Occidentale – Housemade Jasper’s MIX, Masala Chai, 2 Rums, Amara Bitter Orange
Black Pepper Grissini
Scallop – Cucumber, Apple, Olive Oil
Sourdough Baguette – Labneh Butter
Carnaroli Risotto – Blue Hubbard Squash, Chestnuts, Castelrosso Cheese
Smoked Sea Trout – Potato Galette, Little Gem Lettuce, Sauce Fines Herbs
Pigs Trotter – Saucisson a l’ail, Shelling Beans, Quail Egg
Terrine of Foie Gras – Mission Fig, Marcona Almonds, Watercress, Black Pepper Brioche
Lumache – Maine Lobster Fra Diavolo
Agnolotti Del Plin – Duck, Foie Gras, Pecorino Ginepro, Alba White Truffles
Rohan Duck – Foie Gras, Ras el Hanout, Turnips, Pistachio-Date Brik
Veal Chop – Sweetbreads, Epeautre, Chanterelles, Cardoon, Béarnaise Reduction
Parisian Gnocchi – Zabaglione, Quince
La Colombe – Double Espresso, Ice
Apple – Dates, Granola, Green Apple Sorbet
Flan – Rosemary, Poached Cranberries, Brown Butter Gelato
Babka – Dark Chocolate, Pistachio Halva, Coffee Cardamom Gelato
Chocolate – Hazelnuts, Cocoa
Caramel – Apple, Sea Salt
With a holiday in New York planed almost a year in advance the opening of Benno on November 8th couldn’t have come at a more convenient time, early word of mouth from trusted sources highly praiseful of the Food while environment was described as discreet, comfortable and an ideal place to spend nearly three hours catching up with old friends.
Located inside Evelyn Hotel, the third and final piece of a project also containing Leonelli Taberna plus the Focacceria, it was after seventy minutes relaxing in the foyer that a path was made through double doors to a more secluded space, tablemates already present and conversing with staff that manages to be professional yet pleasant with impressive knowledge of the menu and techniques involved.
Described as “Mediterranean,” and showing hallmarks of Chef Benno’s time at both Per Se and Lincoln Ristorante, it was while settling in that a Beverage list was presented including both Wine and Cocktails, more exclusive bottles via Coravin exciting news for Oenophiles though the Bar is also happy to create non-alcoholic options for those so inclined.
Suggested as a Prix Fixe of three, four, or five courses, no two diners required to order the same number of plates, it was while crunching through fragile Black Pepper Grissini that a Rum Punch titled Occidentale arrived, the pairing of Chai and Orange offering warm notes atop a bold base that is lovely for sipping but not particularly well-suited to mellow cuisine that on this night began with an amuse of raw Scallop slicked in Olive Oil along with segments of Apple and Cucumber.
Well paced and accompanied by light music, a half-full dining room at 7:00pm still quiet when near its 45-seat capacity by nine, it was on Sourdough Baguettes from Lisa Kalemkiarian that Labneh Butter was spread prior to course one, a plate of Risotto and Castelrosso Cheese immediately showing keen attention to detail while house-smoked Trout was elegant and subtle in contrast to Sausage of Pigs Trotter and Garlic served in juxtaposition to softened Beans in smoky broth mellowed by a Quail Egg.
Toqued by Chef de Cuisine Justin Skribner and allowing guests to select “Vegetables & Grains,” “Seafood & Meat” or “Pastas” in any combination before “Mains” and “Dessert,” course two followed some thirty minutes later with two guests opting for Foie Gras while the other selected Lobster, the latter a spicy masterpiece featuring Snail-shaped Pasta that is already being buzzed about while Liver was expectedly decadent whether in Terrine form or as the sautéed filling to textbook Agnolotti further enriched by shaved White Truffles.
Not making choices easy for Entrees, both Skate and Lamb offering temptation, it was instead Duck perfumed by Ras el Hanout alongside a tender Turnip and sweetened Puff Pastry that had guests swooning, the Veal Chop “for two” additionally impressive as it was carved tableside and served atop Spelt with crispy Sweetbreads, Mushrooms and Sauce Béarnaise.
Interestingly offering a Pasta “pre-Dessert,” Chef Benno’s past of French and Italian harmoniously referenced by Pate a Choux beneath airy Zabaglione, it was from here that Pastry Chef Lindsey Bittner took charge, Apple served almost like an Amish Dumpling buttery and bold next to brisk Sorbet while Flan proved a nice choice for those seeking something less sweet, though so too does a Snickers-size Babka served with housemade Halva and boldly fragranced Gelato.
Finishing the evening with Coffee and conversation, though Chocolates and a take-home gift of housemade Caramels should not be overlooked, it seems safe to say that Jonathan Benno is officially “back” after a brief hiatus and it would not be at all surprising to see his eponymous Restaurant awarded one or two stars in the Michelin Guide’s next edition.