Metro Station: Hôtel de Ville (Lines 1, 11), Châtelet (Lines 1, 4, 7, 11, 14)
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Open every day from noon to 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Credit card: Visa, MasterCard, Amex
Lace curtains in the windows, crimson-colored velour benches, a brass and etched glass room partition, waiters and waitresses in white and black…everything is in place to provide fine, bistrot dining in this restaurant that has been part of the Alain Ducasse group since 2005. We entered for lunch recently and were regaled with a great 34€ three-course menu.
My starter, called Velouté glacée de haricots coco, effilochée de lapin aux aromates, was a bowl of cold soup of small, white haricot beans. The soup was lightly dressed with olive oil, red vinegar, and pepper, and accompanied by a slice of toast topped with a preparation of moist and succulent shredded rabbit. This first course was a special treat—especially the soup, which contained whole, white haricot beans in a creamy bean broth.
My partner preferred the Graisserons de canard, pain de campagne toasté, consisting of a terrine of pressed duck served with large slices of toasted country bread. A heart of romaine lettuce dressed in old-fashioned mustard provided a cool, tangy crunch to this entrée.
For the main course, I selected the Pavé de thon germon aux poivres, légumes verts sautés. I was served a shallow bowl containing not one, but two round cuts of pan-seared white tuna, each portion about 3” in diameter and ½” thick. The tuna was sitting on a mound of string beans, flat beans, and baby potatoes, swimming in a butter sauce. I found the tuna to be flavorful, but not as appetizing as pan-fried tuna that I have tasted in other restaurants. I believe that the difference is that the steaks here are only ½” thick, as opposed to the 1” thick steaks that I have sampled elsewhere. Also, this tuna was white tuna, not the darker tuna that I have been served. In any event, the fish and its vegetable accompaniment were tasty.
My partner declared her choice for the Tranche de boudin noir rissolée aux deux pommes—a generous, round disk of slightly peppery blood pudding that had been pan fried until somewhat crispy. The deux pommes were revealed to be a round of cooked apple lying beneath tart, freshly julienned Granny Smith apples. A wonderfully rich, creamy potato purée was served in a ramekin, which in turn, sat in a silver pan. All flavors melded well for a well-balanced taste sensation.
We selected a half-bottle of Saint-Joseph Domaine Faury 2008 to accompany the meal. We found it medium-bodied, spicy, and low in tannin.
Sliced, fresh baguette was served alongside in a basket.
For dessert, the savarin au rhum, crème fouettée was the highlight of the meal. The waiter became quite animated when my partner ordered it – so proud he was of this dessert. He presented two thick slices of a buttery savarin before my partner, and then proceeded to explain what makes it so special. He said that Benoit’s recipe uses a finer grade of flour than recipes for traditional baba au rhum, and that Benoit uses honey instead of sugar as a sweetener. He then presented two large bottles of rum – Damoiseau from Guadeloupe and Clément from Martinique (our favorite) – and set them on the table before us with a flourish. He explained that these were fine rums from the best distilleries in the French Antilles, and that most rums served with baba in Paris do not compare favorably to these spirits. He left both bottles on the table, saying that my partner could compare and contrast the flavors, and then douse her savarin with her preferred rum. He then brought a crock of freshly whipped cream over to the table, and placed a very large scoop next to the savarin. He finally left us to indulge in this last course of the meal.
The dessert looked so tempting and the explanation that the waiter gave so passionate and engrossing, that I felt compelled to taste the savarin. My partner and I agree that there is only one word to describe this preparation – sublime!
For my part, I saw Glaces et sorbets maisons on the menu and decided to try the home-made ice cream and sorbets. When I asked what flavors were proposed, the waiter said that I would receive a “selection.” He gave me the choice of three scoops of ice cream, three scoops of sorbet, or an assortment of both. I requested two ice creams and one sorbet and received pistachio and vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet. They were served in a small bowl on top of a crumble, which gave a delightful crunch to the dessert. The vanilla ice cream contained flecks of crushed vanilla bean—a sure sign of authentic flavor!
Mignardises were served with my after-lunch espresso.
The bill for two, including two 34€ menus, a half-bottle of wine, and an espresso, came to 100€.
Benoit lies in the heart of Paris, just steps away from the Pompidou Center. Its location makes it a convenient place to dine, seven days a week, for visitors to the Marais and Les Halles.
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.