Housemade Country Bread, Spring Hill Jersey Butter
Potato and Leek Croquettes, Sour Cream and Onion Dip
Blue Crab Rillette, Lemon, Crisps
Tarte Flambée, Bacon, Onion, Fromage Blanc and a Simple Salad
Brioche French Toast, Bacon, Apples, Maple Syrup
Palmier Ice Cream, Calvados Caramel
Gateau Marjolaine, Hazelnut, Praline, Crème Anglaise
Having first encountered Corey Lee’s cooking during a 2009 extended tasting at The French Laundry, an equally memorable meal at benu two years later showing the Chef to have quickly found his own voice, it was only a matter of time before Monsieur Benjamin climbed atop the Bay Area “to-do” list, an 11am booking making it the first Restaurant visited during a four day stay in March.
Described as a “Modern French” Bistro and dressed for the role, lots of white plus reclaimed wood wrapped around an open kitchen at 451 Gough Street, it is with a geometric fox designating the space that guests enter Monsieur Benjamin viewing lengthwise, banquettes to the right offering a more civilized arrangement than larger tables to the left that, at least during Brunch, were filled with young families.
Bustling but not loud, prices outside the range of even Michelin’s $50 “Bib Gourmand” keeping the bottomless-mimosa crowd at bay but still finding the Restaurant 3/4 full by noon, it was shortly after seating that a young man already guaranteed 20% “additional charge” plus 4% mandate stopped by to fill water, the Birthday Card presented a nice touch while concise menus make for easy decision-making.
Never setting out to be “everything to everyone,” just seven Main Courses and eight Appetizers joining fresh Fruits de Mer, it was opting to begin with Housemade Bread that technique and sourcing were immediately on display, each $2 slice featuring a well-developed crumb surrounded by a robust Crust whose flavor is further enhanced by Spring Hill Jersey Butter.
Moving next to Petits Plats, $16 for enough shredded Crab and Cream to top six Crisps pricey yet justified by quality, it was actually four Fritters filled with fragrant Potatoes that proved even more stunning, the lightness almost unimaginable for something fried in Oil while the Sour Cream and Onion Dip was rich yet at the same time restrained enough to not be overwhelming.
Waiting around thirty minutes for round two, Justin checking in frequently and keeping Water topped-off even as business began to pick-up, it was part sweet and part savory that Brunch continued, the housemade Brioche dredged just long enough in Custard that Syrup in optional while Tarte Flambée lives up to its Parisian roots by balancing an intentionally charred Crust with tangy Cheese, clarified Onions and Bacon cooked less crispy than the tantalizing Strips perched atop French Toast.
Not an overly filling meal despite the tab of nearly $120, a con in terms of one’s bank account that offers silver-lining by way of room for Dessert, suffice it to say that Lee’s precision is again visible in the perfect layering of Gateau Marjolaine and Crème Anglaise that guests may want to eat by the spoonful while “Palmier Ice Cream” is even more praiseworthy thanks to crystallized Pastry pieces and boozy ribbons of Caramel.