Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Back to Basics at Benoit Paris

One weekday afternoon when I was in Paris I decided to have lunch at Benoit, a classic bistro in La Rive Droite, just a quick 20 minute walk down rue St Martin, on the same street where I was staying. From outside it looked just like any other restaurant in this area popular with tourists (with Notre Dame and Centre Pompidou only a few steps away); well, except this 100-year-old restaurant has a Michelin star, with branches now in New York and Tokyo as part of Alain Ducasse's restaurant empire.

I walked in slightly after noon, before most people went for lunch. Surprisingly I wasn't the first inside and I was quickly seated at the back side of the dining room. The interior of the restaurant was stereotypical of what you expected from a classic Parisian bistrot - warm, polished interior with wooden furniture with table covered in simple, white tablecloth. On the wall was antique-looking mirror, larger-than-life paintings and brass rails running across. Tableware was simple but beautiful - I loved those fine, white china with floral motif, like what you see in the Laura Ashley catalog.

I was in the mood for a carefree afternoon, so when I was offered champagne to start, I obliged. And this multi-vintage Alain Ducasse private label bottle was surprisingly complex with citrus and apple notes with a bit of toasty flavors. Not bad for a house champagne. To be honest I didn't pay much attention to what's inside the a la carte menu, as I saw what I wanted in their 3-course Menu Déjeuner and decided I was going for that.

There's no complicated amuse-bouche completed with espuma and powder - only a small plate of parmesan gougeres. But they were delicious just off the oven. Same with the bread basket really - nothing fancy, just a few slices of baguettes, but that big slab of butter on the plate next to it was all I really needed.

My appetizer of mackerel tartlet was beautifully presented in the floral plate, with spread of tomato sauce in between smoked mackerel and fresh vegetables and round puff pastry base, surrounded by a light drizzle of anchovy oil. It's refreshing with those contrasting acidity and crunchiness from the radishes and tomatoes and lettuce, and the mackerel was rich and tasty.

I asked the sommelier for recommendation for my richer main course, so he came back with a Rhone Valley red, with typical dark fruit characters, a mild tannins and some black pepper on the nose. And the dish of pan-seared black budding was excellent - the round of Boudin Noir was sliced thick and just slightly seared on the surface - with the deep meat flavor reminiscent of something you would get from a stew cooked on the stove for a long time. The apples done two ways - a baked halved apple plus matchstick raw apples piled on top - served on the side provided just the right balance, with the tart acidity cutting through the richness of the pudding. I loved the generous serving of the mashed potatoes too.

But the best of all was the dessert of savarin, served with a rich, well-aged Armagnac and the heavenly Creme Chantilly spooned on the side from a chilled brass container. Once again, I felt it's as good as it could be for a dessert as simple as this.

I have been to Alain Ducasse's restaurants a few times previously but wasn't overly impressed, but this meal was very enjoyable. Fine execution of classic bistro fare - that's the sort of cuisine the restaurant is serving, and they did it perfectly.

More pictures in my Flickr album:

When? July 2 2015
Where? Benoit, 20 Rue Saint-Martin, Paris
Menu Highlights? Pan-seared Black Pudding with two-style apples
Champagne Selection Alain Ducasse Brut, MV
Domaine Alain Voge AOC Saint-Joseph Les Vinsonnes 2013

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