Mon-Sat, 11:45am-11pm; Sun, 11:30am-11pm
F at 57th St.; N, Q, R, W at 57th St.
$19 to $48
American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
When Alain Ducasse’s casual bistro-brasserie outlet Benoit opened in 2008 in Jean-Jacques Rachou’s old Le Côte Basque space on 55th Street, the city’s dwindling number of French snobs (okay, basically just this French snob) were scandalized by the slimy, rock-hard quenelles, the overcooked, overpriced chicken, and the grim, watery quality of the onion soup. But in late 2009, Ducasse installed Martha Stewart’s former private chef, Pierre Schaedelin, in the kitchen. The tiny, darkened barroom of the restaurant still has an unfortunate flat-screen TV flickering in the corner, the cramped dining-room layout means the tables are still too close together, and on crowded evenings the harried waiters occasionally crash into each other. But Schaedelin—who has also worked for two Ducasse restaurants in Europe and been the executive chef at Le Cirque—revamped and expanded the classic brasserie menu, instilling it with some much-needed professional zip. Now, the menu is carried out by chef Philippe Bertineau.
The quenelles de brochet ($22, in a dreckish, rust-colored Nantua sauce) remain distressingly rubbery (“Maybe they’re supposed to be that way,” offered Mrs. Platt brightly), but the onion soup has a bubbly, agreeably thick gratinéed top, and Schaedelin’s signature tarte flambée is worth a special trip. The salmon en croûte was as big as a toaster (that’s too big), and the fresh, hand-chopped beef tartare seemed slightly oversauced. But the boudin aux pommes has a nice, crisp snap to it, and other stately old delicacies (steak au poivre with Brussels sprouts, duck à l’orange without too much orange) were well received by our little group of Francophiles. The thing to get on a cold, early spring afternoon, however, is Schaedelin’s faithful rendition of Rachou’s legendary cassoulet. It’s made with tarbais beans and faintly caramelized hunks of pork belly and country sausage, and is so filling that when dessert rolls around, you’ll only need a taste of the excessively large tarte Tatin ($24 for two) or the famous Ducasse baba au rhum, which is as rich, decorative, and exquisitely boozy as ever.Bar
The bar area is open daily from noon to midnight.
The three-course $21 lunchtime prix fixe is one of the better deals in midtown.
Tarte flambée, $12; cassoulet, $29