“Oh man, I thought the escargots were going to be served inside the shells. Now I don’t get to ply them out from the shells.” My wife Jun was bummed the moment she saw the escargots already plucked from their shells. I have seen escargots served either inside or outside of shells in different French restaurant (actually, my preference is servings outside of shells since I don’t have to risk burning my hands with the extremely hot shells). What was more troubling to me was that the escargots that the kitchen at Benoit served us didn’t have the level of smooth, chewy texture that I would normally expect from a classic French bistro. Actually, our meal at Benoit, a bistro owned by the acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse (although it’s uncertain how much involved he is in day-to-day affairs at the kitchen), on a recent Friday evening had one common theme: lack of sound texture.
The menu at Benoit is more or less a straightforward assortment of French bistro classics. New York City certainly has a great number of awesome French restaurants showcasing traditional dishes of the country that has often been considered the culinary leader in the Western civilization. I’m not sure I would give that distinction to Benoit. Sure, tarte flambee, that Alsatian thin crust flatbread with onions and bacon had predictably delicious flavor, but the escargots that came in garlic and parsley butter turned out to be overly buttery while lacking the optimal level of texture as I had noted above. I distinctly remember ordering sweet spiced Rohan duck breast at medium rare (Jun and I both love duck dishes, especially in the juicy, tender state cooked at that level), but I had to wonder after taking the first bite of the meat whether the kitchen mistakenly brought a well-done dish. The texture of the duck was so underwhelmingly tough that I focused my meal more on the king salmon accompanied by seasonal vegetables and Béarnaise sauce, even while Jun, whose favorite meat is duck, continued to march on the poultry.
King salmon itself was quite aptly cooked medium rare, on the other hand, although I couldn’t remember much beyond the texture that made this dish particularly special compared to other outstanding seafood dishes I’ve had elsewhere in the city. Even the dessert lacked the textural attribute it is supposed to have; when we ordered chocolate soufflé accompanied by pistachio sorbet, we were expecting silky smooth texture of the inside that would melt in our mouth. What we got instead was a surprisingly dull dish that lacked any textural punch to give us satisfaction. Jun, who certainly knows a thing or two about sweet dishes, actually got pretty irritated at the end that the kitchen could bring a soufflé of this quality.
Getting a reservation at Benoit is pretty manageable, and the restaurant was not nearly full even during peak hours on a Friday evening. It probably doesn’t help that the restaurant, despite its charming décor making you think you’re sitting at a café somewhere in Paris, is located nearby the stale neighborhood of Midtown West stuck between Columbus Circle and Times Square. There is full bar with extensive French-centric wine selections. I was hoping to find a gem at Benoit, which has already gone through multiple chef turnovers since its opening, but it seems like these turnovers are rather hurting the consistency of execution in putting together sound French bistro classics.
- Creativity: 7.0/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 6.5/10
- Value: 7.0/10
Address: 60 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019
Telephone: (646) 943-7373