[Pigging by Wilfrid: May 2, 2018]
Rather like the Spanish Inquisition, I never expected Monsieur Benjamin when I arrived in San Francisco. I really didn't.
In fact, I honestly hadn't heard of Monsieur Benjamin, even though it's the brainchild of the highly regarded Keller-alum Corey Lee, better known surely for Benu.
I arrived at the brightly lit, almost brutally modern (high, central wooden bar, lots of glass) bistro after an unfortunate miscommunication with Rich Table. I'd been all set to dine at the latter, a cozy neighborhood restaurant in Hayes Valley offering Northern Californian cuisine. I reserved, I showed up, I was seated: and it turned out they were offering only a special set menu that evening, and one which held little appeal.
True hospitality is shown in handling these situations well, and Rich Table's manager rose to the occasion; apologizing, explaining, and offering me several alternative choices nearby (even offering to call them for me). Which is how I finished up walking four blocks up Gough Street to Monsieur Benjamin, where there was plenty of walk-in seating.
And the menu? Classic French bistro. And I mean classic. The cooking could teach several lessons to Keller's own LV bistro, Bouchon.
I needed comforting after my disrupted evening, so sweetbreads, tripe, cheese seemed a good prescription. Sweetbreads Grenobloise up first: crispy meats in a mild lemon, butter and caper sauce, with some petals of pickled onion. And the cute Monsieur Benjamin logo on the plate.
Then tripes à la provençale--absolutely not photogenic in the scorching-hot brown pot, but quite delicious. Properly cooked tripe pieces, melting in a thick, rich, herb-scented tomato and onion sauce. The website says the food is "inspired by the great Parisian bistro culture." Inspired is the word. For comparison. Le Coucou in New York aims a little higher than this, but Monsieur Benjamin is on a similar trajectory.
The menu is long too, ranging from a raw bar through frog's legs to cassoulet (they were out). San Francisco prices: appetizers in the teens, mains in the mid-thirties.
No chariot des fromages, but a rather good cheese option among the "small plates." I suppose one might, in California, order it to begin the meal.
A hot skillet swimming in molten Époisses, hunks of toasted bread for dipping. A messy but satisfying climax.
Wines by the glass, including two $10 dips into a really delicious, juicy, mouth-filling Beaujolais, the Régnié Domaine de la Colette.
Strongly recommended for casual, mid-priced San Francisco dining, if that's what you need.