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Review Recap: Rye and Benoit

Today, a befuddled Frank Bruni files on Rye, awarding the expected one star:

It’s a somewhat confused and confusing enterprise, starting with the location, just far enough off any main artery to recommend some clear, possibly ostentatious signage….

But the confusion doesn’t stop at the ill-advertised entrance. Maybe because Rye hasn’t quite worked out what it really wants to be, it confronts you with too many riddles, complicating your effort to plot a coherent experience and undercutting its considerable sexiness and charms. Although it’s a restaurant worth knowing about, it’s not as simply and easily navigable as it should be.

Much of its menu promises fine dining of a relatively tame, buttoned-down sort: a beet salad with micro arugula and goat cheese; duck confit with wild mushrooms; pan-roasted halibut with haricots verts and sugar snaps; roasted chicken with spring vegetables.

But a disappointingly succinct list of wines suggests that, alternately, the real point of Rye is its cocktails, some of which come with the currently fashionable allotment of one large cube of ice, all of which can be savored at a long, gorgeous mahogany bar that visually dominates the dining room.

To that end there is, wisely, a menu category for snacks. Only here, too, nothing is quite what it appears to be. The sliders — one made with pork belly, another with short rib — are in fact closer to full-fledged sandwiches. And a meatloaf sandwich listed with them is a snack the way Godzilla is a garden lizard.

We agree with Bruni that restaurants sometimes need to do a better job of indicating what’s a snack and what’s an entrée, but was that really the best meme for this review? The emphasis on cocktails rather than wine is hardly a novelty these days.

Why did he bother to review this place? We assume it’s boredom. In the end, most of the dishes he likes are salad and bar snacks. There are a hundred places like this in Manhattan. Had it been on the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge, we doubt he would have bothered.

* * *

Julia Moskin returns to Benoit, finding it much as we did: improved under new chef Pierre Schaedelin, but still phoning in the service:

Last year, Alain Ducasse brought in the chef Pierre Schaedelin to upgrade this New York branch of his bistro empire. Mr. Schaedelin has sharpened the flavors, improved the desserts, and broadened the menu until it now has many of the true pleasures of Paris — though it’s still shadowed by mindless service à la Midtown….

But there is a hint of airline food in the blandly rich repetition and limp sides of “mixed vegetables,” and more than a hint of highway robbery in $11 cold tomato soup and the aforementioned choucroute.

Benoit gives a warm welcome at the door and cheery wine service, but waiters seem to hope that dinner customers will leave early and stay away forever. A cold entree was reheated and sent back shrunken and overcooked.

Thus ends Alain Ducasse’s last, best chance to get the Times back to Benoit.

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