It was my birthday yesterday, and Dave took me to Monsieur Benjamin, Corey Lee’s of Benu and formerly The French Laundry fame new French bistro near the theater area in Civic Center. Corey, like Thomas Keller, is a Francophile, having studied in France and New York. Corey wanted to have a casual bistro with late night offerings, a nice touch for the theater crowd.
Josh Sens of San Francisco Magazine gave the restaurant 2.5 stars. I give it a far higher rating, although I do agree with a few of Josh’s points.
Monsieur Benjamin has a full bar, but the liquor bottles are hidden under the bar, and we didn’t see the cocktail menu until after we had ordered a glass of delightful French Rose, a 2013 Cotes de Provence, Cibonne, Tentations. The French do a great job with rose, and this was no exception. The wine list is an extensive look at French wines with some American wines thrown in. I strongly suggest you stay with the French wines for this wonderful French meal.
The atmosphere of Monsieur Benjamin is not at all bistro. It is clean and stark in black, white and mirrors adorning one wall. The bar and kitchen run straight down the middle. There is a passel of kitchen workers performing like a concert, completely in symphony with each other.
We stayed away, sadly, from the Pommes Gaufrette, chips with whipped chicken liver, because Josh Sens said the liver flavor was bland. But we did order the seafood sausage. ONE seafood sausage was $17.50, a galactic price if you ask me. Dave loved it, but I thought it needed more flavor and some salt (there’s no salt on the table). Its was cooked perfectly, and the pine nuts inside added to the texture. The beurre rose sauce was tasty but, again, bland. The escargots Bordelaise came in the tradition serving dish, but the spin was that there was a kind of persillade (finely chopped parsley and garlic) added and crisped at the top. The escargots were very tasty, but I would have liked more garlic. We had to ask for some bread, which was really good, to soak up the butter sauce, a tradition with anything escargots.
The dinner, however, stunned me. A simple steak frites was served with a delicious sauce choron, a mild red sauce in a gravy boat. The hanger steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the frites, aka french fries, were cooked perfectly. Watercress sprigs sprinkled on top made the colors pop. And the duck confit, ooh la la!! Crispy skin on the thigh and drumstick, but not at all greasy. The entire dish was placed on a bed of mashed turnips that were smooth and flavorful. There were two little delicious sausages spread across the mashed turnips with roasted grapes and a sauce au poivre. It was so rich and delicious!! The Chateau Neuf du Pape we ordered was perfect with both dishes, even at $91. By the way, there are some very reasonably priced wine choices, so you could get away with a relatively inexpensive meal, even though I give Monsieur Benjamin $$$.
We opted for Humphrey Slocombe ice cream on the way home, so we didn’t get to try one of the amazing-looking desserts.
The wait staff is outstanding, very attentive, yet unobtrusive. Our waitperson checked back regularly and made sure our wine glasses were never empty. All in all, a delightful experience at Monsieur Benjamin. Next week, we will try Urchin Bistrot, the new upscale Valencia Corridor offering from the chef owners of Ame in the St. Regis. It will be interesting to compare the two, having eaten the meals so closely together.
Monsieur Benjamin Wrap-Up