Having conquered the fine dining domains with The French Laundry (chef) and Benu (chef and owner), Corey Lee has set his sights on the casual dining realm with Monsieur Benjamin. With the help of chef Jason Berthold (RN74, The French Laundry, Per Se), Lee set out to create a modern French bistro with a moderately priced menu. After a month of opening, we decided to dine at the restaurant and understand how well his plans have been executed. The following is a summary of our findings.
Exterior / Interior
One large room occupies the interior with two separate dining areas flanking a center positioned kitchen and bar. The bar is situated towards the front and shares a common space with the kitchen in the rear. In the dining areas, hanging Edison bulbs send warm light over the austere yet modern styled tables, chairs, and walls. On our Saturday night visit, the atmosphere was warm and vibrant with a significant amount of activity from the kitchen and bar area.
Dagger of a Day (Cognac, Bonal, Apricot Liqueur, Angostura – $12.50)
Potato and Leek Croquettes (Gruyere, Herb Crème fraîche – $7.50)
Sweetbreads Grenobloise (Sweet Onion, Capers, Brown Butter – $16.50)
Quail a la Chasseur (Mushrooms, Savoy Cabbage, Vin Jaune – $32.00)
Artic Char Amandine, (Haricots Verts, Sunchoke, Beurre Noisette – $28.50)
Gateau Marjolaine, (Hazelnut, Praline, Crème Anglaise – $10.50)
Each dish showed proper cooking techniques, ingredient flavor balance, and overall reflected a maturity in french cuisine knowledge and experience. Despite being content with our dining experience, we felt the final bill of $139 (including tip) was somewhat expensive. We wonder whether Corey Lee has priced himself out of a moderately priced bistro experience he sought with Monsieur Benjamin. Given the somewhat upscale Hayes Valley location, vibrant social setting, and high quality French inspired menu, the higher prices may not significantly impact the restaurant’s ability to fill tables.