Benoit was both pricey and comforting, so I suppose it nicely rounds out the trio of dinners we had in Paris. Our friend Jake was the first to recommend Benoit, but once I started Googling and reading about it, it seemed like nearly every list or guide I encountered mentioned the restaurant. Benoit opened in 1912 and every Paris mayor since then has dined there. What I didn't realized until we got back to New York is that Benoit was bought, in 2005, by Alan Ducasse's restaurant group, meaning I can now sort of say that I've eaten at one of his restaurants. (It is also the only Parisian bistro to receive a Michelin star.)
Benoit is not especially chic but it did seem oh-so-very French, in an old fashioned way. We were seated in the small downstairs dining room with a nice view of the tiny bar and dapper, efficient maitre d' greeting guests. Kevin and I started our meal, as became our holiday habit, with a glass of champagne...and while I don't know much about sparkling wine, this was the best of all the champagne we sampled in Paris. It was extremely crisp and dry (which makes it a Brut, I think?) and very, very good.
What we both liked about Benoit was how traditional everything seemed, from the monogrammed china to the old fashioned script on the menu to the logo-ed paper band around the napkins. Although Benoit seems to have become a destination for out-of-towners more than Parisians, it felt as if we were probably experiencing it much as diners had for years before us.
Kevin and I split the pate en croute to start (served with iceberg lettuce, again sort of a very un-chic touch that emphasized how unfussy and unaltered the menu was) and ordered a bottle of Saint Emilion from the sommelier - a woman, which I was impressed to see at such a traditional restaurant.
I ordered the cassoulet, which had been highly recommended by basically every reviewer who'd eaten at Benoit, and I only wish I had been hungrier when we sat down for dinner. The cassoulet was delicious, but I barely made a dent. A small, black Le Crueset oven was brought table side, but I couldn't even finish the first helping of the cassoulet, which was rich and delicious and full of falling-apart pork goodness. Kevin had beef, served very rare, with a baked pasta au gratin side dish. He may have been on beef overload by this point; he said the meat was good, but seemed more interested in the side dish.
We had cheese (is it any wonder that my pants are tight?) and coffee and then I attempted to ask our waiter if I could have the label from our wine bottle. He said some things in French back to me that I didn't understand but nodded excitedly at, and then he returned - not with the label, but with another round of drinks, which we, of course, drank anyway. C'est la vie.