Getting ready for a trip to Paris is always a big production at home with the preparation of a military-like schedule with a long, detailed list of places to visit, people to see and restaurants to try. This trip wasn’t any different and the first restaurant booking I made was for Benoit – a classic bistro in the 4th arrondissement that has been open since 1912 (that wasn’t a typo – it really is almost 100 years old). Opened as a typical bouchon Lyonnais that serves traditional cooking from Lyon. Taken over in 2005 by Alain Ducasse, the place has hardly changed except for the higher prices and the addition of more tables in a separate seating area out back (which is restaurant Siberia – ask to be seated in front, if possible).
The restaurant is located on a small pedestrian street right near the tour St. Jacques (recently spruced up and washed clean, just like the Louvre). The windows are covered in lace curtains and a small display of antique coloured bottles. Right outside the door, the menu is displayed along with the three-course prix fixe menu.
Red velvet banquettes (bench-like seats) split the main room into two with brass posts that act as open dividers for diners seated back-to-back and with a small shelf on top traditionally for coats, hats, bags and other things although our coats were whisked away before we were seated. The restaurant was half-empty when we arrived but soon after a group of business-suited men (one of whom was a famous TV personality) came and sat at the table right near the entrance then a few more diners walked in.
Menus were immediately laid on our plates along with a plate of gougeres. After looking through both menus and the short lost of specials, we finally decided on ordering a la carte with a half bottle of Sancerre rouge 2005 Les Bonnes Bouches from Henri Bourgeois.
For our starters, I chose the escargots (snails) and A had the marinated smoked salmon. While we waited for the food to arrive, we were given a basket of pain de campagne (sourdough baguette) with a LARGE (I’m not exaggerating, have a look at the photo) slab of demi-sel butter.
The escargots arrived, all nine of them, piping hot so I set out to remove them from their shells and while waiting for them to become cooler, I dipped chunks of bread in the garlicky herb pool of sizzling melted butter. A‘s salmon came in a thick slice and was served some crispy toast and a small bowl of warm potato salad. The snails were delicious and I managed to eat most of them except for the three that my husband snagged from my plate. His salmon was good – not too salty while the potato salad was perfectly dressed with a mustard vinaigrette and scallions.
Our main courses were served – scallops for me and the roast lamb special for A. The roasted lamb arrived in a small cocotte (cast-iron pot) – it was soft and flavoured with thyme and garlic and came with jus. Serve alongside was a mini-pan of vegetables – sweet carrots and excellent new potatoes tasting of butter and herbs. The scallops were sweet and covered in a creamy leek sauce – good thing that there were only 4 of them as I still wanted to order dessert.
At first A was reluctant to order dessert but when I saw that there were profiteroles on the menu, I convinced him to have them while I had the dessert selection which was a choice of baba au rhum or 3 small slices of tart – chocolate, pear and lemon. The profiteroles (there were six) came with a large silver bowl of hot chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. These choux pastry balls were filled with creme patissiere (sweet pastry cream) and irresistible when dipped into the melted chocolate using the special prong-like fork that was supplied. My tart slices weren’t as tiny as the waiter promised and he came over with a container of freshly-made creme chantilly (whipped cream) to make my plate even fuller. The tarts were fine (the best was the lemon one) but were not as good as I expected and tasted store-bought (the only fault of the otherwise delicious meal). Service though was faultless and so efficient that the waiters seemed to be dancing around the tables making sure that all the diners got what they wanted while managing not to seem rushed and keeping a smile on their faces. We ended the meal with strong espressos and finished off the wine with a last toast to my in-laws in Buenos Aires who we wished were with us to share the wonderful meal we just had.