From the outside, Monsieur Benjamin in Hayes Valley looks like an Apple store. The French bistro has floor-to-ceiling windows, glossy white tables, and their mascot, a little fox in a suit, is imprinted on everything from plates to menus to tiny bottles of hot sauce. But instead of iPhones and unreasonably expensive cases, the dining room is usually filled by 5pm on the dot with theater-goers in for a chic early dinner before the symphony or ballet, which are both conveniently within walking distance. While this shiny restaurant won’t deliver the most exciting French dinner in town, it gets the job done when you need to fuel up before sitting through two and a half hours of Giselle.
The menu is packed with modern French staples like onion soup, oeufs mayonnaise, and a solid steak frites. Most everything is pleasant, but the seafood section is a great place to focus your attention if it’s been too long since you came face to face with half a dozen oysters. While starters, like the potato and leek croquettes, are crowd pleasers, the steak tartare and the $22 butter lettuce salad lack flavor.
Amidst the cozier or more old-school French restaurants in Hayes Valley, Monsieur Benjamin is what to pick when you’re dressed up in a fancy coat, want to sip on an espresso martini, and feel sophisticated for the evening. Is it the best French restaurant in SF? No. But for pre-theater dinners or meals with wealthy in-laws who want escargot and a bottle of something sparkly, this place is a good bet.
Come here for an oyster snack and a glass of wine and leave happy. They come with a zingy mignonette sauce, horseradish, and lemon, plus a tiny branded bottle of hot sauce that’s easily the cutest thing within a five mile radius.
Potato and Leek Croquettes
It’s hard to go wrong with fried potato balls. You won’t be mad at these.
Duck Leg Confit
A great option in the entrée department. The meat pulls right off the bone, and there’s a nice smoky quality from the big chunks of bacon.
photo credit: Eric Wolfinger
Not the most flavorful steak you’ll ever eat, but this works when you’re overcome with the burning desire to take a big hunk of meat and crispy potatoes down in one sitting.