It’s commonplace in France to enjoy a couple cocktails and some light bites with friends before dinner; enjoying some apéritifs is a great way to stimulate the appetite and kick back after a long day’s work. That trend hasn’t caught on in the States much, but the folks behind Alain Ducasse’s popular French bistro Benoit, located in New York’s Midtown, are making a major case for it in their bar room with their new offering, L’Apero, available from 5 to 7 p.m. daily and at 2 p.m. on Fridays through Labor Day.
We recently dropped by to sample the menu at the invitation of the restaurant, and the menu was smart, playful, and certainly of a quality in line with what you’d expect from the renowned bistro, which is one of the best French restaurants in the city. The wine and cocktail selection , all available for $8, was chosen by beverage director Guillem Kerambrun with an eye on drinkability, and the four wines (sparkling, white, red, and rosé) certainly fit the bill. Classic apéritifs include Ricard, Lillet, Byrrh, and Vermouth Dolin blanc; and cocktails include Fine à L’eau (brandy and soda), Noilly Cass (white vermouth and crème de cassis), and Kir Royale (crème de cassis and sparkling wine). Cidre de Cornouaille and 1664 beer are also available.
Eight small plates are also on the menu, ranging from $4 to $8 apiece. These include rillettes, rosette de Lyon saucisson, prosciutto, crudites with olive tapenade and fresh, spreadable cheese, pickled vegetables, a small tarte flambee (flatbread topped with cheese, onions, and bacon), two-bite croquet-monsieurs, and comte with black currant jelly. They’re all custom-tailored to complement the beverages, and they do so very well.
The bar room at Benoit is a completely separate space from the main dining room, with an L-shaped zinc-top bar, Belle Époque touches, and floor-to -ceiling windows that open out to the street. While 55th Street doesn’t have quite the same charm as Saint-Germain-des-Prés, relaxing with a Lillet at the bar before dinner can certainly put you in a rive gauche kind of mood.