A truly great French bistro is hard to come by. There are plenty of bistros that are perfectly fine, good places to stop into for steak frites or onion soup, but very few truly transcend the clichés and offer an authentic menu of true French fare prepared with skill and presented with panache, in a gorgeous dining room. Benoit is one of those places.
Run by Alain Ducasse and presided over by chef Philippe Bertineau, Benoit is actually the New York outpost of the (obviously much older) location in Paris, and as you may have read in a recent glowing New York Times review, the restaurant took a little while to find its footing. But now it’s standing firmly on its own two feet, and can easily be called the best classic French bistro in New York.
During a recent meal there at the invitation of the restaurant, we started with a selection of hors d’oeuvres: rich and flavorful pork rillettes, crispy and unctuous pied de cochon, and a terrine of foie gras mousse with thin-sliced veal tongue. The pâté en croute, made from a recipe that dates back to 1892, is spot-on and served with mustard and a little pot of cornichons; and onion soup gratinée is silky, full-flavored, and could be a meal unto itself. For the main course, the roast suckling pig (a Tuesday special throughout the month) is made by deboning the entire pig, roasting it whole, and cross-cutting it to give you an entire cross-section, and was well seasoned with plenty of herbs, served with a rich jus, and has plenty of crispy skin. The roast organic chicken is about as classic as it gets: presented tableside before it’s cut up, and the skin is crispy and the fat rendered. We couldn’t resist ordering a side of white asparagus imported from France, whose arrival is celebrated in France every year, and it was sweet and tender, enhanced by the addition of orange supremes and Maltaise sauce (hollandaise sauce with blood orange juice added). For dessert, chocolate soufflé was light and full of high-quality chocolate flavor.
The space is essentially the Platonic ideal of what a bistro should look like, with Belle Epoque posters, mirrors, and plenty of wood, and a large bar at the entrance is an ideal spot for an after-work cocktail. Service is warm and professional, the meal well-paced; it’s clear that the restaurant is run like clockwork.
Having a great meal at a French bistro is like stepping back in time, to an era before the definition of “fine dining” became muddled and a meal of classic French fare was the height of luxury. Time stands still at Benoit in the best way possible, proving that a bistro as refined as this is truly timeless.