Monsieur Benjamin

451 Gough Street, San Francisco, 94102, United States

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Monsieur Benjamin is a French bistro opened in July 2014 by Corey Lee, head chef of three star Michelin Benu. It is on a corner in the Hayes Valley district of the city, an area once known mostly for its crack dens but which in recent years has been regenerated and is full of boutique clothes shops. The dining room features an open central kitchen and has a buzzy feel, with tables being turned even at an early weekday dinner.

The menu features bistro classics like French onion soup and steak tartare as well as some more ambitious dishes. The wine list ranged from $42 to $196 and featured labels such as at Pence Ranch Chardonnay 2016 $60 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for $24, Ostertag Riesling Heisenberg 2016 at $105 compared to its retail price of $38, and Chateau Simone Palette Rouge 2009 at $168 for a wine that will set you back $69 in a shop.

Chicken liver pate came with apple compote and excellent toasted brioche. The pate had deep flavour and smooth texture, and the acidity of the apple provided balance to the richness of the pate. The toast was a classic delivery vehicle for the pate, and its touch of sweetness worked nicely (14/20). 

Quail was stuffed with garlic sausage and served on a bed of green cabbage, along with a sauce boat full of mushroom flavoured sauce chasseur. The quail was large and carefully cooked, the meat having good flavour, the sausage suitably hearty. The cabbage had excellent texture and was a pleasing earthy contrast to the richness of the meat and the sauce (15/20). Thin French fries on the side were crisp and lightly seasoned (14/20). I skipped dessert but did taste a Palmier biscuit ice cream soaked in calvados caramel, which was a somewhat eccentric though pleasant idea, as long as you don’t mind something this rich (13/20). Coffee was from a supplier called Lamill in Los Angeles and was very good. 

Service was excellent, being friendly, unfussy and prompt. The bill came to $135 (£104) per person with two glasses of wine and the price is really the only caveat about the place. If you ordered three courses and coffee and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person would come to around $140 (£108) once you factor in sales tax and 20% service, which is not a cheap evening, and you could easily spend more. Nonetheless the level of skill in the kitchen belies the simple-sounding yet appealing menu.

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