better baba rum-cakes deals at other fine-dining restaurants but I thought this version was serviceable. Weakest part was the cake. Slosh enough rum and whipped cream on there and you're golden.

So, all in all, a low two stars. I'd go back but only if I had a discrete craving for bistro food and happened to be in the area or if I really wanted langue de veau. Compared to my meal at Ssam last week where we spent about $20 less per person, it's a fine value but not a great one.

ETA: No specials, steak rossini or otherwise. Sadness.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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Beautiful Brazilian Barmaids were not sighted at my meal at Benoit this evening but otherwise I came away with a relatively favorable impression.  It's not raising the bar for bistro cooking in NYC as was portrayed in the opening weeks nor is it headed for disaster as more recent blog and message board reports have suggested.  It's a very solid spot but with some inconsistency across the menu.  Some items are truly great, others a bit perplexing, and still others disappointing.

My meal began with a cocktail in the bar, a French Mojito.  This was a rather sweet drink with rum, lime, mint, and grape syrup but fine for the occasion.  The bartender wasn't particularly friendly or engaging, and the restaurant wasn't even close to full--we were having an early dinner so I showed up at around 5:45.  In general I find the bar for the staff here to be set quite low.  What little interaction we had with management types was more encouraging--enthusiasm, friendliness--but everyone else was simply doing their job, no more.

Bread service is fine; the mini-baguettes at Atelier are analogous but much better.  Gougeres were appreciated; we asked for a second tray and received one shortly.  For starters, the much discussed charcuterie for two and the lobster bisque.  Both of these items were pretty killer.  I'd go back and share these two items with a friend, add a dessert, and call it dinner, not even thinking about mains.

The charcuterie platter was well-made and extremely delicious.  Weakest part was the too cold, too thick proscuitto.  There was just too much of it.  Some people have complained about the cooked ham; it was fine as a salty, familiar palate cleanser of sorts between assorted gamey and livery bites.  The pate en croute, foie gras terrine, and langue de veau were all awesome.

Lobster bisque was the only dish of the evening that received a bit of table side flourish.  Four plump nuggets of lobster sat beneath a garnish of creme fraiche.  The bisque was then poured over by a food runner.  Really nice soup, neither too rich, salty and bracing nor too thin and watery.  We ordered this because we didn't really feel like escargot--the only other viable option to us--and were pleasantly surprised.

Mains were a half-step down.  All three items--halibut with asparagus and champagne sabayon, duck a l'orange, and cassoulet--were better than good, but each plate showed some weakness that kept them from being unequivocally very good. 

The asparagus and sabayon were the stars of the fish plate, especially the latter; the halibut itself was fine but overcooked and a bit dry.  Also, our piece had a decent bit of the blood line running through it.

The duck was good if a bit boring.  I realize this is a classic dish but the duck itself wasn't particularly memorable.  Perhaps it needed to be a bit more tender or the skin a bit more crispy.  The condiments, the sauce served on the side and the orange marmalade, gave the dish some more excitement.

Finally, the cassoulet was quite successful and a huge portion, too.  I liked what to me seemed like a cinnamon- or five spice-esque quality.  Only disappointment here was that it was served with pork loin instead of pork belly as I'm used to.  Oh well.  I would've probably loved this dish two months ago when it was a bit chillier, at least I got in there before Memorial Day.

Weakest point of the evening, without question, the fries.  I guess I should've trusted people but I wanted to see what the big fuss was about.  Technically speaking, these were not good, and the portion appears to have shrunk dramatically.  Our portion was hardly a heaping tangle but rather a small mound that barely crested the ring meant to act as its base.  As others have said, not crispy enough, too thin, not even in size.  They were surprisingly useful for soaking up all the tasty sauces left on the plates but weak as stand alone items.

Desserts were surprisingly good.  The nougat glace much more complex than I imagined with a great interplay between passion fruit and pistachio.  I've had better baba rum-cakes deals at other fine-dining restaurants but I thought this version was serviceable.  Weakest part was the cake.  Slosh enough rum and whipped cream on there and you're golden.

So, all in all, a low two stars.  I'd go back but only if I had a discrete craving for bistro food and happened to be in the area or if I really wanted langue de veau.  Compared to my meal at Ssam last week where we spent about $20 less per person, it's a fine value but not a great one.

ETA: No specials, steak rossini or otherwise.  Sadness.

That is strange about the cassoulet. Still, it's next to try on my list.

I learned that it's Pekin duck, and lost interest in it. That doesn't explain why it couldn't be crispy, but to me it's an uninteresting duck and explains a lot of the other comments I've heard.

I almost went last week (or the week before) and called, and the special was a Veal Chop for 2 with various vegetables, and potatoes braised in veal stock, which certainly had my name all over it. I'm really surprised to hear there were no specials. I had formed the opinion based on all I'd read plus my experience with the Steak Rossini that the specials were probably the way to go.

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I was there last night with two friends and really enjoyed it. I had the escargots and the roast chicken both of which were excellent. The fries a la l'Ami Louis which accompanied the chicken were good, but not quite as good as good as their namesake on rue Vertbois. Oh that they would try to replicate the potato pie of l'Ami Louis - that would make the place a destination venue. My friends had the vegetable cocotte and steak tartare as appetizers. The steak tartare was actually a main, but my buddy had it as an appetizer. He said it was the best he had had in New York. I tried some and thought it was good. His wife had the quenelles and she thought they were great. The breads were outstanding. My friend has been a steady patron of all the Ducasse restaurants. They sent us each a gift of the house a huge dish of a fish tartar. I think it daurade(?sp). It was good, but far too much. We had an assortment of desserts, the best of which were the profiteroles and the vanilla millefeuille. We BYOB'd a Beaucastel '89 which was drinking quite well.

The place was crowded and quite loud. Surprisingly the bar was empty. It might even have been closed.

The only deficiency might have been the service, which was friendly but somewhat unprofessional. The waiters kept asking who was getting which dish. No big problem, but worthy of note.

All in all, we really enjoyed it and will undoubtedly return.

Porkpa

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I went again last night with a party of three, specifically to try the cassoulet.

We started with full orders to share of the Pate en Croute, the Tongue, and the Asparagus (we had both sauces, the mousseline and the vinaigrette, on the side). Everything was superb, and faultless.

The cassoulet was also outstanding, and as Bryan alluded to, for me it had a "haunting" quality in the spicing, so not only did I eat my entire portion (the only one of three diners at my table to do so), I picked a significant amount of one of the other portions, trying to figure out (while thoroughly enjoying) that elusive but haunting flavor.

Dessert was once again the best Tarte Tatin I've ever had.

They were out of all the red wines that came from the Southwest of France, and that was a bit of a disappointment, and we settled for a nice (if somewhat overpriced) red from Provence whose name I don't remember.

We had the same waiter as we had last month, and he absolutely remembered us and gave us a warm greeting, and once again provided us with excellent, and friendly service.

That's 2 for 2, for me.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a nightly special - well, I should actually say "relieved" because I didnt want to be tempted away from the cassoulet, but still I think it would be nice if they kept up with a daily or weekly special, because the first time I went the Steak Rossini was outstanding, and one time inbetween I called and was told that the special was a veal chop for two with assorted vegetables and potatoes braised in veal stock (my name written all over it), but we couldn't get it together to go there. The waiter last night told us that it had been sublime.

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I'm thinking of going to Benoit post-theater when we are up there next month. Many of the items mentioned (cassoulet, profiteroles, tarte tatin) are not on the on-line menu on the restaurant's website. Are they specials? reliably there but the website is incomplete? Any sense if there are things they run out of as the evening progresses? We'd likely be quite late and might just want apps and dessert, but I'd like the chicken to be an option.

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All those items are regularly available, and they're listed on the online menu -- you just have to click "NEXT PAGE" to see them.

I've been twice now and will post some thoughts soon.

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Ate at Benoit last night and just wanted to post a few thoughts. Statrted with a couple of cocktails in the bar; in that I was able to ask for my wife's martini to be made a specific way, it was good, and my apertif was fine as well.

We really loved the charcuterie platter, and it is huge...along with the excellent breads and gougeres, I could probably make a meal out of this on a fairly regular basis. Our mains were good; my wife had quenelles and I went with the trio of lamb, cooked perfectly and came with a creamy potato gratin. We also ordered fries, which have been written about above. Our order arrived and they were, to my taste, undercooked and soggy, which I told our waiter about - he whisked them away and returned with a much better order, but I believe there are better fries to be had in this town. Dessert was the profiteroles for 2, which were delicious.

So, a couple of notes - we noticed that the bus people seemed to work a lot harder than the wait staff. They were running around doing their job well all evening, and there were times when we would have liked to see our waiter, but he was not easy to find. Everyone was quite gracious, however, from the hosts to the wait staff to the bus staff...and there's plenty of staff, to be sure.

Second note is that our bill came and had a $9 bottle of Pellegrino on it, which we didn't order - when our waiter finally came back after dropping the check, it was graciously removed.

Total spent for the evening was $220- that includes our 2 drinks at the bar and a $40 half bottle of wine, a nice Burgundy, which I believe is a relative "bargain" for a meal like this.

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By the time I started dining out at haute cuisine establishments in earnest, in the early 1990s, La Côte Basque had long been a piece of history. It looked exactly as one would have imagined a fancy New York French restaurant would look in an early Hollywood color film, with its red leather banquettes, tuxedoed waiters, and wraparound mural of a French Mediterranean coastal village. I was swept away by the experience, not least the dessert trolley, and I had the finest cassoulet of my life, yet I couldn't help but notice something: I was by far the youngest person in the restaurant.

I continued to frequent La Côte Basque over the years, and it was one of the special occasion restaurants to which I'd take my wife for lunch. Over time, though, as new flavors and an improved American culinary culture steadily took over, I forgot about La Cote Basque. So did many others. It was, I suppose, only a matter of time, given the restaurant's aging clientele and declining relevance among younger customers, before La Côte Basque would become an economically unsustainable venture.

As I began to work on my first book, Turning the Tables, the word came down from Jean-Jacques Rachou, the chef-owner: La Côte Basque, which had operated continuously since 1958 (and had been owned by Rachou since 1979) was to close its doors forever in early 2004. This news was almost immediately followed by the announcement that Lutèce, another of the city's grand old French restaurants, was to close, leaving the number of traditional French fine-dining restaurants in New York City at just three: La Grenouille, La Caravelle, and Le Perigord. And in May of 2004, La Caravelle threw in the towel as well.

Such a turn of events would have been unimaginable to a New York restaurant consumer in the 1960s or 1970s. The former New York Times critic Bryan Miller reports that his research through old restaurant guidebooks and articles reveals at least twenty-five such restaurants operating in New York in 1975.

I asked Rachou if he'd allow me to interview him for my book, and he not only said yes but also invited me for dinner. Also at the dinner were a few other people I'd wanted to interview, including Georges Briguet, an old friend of Rachou's and also one of New York's most venerable restaurateurs. Briguet has operated traditional French stalwart Le Perigord since 1964. As the others were closing, Le Perigord was celebrating its fortieth anniversary, making it the longest-running continuously owned (by a single owner) and operated restaurant in New York City.

There was talk of having our dinner meeting at Le Perigord, but given that La Côte Basque was just a few days from closing Rachou prevailed. Sitting at La Côte Basque with Rachou and Briguet was one of those "this is what makes life worth living" moments. I was finally sure that my decision to leave the legal profession and become a food writer, despite the economic consequences, was the right one. And, for the last time, I got to eat the cassoulet.

The story of La Cote Basque has been told by others more familiar with the history than I. Bryan Miller called it "a subversive, glamorous and, at times, bizarre history," and I recommend his 2003 story in the New York Observer for those who want all the details. In short, La Cote Basque was the successor restaurant to Le Pavillon, the trailblazing (for America) French restaurant that opened at the 1939 world's fair and then moved to permanent digs in Manhattan. The owner-operator of Le Pavillon was Henri Soulé, a legend in his time and also -- as became important to the story -- a notorious anti-Semite.

It so happened that Le Pavillon rented space in the building owned by Columbia Pictures, which at that time was owned by the Cohn brothers. The story goes that Soulé always gave the Cohn brothers the worst table, way back by the kitchen. Eventually the Cohns had it with Soulé and raised his rent dramatically. The restaurant moved. There are many more details in the Miller piece -- bizarre is the right word -- but the long and the short of it is that Rachou wound up buying the old Le Pavillon space in 1979. It became La Cote Basque.

To further complicate matters, the La Cote Basque where I had that farewell dinner was not in the original La Cote Basque/Le Pavillon space at 5 East 55th Street but, rather at 20 West 55th Street, where Benoit is now located. Columbia Pictures gave way to Disney, which wanted the space at 5 East 55th Street for a Disney store. So La Cote Basque moved. To still further complicate matters, La Cote Basque after closing reopened for a while as LCB Brasserie Rachou, which closed suddenly (and never reopened) after a confrontation between Rachou and a health inspector.

The space lay idle for a bit, at which point the Groupe Alain Ducasse took over the lease in order to open Benoit. Ducasse's history in New York is hardly as storied as La Cote Basque's, but Ducasse took his lumps. That there was to be another classic French restaurant -- albeit a bistro/brasserie, not a category that's having much trouble in New York at all -- in the La Cote Basque space was amazing news, and that it would be a Ducasse restaurant was more remarkable still.

The first time I went to Benoit I was surprised to see some familiar faces from Ducasse's defunct signature restaurant in the Essex House hotel. A manager named Thierry, who in the interim period had been at the Modern, was on the floor. And the chef is Sebastien Rondier, who was a fixture in the Essex House kitchen -- acting as the senior sous chef and expediter -- even as the chefs there changed from year to year. I'd seen the name, Sebastien Rondier, on press releases but it wasn't until I arrived at the restaurant and saw him in the dining room that I realized, "Oh, Sebastien is the chef here."

I go way back with the Ducasse organization (though I've had maybe two minutes of conversation total with Alain Ducasse, ever); they took very good care of us and absolutely refused to present a bill, so do with that information what you wish. The second time I took my mother, wife and nearly-three-year-old son. The third time my wife and I went with another couple. On both of those occasions we were allowed to pay for what we ordered but there were various comped extras. My understanding is that Frank Bruni has been three times and will be reviewing Benoit in the New York Times tomorrow.

Benoit is not a flawless restaurant. It's somewhat uneven. But it's a highly enjoyable restaurant, and some of the food being served there is the best of its kind. For example, I've never had better onion soup gratinee, and the appetizer charcuterie platter for two is astounding -- surely the best item of its kind on offer anywhere I've been in America. The salt-cured salmon appetizer is also stunningly good, accompanied by warm potato salad upon which I can't think of a way to improve (there are terrific little side dishes throughout the menu). The quality of the lamb entree is on par with what the best restaurants in town are serving, even though Benoit is cheaper (prices are overall quite fair for what you're getting) and supposedly more rustic. The steak is excellent -- just one notch down from a top steakhouse. The desserts for two, especially the apple tarte Tatin and the profiteroles, are large enough to feed four (really) and are superb, better than anything that I ever had from the La Cote Basque trolley, which itself was pretty great.

I've not had the roast chicken for two. But I've had the French fries and they're just not all that great. The steak tartare is disappointing -- too mushy and overdressed, though impeccably fresh. The halibut entree, which my wife ordered twice, is based on excellent product but is irredeemably dull. Nothing special about the lobster ravioli. The rum baba just doesn't quite hit the mark.

Our server all three times, a very nice guy named Rodney (who told me he waited on Frank Bruni on two of his three visits), played the bistro waiter role well: not overly formal, but very competent. But Benoit is a bistro in the sense that Gramercy Tavern is a tavern or Gotham Bar & Grill is a bar and grill: the cooking is at a much higher level than what you could rightfully expect from the genre. It's a Michelin-star-worthy (one star, I'd suggest) homage to bistro cooking by Ducasse-schooled kitchen and service teams.

It's also an homage to La Côte Basque. Mr. Rachou reportedly drops in to make the cassoulet (I've not tried it; it's summer right now) and the fish quenelles (superb) each day, the La Côte Basque flatware and crystal is still in use, some of the old paintings are still up (especially in the private rooms upstairs), and there are black-and-white photos from La Côte Basque's history in various places in the restaurant, such as along the stairs leading down to the restrooms -- allow some extra time to have a look. And some (though by no means all) of the customers seem like they've been with the restaurant since Le Pavillon.

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I find the beating that Benoit is taking at the hands of the critics distressing.

It's like they don't respect this kind of food. Cuisine bourgeoise -- tre ordinaire.

Benoit is uneven, yes. But when it's good -- which in my experience has been most of the time -- it's better than anyone else trying to do like things in New York. I mean, like, immeasurably better than Baltazar, which up to now has pretty much been the top of that heap.

It's a pity the reviewers don't seem to respect that.

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I find the beating that Benoit is taking at the hands of the critics distressing.

It's like they don't respect this kind of food.  Cuisine bourgeoise -- tre ordinaire.

Benoit is uneven, yes.  But when it's good -- which in my experience has been most of the time -- it's better than anyone else trying to do like things in New York.  I mean, like, immeasurably better than Baltazar, which up to now has pretty much been the top of that heap.

It's a pity the reviewers don't seem to respect that.

I agree. I have had four excellent meals at Benoit. My recent meal at Adour on Saturday night was superb: the best of the dozen or so I have had there since January.

'

I can't understand why Ducasse can't seem to get a break from new york's critics, both amateur and professional. Jealousy perhaps? The desire to bring a chef who is at the pinnacle of his craft down? Misunderstanding of who he is and what he tries to accomplish as a chef?

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