Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Benoit Paris

Our next star was bound to be good, since we were having lunch with the bestest company. W and Z had driven all the way from Fontainebleau to Paris to meet us, something that I had really really been anticipating muchos! since it felt like eons since I had seen her and had a good chat (in reality only two weeks).

Lunch was at a Alain Ducasse-run place - Benoit, which is the oldest bistro in Paris. And boy did it fit our ideas of an authentic, "real-life" Parisian Bistro. Dark wood panel interiors - check. Red banquette seats - check. Polished but just so-ever slightly tarnished brass fittings - check. White linen covered tables squashed narrowly next to each other - check. Tres charmant!!

Being Singaporean (meaning we just can't see past a good deal), all of us took the 34 Euro set lunch, which had a good range of 3 choices for each course. Since I was determined to have as authentic bistro food as possible, I opted for the terrine of chicken livers for my starter. Well... it tasted exactly like it sounds. Salty and savoury, like a gussied-up ham, but that's about it, not terribly exciting.

E had the pumpkin soup with mushrooms. This got good feedback from our little company as warm and comforting soul food but didn't do too much for me (no secret that I don't really like thick creamy soups).

My main course was chicken braised in a little pot and served with roast potatoes on the side(it was quite funny that W only spotted the little dish of potatoes after we finished our chicken...). The chicken was competently cooked, moist and juicy, well sauced, but I felt that it somehow lacked the *magic* to bring the diner onto a higher plane? Potatoes were extremely good though! Teensy-meensy baby potatoes, with perfectly crisp skin, and that tantalising savoury aroma that one only gets from DEEP-FRYING IN ANIMAL FAT (duck in this case).

E went for the mixed seafood cooked in a cream sauce. The seafood was slow-cooked and consequently had a beautiful melty texture but again I was not too impressed, although I couldn't quite put my finger to what exactly the issue was. Perhaps my personal preference for lighter cooking approaches means that rich, creamy sauces are "wasted" on me! (I would just scrape them off, how terrible of me).

My dessert of rhum baba - sponge cake soaked in rum, served with whipped cream on the side. What impressed me most about this dish was the whipped cream which not only had real vanilla in it, what's more, somehow the bistry managed to get it to taste super rich and buttery, which really reminded me of heavenly Devonshire clotted cream. Wow! What's the secret?

Cool! We even got "self-service" rum to add to the sponge cake. I had quite a stressful time eating this though as I was busy trying not to "contaminate" the other slice of the cake given E's supposed allergy (in reality more of a hang-up) to alcohol.

This assortment of little tartlets - apple, lemon and chocolate was E's choice of dessert. This was done really well: tart shells treaded that super-fine line between being firm but just nicely crisp and buttery. In Z's words, the chocolate used was "high-class".
Overall, good solid traditional cooking served in a authentic bistro environment (The Michelin Guide's phrasing: "authentic and delightful establishment"), although I am not so sure that it is really of one Michelin star quality - reviewers a little biased perhaps? Nevertheless, our lunch still merited a full three stars, elevated as it was by the company of good and sorely-missed friends.

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