Quail at Monsieur Benjamin.
In the Bay Area, it’s Asian flavors that seem to be on everyone’s plate and palate these days.
So much so that French cuisine — though not its classic techniques — seem to have fallen out of favor.
But leave it to Monsieur Benjamin, which opened last summer in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, to remind us why French food — just like a sharp little Chanel suit — truly never goes out of style.
Korean-born Corey Lee may imbue his Michelin three-starred Benu with breathless Asian flair, but with his second, more casual restaurant, Monsieur Benjamin, he stays the course of timeless French dishes yet gives them a touch of modernity.
His right-hand man is Chef Jason Berthold, late of RN74 in San Francisco, who worked with Lee when both were at the French Laundry.
Chef Jason Berthold deep in concentration in the kitchen.
The bistro doesn’t try to recreate the look of one in Paris. Instead, it very much fits in with its San Francisco surroundings, incorporating a lot of stainless steel, clean lines and striking black walls.
No matter how long you’ve lived in the Bay Area, it’s impossible to get to every restaurant you’d like to try.
There are just too many of them. With more opening each and every week, too.
Such is the reason why it took me this long to finally visit the 15-year-old Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco.
When an invitation to dine as a guest at the restaurant presented itself a couple of weeks ago, it was the needed nudge that finally got me in the doors.
And boy, have I been missing out.
The lively restaurant in Hayes Valley is almost always packed, especially before nearby theater performances with folks grabbing a most civilized meal before racing off to the ballet or symphony.
Executive Chef Adam Keogh, who has cooked at Chez TJ in Mountain View and at a couple of Michael Mina Group restaurants, infuses classic French brasserie sensibilities with California flair to come up with menu items such as Atkins Ranch lamb sugo over papardelle ($22); spicy fried chickpeas ($4); and beef tartare ($16) with violet mustard, green apple and red onion.
The restaurant is made up of several plush rooms, done up with burgundy walls sporting gold trim. There’s a large mural in one, depicting the inside of a dining room restaurant complete with servers and tables of diners. At the entrance to the kitchen, there’s even a small toque painted above, appropriately enough.
When a restaurant is named for a once illegal spirit, you’ve just got to order a cocktail, don’t you? Absinthe has long been famed for its well-executed cocktails.