On Sunday I had a good amount of spare time for brunch prior to a 4 hour opera performance and really wanted to fuel up. I chose BENOIT (www.benoitny.com) located at 60 W 55th Street, just off 6th Avenue and very central to everything.
I arrived early at 1145am and the dining room was quiet, when I left at 130pm, it was jammed with a line waiting for tables, so always reserve.
BENOIT is the baby of French uber-Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse, but this is basic French bistro at its best, nothing over the top, not even the prices.
The room has a beautiful faux ceiling of blue skies with clouds and lots of B&W period French photos from the mid-20th century and earlier. There are those large bistro posters and lots of French staff, so you feel truly in a classy French bistro with lots of blonde wood tones, crisp linens and red velvet.
My server was French-born with a truly wonderful accent to boot and the pumped music is simple French chansons of all types, but never loud.
The menu is simple with starters, soups & salad, fish, meats and breakfast type brunch items, which I usually avoid, although the little girl next to me ordered the French toast and it looked awesome piled high with marinated fresh fruits.
I was greeted with a small plate of piping hot crispy cheese gougeres which were so welcome on one of the coldest days of the year so far.
The bread came slightly warmed in a cloth basket to keep it warm and was sliced baguette as well as brown country. The butter was nice, but it was not the quality of good French butter.
Due to that cold I started with the French ONION SOUP which arrived steaming and covered with a gooey stringy browned Gruyere that was the best I have ever tasted outside of France. The soup was scalding hot and again I welcomed this on the bitter cold day as I warmed up so fast. I had asked my server to hold off bringing my main course and he was spot on with his timing. The magnificent plate of Hand Chopped PRIME BEEF TARTARE with a Watercress Salad on the side. The meat was speckled with salty capers and used mustard and pepper well for spice. Small baguette crisps sliced thin and crispy were on the side for crunch and shmearing. The Dijonnaise vinaigrette on the salad had the requisite mustard and reminded me oh so much of my time in cooking school in Dijon, France decades ago. The glass of GIVRY 1er Cru 2010 (not 2007 as listed on the wine list) "Clos Saint Pierre" from Thenard was ideal with the tartare and I was in no mood for a chilled wine with the bitter wind outside.
I looked around at the many varied dishes and the portions were large (even the side and main salads), as mine was, and everyone seemed to be VERY happy with their choices from burgers, to charcuterie to omelets. Only the brunch drinks (at $12+ each) seemed to come in small chintzy glasses....stick to wine.
I ordered some coffee and was way too full for dessert, but then the manager brought over two slices of marble pound cake that was the most buttery I have ever tasted. He said that the pastry chef makes him a loaf to eat for breakfast each week.
I was thrilled he offered me a taste of this simple yet divine creation.
We return to NYC as a family in March, and I think Benoit beckons for dinner or another brunch!