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Rolling the Dice: Benoit

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Benoit, Alain Ducasse’s classic French bistro. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars:
Three Stars: 60-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

The Skinny: The betting calculus is pretty easy this week. The high-water mark for this type of cuisine in New York is generally agreed to be Balthazar, which carries two stars at the Times, courtesy of Amanda Hesser. No one yet has suggested that Benoit is anywhere near as accomplished as Balthazar, which means one star is the best Ducasse could hope for.

Benoit already got the goose-egg from Adam Platt in New York, but Platt has little enthusiasm for French food, and even less understanding, even when it’s done perfectly. Bruni, to be sure, is no Francophile either, but we think he’ll grasp what’s going on better than Platt did. That’s a low bar to clear, but we think he’ll manage it.

Platt admitted that he was grading Ducasse on a tougher curve. There’s some fairness in that. When you visit a Ducasse restaurant, you expect something of the quality and attention to detail that the world’s most lauded chef is known for. By almost all accounts, Benoit is failing to deliver on its promise. Yet, if the restaurant is worth a star—which in BruniLand usually means “mediocre”—it shouldn’t be treated more harshly just because of who owns it.

We liked Benoit more than most of the critics, awarding two stars. But we wrote that review in the restaurant’s early days, before it even had a liquor license. We loved the chicken for two, but based on later reviews it seems the kitchen can’t reproduce it consistently. We hated the fries, but we assumed their sogginess would ultimately be rectified—it has not been.

We would be torn between one star and zero, but for the fact that Bruni boards the zilch train fairly rarely, and he did so just four weeks ago, with Ago. Yet, make no mistake about it, if this is a one-star review, it won’t be the kind Ducasse could be remotely happy about. It has been a doleful review cycle for this restaurant, and it isn’t about to get any better.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will most likely award one star to Benoit.

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