Thursday, December 17, 2009

Benoit Alain Ducasse: Does NYC Need Another French Bistro?

Benoit,Alain Ducasse,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photograhy
Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Bread Pouch,Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Onion Soup,Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Goat Cheese Salad,Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Cassoulet,Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Braised Halibut,Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Sirloin Steak,Benoit,New York,French Bistro,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
I wasn't doing a blog in the 80's, nor was I interested in food. Well, besides Fruit Roll Ups and Ring Pops. Remember those? So I wasn't around to see the great French Bistro explosion that took New York City by storm. Bistros such as The Odeon apparently sprung up every week during this boom time. It quickly faded away as fast as it came, but now it seems that there are more and more French style Bistros opening up in the city. Don't get me wrong, I love it. The Bistro is my favorite kind of restaurant and they serve my favorite kind of food. The fact that New Yorkers are embracing this trend again makes tears come to my eyes and butterflies flutter in my stomach. Among all the new Bistros is Alain Ducasse's, Benoit.

The place was almost completely empty when we walked in, but 6:30pm is fairly early to eat dinner in New York. I hate it when I go into a restaurant that has more staff then they know what to do with. It always feels like I'm being swarmed by Killer Bees. Dozens of people hovered over us inspecting our every move. Each time I took my camera out at least 4 employees were looking at me like I was a stain on their untarnished restaurant. The decor is lovely in Benoit, it felt exactly like I was in a proper French Bistro on the Champs Elysees, or Montmartre.

Needless to say, we were waited on very quickly. The waiter took our drink orders, then another man brought us bread in a fabulous Benoit cloth pouch. A nice touch. Not as nice as Bouchon, where the bread is thrown straight onto the tablecloth, but close. Our wine, a Twenty Rows Cabernet, in a lovely carafe came out first. It was followed swiftly by my Onion Soup Gratinee, which was among the best Onion Soups I've ever had. The cheese was melted and browned to perfection. The Onions were ripe and delicious. It was also possibly the hottest thing I've ever put into my mouth and I still have the Ulcers on my tongue to prove it. My wife had the Goat Cheese Salad with Candy Beets, Tomato and Avocado. This was a strikingly simple, but wonderfully flavored dish. The Beets were tender, but crispy at the same time and the tastes were married nicely.

For my main I had Cassoulet, which is Jean-Jacques Rachou’s recipe. I had actually never had Cassoulet before and this was a wonderful first taste. It is likely the most filling dish I know. While eating it, I was transported to a small French farmhouse. I could imagine myself sitting at a rustic table, eating my Cassoulet, while La Vie En Rose played on an antique Phonograph, the sound muffled and scratchy. Anyway, back to reality. After my Cassoulet was finished and my belly felt like it was about to explode and ruin the waiters mood completely, I decided a little break was in order. But not before trying my wife's Braised Halibut with Sautéed Chanterelle Mushrooms, Root Vegetables and Champagne Sabayon. Now, I have had a lot of Fish from Bistros before and I always marvel at the richness, the complexity and the depth of the Bistro style Fish. But not this time. No, this was bland and boring. There's no other way to describe it. I decided to move onto Simple Foodie's Sirloin Steak Aux Poivres with Mixed Vegetables. Normally Simple Foodie orders the best thing on the menu, he always has, but not this time. The Steak was cooked very well and it was among the most tender Steaks I've ever tasted, but it was also one of the most...hmmm, how do I say this without repeating myself? There's no way to do it, BORING.

That was pretty much the theme of Benoit. I truly enjoyed the atmosphere, especially the couple sitting to our right. They were like something out of a Woody Allen movie. Clearly they ate at Benoit on a regular basis as they knew everyone by name and they actually had the Chef prepare meals that were off the menu. I didn't speak to my fellow diners almost the entire meal because I was too enthralled in their conversation. They were stereotypical New Yorkers from a bygone era. They were loud, they ate with their mouths open like they were at a cattle trough and they complained about absolutely everything. It was a life changing experience.

Our waiter asked us if we wanted any Dessert and I had to refuse. The Cassoulet did me in. I can't say that I would ever go back to Benoit again. The food was so, so and later that evening I woke up with food poisoning. I have no idea what caused it. An email to the restaurant was answered with a refund and the excuse that no one else informed them of any illness from the food that night. Oh well, thankfully there are many more Bistros in New York to explore.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Benoit on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Spotted Pig: New York's Gastropub

The Spotted Pig,New York,Passport Foodie
The Spotted Pig,New York,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Burger,The Spotted Pig,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,New York
Apple Salad,The Spotted Pig,Passport Foodie,New York,Taylor Young Photography
Fried Eggs,Homefries,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,New York
I love the holidays in the U.S. It seems like we all come together a bit more and can tolerate one another more than usual and are more considerate of each other. Well, some of us. Not the lovely young woman that let the wind take her shopping cart from her hands, which subsequently slammed into my car the other day. I managed to keep it together and didn't say anything. I just gave her a look of total astonishment and a quick holiday smile.

There is one thing I miss most during the holidays in the U.S. and that's a good 'ole English Pub. More importantly, I miss the wood burning fireplaces, the greasy, fattening comfort food and the gentle chill of a perfectly poured pint as it makes its way down my throat and into my tummy. There is only one city in the U.S. where I know I can find something similar to the genuine English Pub, New York City of course. But I wanted to go to a really good one, being close to Christmas and all that. I did an internet search for One Star Michelin restaurants in NYC and came across The Spotted Pig.

It was a perfect day in NYC, there was a slightly cold wind, but the sky was a beautiful blue and there wasn't a cloud in sight. When I lived in NYC I always enjoyed days like this. It made my 400 square foot, $2,400 a month rent almost bearable. Almost!

Entering The Spotted Pig I was instantly transported to a Village Pub in England. This could have been Speldhurst, or Bray, or Colemans Hatch. But it wasn't, it was Greenwich St. in New York City. Once seated I was struck by the hundreds and hundreds of pig photos, wooden pig dolls and pig paintings. There was no mistaking where I was. We were handed our menu and at 11am we ordered our first pints of Guinness.

The menu at The Spotted Pig is very straightforward. They don't clog it with dozens of items, it is clean and inviting. Only a handful of minutes passed before we were eating. My Two Fried Eggs with Homefries were very traditional, but it wasn't worth the $13 price tag. The best part of it was the Caramelized Onions. A very tasty dish, just not $13-tasty. I had heard a lot about the Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese & Shoestrings and I was most excited to try it. Again, this was a bit of a let down. The Shoestrings were magic, but the Burger had too much bread and the Patty was nothing to stand up and cheer about. I've had better Burgers for $2. To pay $17 for this is almost laughable. Next up was the Apple Salad with Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar & Walnuts. A playful little dish, but again, and I feel odd saying this, but it simply wasn't worth $16. It was small for one and the flavors were very muted. I'm sorry to say but, the whole meal was actually just a bit... BLAH.

How on Earth did The Spotted Pig get One Michelin Star? There is a debate going on about this right now. Some say that The Michelin Guide is off its rocker here in America. That they give stars to restaurants in the U.S. that wouldn't normally have anything above a mention in the French guides. I have to say, I thought that was was crap before, but judging by the Michelin Restaurants I've eaten at in the U.S. recently I have to say I agree. Oh well, it was nice to eat at New York's idea of an English Gastropub. I still miss the real thing though.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon