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May 13, 2008 06:02 PM


Because this board's been so helpful to me in the past, I'm happy to report on my recent visit to the city. One of the best meals of my life was at the Benoit in Paris many years ago so I was really looking forward to trying Benoit in NYC. The interior was lovely, reminiscent of the parent restaurant. But when the food started coming all the promise of magic disappeared. The food overall was such a disappointment. We ordered oeufs a la mayo and it actually came as a hardboiled egg (stuffed with something mediocre) sliced in half on a plate. Nothing else. The duck a la orange -- not golden brown and only fair tasting according to my husband-- was a few pieces of duck with desultory slices of orange on top. The cassoulet and mashed potatoes were excellent. The desserts-- ordered on the suggestion of the very nice waitress-- were only fair. Either Alain Ducasse is seriously overrated by a lot of people, or he had nothing to do with the food in this restaurant.

By contrast, the new Turkish restaurant Savronna was excellent as was the newish turkish restaurant further uptown, Peri Ela, on a previous visit of a few months ago.

Also, what gives with New York City and its French restaurants? I try and try and have not yet found one that even comes close to its hype. The food at Daniel and Chanterelle was not as good as my neighborhood upscale restaurant in Maine. Grenouille has gone seriously downhill since shedding its French menus and Picholine the same direction since changing its decor.

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  1. I'm not surprised about Benoit, as I have found Ducasse's restaurants overrated and overhyped. I have not been to Chanterelle and La Grenouille in many years, and have never been to Daniel, but I'm surprised at your reaction to Picholine. It was a favorite of ours in its early years, then it became boring, until the menu was revamped along with the decor, and IMO and as others on this board will attest, it has become once again a top destination. I would love to know what your neighborhood restaurant in Maine is, as I do get up there occasionally, and have had some decent food, but so far nothing to get really excited about.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rrems

      Yes, I have noted, and been surprised at, Picholine's recent ascendency on the Chowhound board. My husband and I used to feel that we were in on a secret when we considered it the best French restaurant in town. Boring is exactly the word I would use to describe it in recent months. Some restaurants in Maine that rival any upscale ones I've tried in Manhattan are Primo, Francine Bistro, Hartstone Inn and Chase's Daily in the midcoast region, and Burning Tree near Bar Harbor. Hope you can find your way to them sometime soon!

      1. re: patfoody

        Hey, patfoody,

        Of the restaurants in Maine you mention, I've only heard of Primo. Although we've not been there, I have experienced Melissa's cooking when she was at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Factory, in upstate NY, and unless she has radically changed her cooking style, I would consider her cuisine New American, not French. That notwithstanding, while her food was very good, I did not find it particulaly rave-worthy. Also, my daughter and her husband went to Primo last summer and came away with exactly the same reaction.

        With regard to the NY restaurants you mention, our experiences at Picholine before the total refurbishement were quite mixed (we have not been there since the reno), but we have always found the cuisine at Daniel to be superb.

        The next time you visit NYC, you might consider going to Eleven Madison Park, where Chef Daniel Humm is serving what is, imo, truly sensational French-inspired cuisine.

        1. re: RGR

          Dear RGR,

          Your reaction to Primo is similar to mine about Fore Street, another much-lauded New American restaurant in Portland, Maine. I always anticipate it being better than it is. Thank you for the suggestion about elevenmadisonpark and maybe I will give Daniel another chance.

    2. We had Sunday brunch there last week. Although the food was delicious, everything else was a disaster. The price on the menu was 42$ while the website menu was 32$---they apologized saying it had something to do with France! They did give us the 32$ price. Our waiter was completely inexperienced and service was extremely slow. The smoked salmon appetizer came before juice was served. Toasted baguettes replaced bagels but didn't come out for 10 minutes etc. etc.

      1. Thanks for reporting back - hope to try Benoit myself sometime soon. What do you mean by Grenouille "shedding its French menus"?

        1. Thank you for coming back and sharing with us, patfoody. I have never eaten at Benoit, but I am curious to try it. Where in the city have you found French food that you consider to be very good? Personally, I think that Daniel and Picholine are excellent restaurants (I haven't been to Picholine post-renovation, though). I am no expert on French food, however, and probably eat much more frequently at French-inspired American restaurants than at strictly French ones. With regard to the menu at La Grenouille, are you referring to the fact that they stopped using French language only? I think that was part of a general overhaul of the restaurant a few years back, which also included physical alterations, to update the venue and make it more accessible. Personally, I do not mind foreign-language menus- I find them fun and a good opportunity to learn, provided that the service staff is gracious about helping patrons who are not fluent in French (or Italian or Hindi or Cantonese). On the other hand, many people believe they are pretentious and unnecessarily obstructive to the diner's enjoyment.

          2 Replies
          1. re: vvvindaloo

            I think it should be made clear that while Benoit is French, it is definitely not in the same category as Daniel, Jean Georges, Picholine, Grenouille, etc. Benoit is serving French bistro classics while the others are serving French haute cuisine, albeit in differing styles.

            1. re: RGR

              You're absolutely right- I was actually considering coming back and making that very same distinction. Alain Ducasse's website classifies Benoit as a bistro- he is not attempting a ***/**** restaurant here, and it is unfair to judge them based on experiences at Daniel or Picholine.

          2. The reason that you enjoyed the cassoulet may have been that it was probably prepared by Jean Jacques Rachou, formerly owner and chef of Cote Basque and the Brasserie that replaced it at the same site. The NYTimes recently reported that Jean Jacque is back in the kitchen (as a volunteer) preparing the cassoulet and the quenelles for which he was deservedly lauded in the restaurant's earlier incarnations.