Marc sits down with Benoit Fliou, the owner & Chef of Chez Benoit in Highland Park, IL.
A year ago, I heard about this new French Bistro opening in Highland Park. I had heard it all before, a new French restaurant that meant a restaurant not owned by French people, no French chef in the kitchen and a cliché menu offering an American interpretation of what is French cuisine.
On a cold February evening at 5 PM I found myself in Highland Park and thought “Well you should try it once.” I sat myself at the Zinc bar facing the kitchen so I could do one of two things a quick drink and make a getaway or I can have the best seat to survey what was going on both in the kitchen and on the floor in this new restaurant.
I arrived to hear the management scrambling as the heat stopped working and certainly a big problem when the temperature outside was in the single digits. I saw couple after couple deciding to leave when the news and the cold chill was being delivered. I decided to stay as I was cozy at the bar with a warm wind coming from the kitchen keeping me content.
To my surprise what I found was a real Parisian Chef. Bernard Fliou in the kitchen and the floor managed by his lovely wife Christi (he moved here to live with her). I was waited on a young French guy also from Paris who moved from a stint in New York at Café Boulud.
Everything on the menu is “Fait Maison”, or house made in English. Classic Terrine de Foie Gras accompanied by the proper pairing of Brioche. I strongly advise you to order a glass of sauterne to accompany this lovely dish. The Escargots de Bourgogne is not frozen, and the snails actually do come from Burgundy as the name implies. You want a warm soup as a hello starter? Benoit always has a lovely soup du jour to wake up the palate.
House signature main dishes include his classic Quenelles de Brochet a delicate seafood dumpling, butter-poached lobster swimming in just the right balance of lobster bisque. Relax, I did not say it was drowning in it although I wish it was since I wanted more. The (praised by restaurants critics) Dover Sole, or Sole Meuniere in French, same fish just different passports is another go to dish.
You’re a Midwest meat eater you say? Then try the classic Steak au Poivre chef’s selection cut, black peppercorn, cognac and frites. This is not a cheap cut of meat. You just want a burger you say? Try the Chez Benoit Burger served with emmenthal cheese, caramelized onion served on a house made Brioche bun. No need to super-size it. When you ask for mustard here you get a classic moutard de Dijon, which is getting hard and harder to find here in Chicago. You don’t believe me? Try asking for Dijon mustard next time you dine out. I highly recommend the Cru Monplaisir Bordeaux, Supérieur red to go with these meat dishes offered by the glass but your better of getting a bottle, you will want more than a glass.
Apart from these dishes Benoit always has a special dish in limited quantities that you can get a food porn like picture prior to coming from their Facebook or Instagram page. His cassoulet that makes repeat performances sells out quickly.
It doesn’t end there. Benoit makes all of his desserts, “fait Maison.” Choux a la Crème a custard, cashew brittle whipped cream with a lime zest is a must. When the Chocolate Éclair is offered please do yourself a favor and grab one yes literally grab one. Benoit cuts no corners the chocolate is of great quality and my stomach very much agreed.
The wine list is ninety percent French with some nice values to choose from. The Gilles Robin Crozes- Hermitage Papillon, a lovely Syrah from the Rhone that overdelivers for the money and goes with any meat dish this house offers.
By the time I left Chez Benoit Bistro that evening the heater had been fixed. More importantly Chez Benoit, felt like home.
Chez Benoit Bistro 455 Central Ave, Highland Park, IL 60035 Tel: +1-847-266-7878. Dinner: 5-10:00 pm Tuesday-Saturday / Lunch Tuesday-Friday: 11:30 AM-2:30 PM. Reservations recommended: Open Table, RESY or just pick up the phone.