Enthralling carnivores from the very day it opened in 1982, Ben Benson’s has continued to set quite a high standard for Manhattan steakhouses, riding the crest of the steakhouse craze that has to a remarkable extent characterized special-occasion American dining for the last two decades.
Not unlike the restaurant’s eponymous friendly founder and owner, Ben Benson’s is unique. How many New York steakhouses have private rooms, outdoor seating, sumptuous lunches and seasonal menus that offer a full array of seafood and every side dish ever associated with a steakhouse, in addition to serving only beef that is USDA prime dry aged?
It’s a cliché to refer to the “testosterone levels” of a particular steakhouse, but Ben Benson’s is a downright butch hunting lodge of a restaurant. In fact, there are hunting adornments and artifacts throughout the complex space. In prime time, the restaurant is positively teeming, and in fact, the ratio of men to women is about six to one, though the women are clearly pleased by such a change of pace. Plenty of high-profile politicians and celebrities come here, in part because they can blend in with ease. I’ve always particularly admired what can only be called the choreography of the plentiful staff, which whirls around the dining room like serving dervishes. Our goodly avuncular waiter, John, guided us to all the best dishes.
The oysters of the day on Christmas Eve were coppery saline Peconic Bay, and delicate Yaquina, with light banana and iodine notes.
I rarely order shrimp cocktail, as popular as it is, because to me most shrimp are insipidly flavored and overcooked, and when it’s chilled, it stiffens even further. Not at Ben Benson’s! The jumbo shrimp scampi are firm, but not chewy, with plenty of shrimpy flavor.
Similarly, calamari rings are judiciously fried, with a cluster of squid legs parked on top, and served with a warm and damned near perfect marinara sauce.
Crimson filet mignon carpaccio is showered with little hunks of parmigiano-reggiano. The meat is soft and yielding, with more flavor than tenderloin usually has, thanks to that dry aging.
The carpaccio was so good that my partner ordered filet mignon as an entrée, and was presented with a 16-ounce hunk of pan-roasted tenderloin the size of two fists. The accompanying béarnaise sauce had the perfect texture, salty and sassy with just enough tarragon flavor.
The double-cut prime ribs roast is served with two bones still attached to deepen the beefy flavor, and the cut stands a full two inches high. (I brought it home and measured it.) It’s served with a tangy freshly grated horseradish sauce. If you love prime rib as much as I do, put down this paper, call Ben Benson’s and book a table for tonight. Don’t let another day go by without tasting this beef.
We noticed that a hearty couple at the next table ordered a double filet mignon ($89, but hey, it was Christmas Eve), and were obviously startled when it arrived: the cut could feed a ravenous family of six.
Sides are for two (make that six as well). Creamed spinach—a dish I am constitutionally unable to resist—is as good as any creamed spinach on the runway, with plenty of leafy texture, not the usual puree. I was told that Benson himself taste-tests the spinach every single morning before it can be served that day. Of course, French fries are important to have along for the ride. They’re perfectly salted, and keep that ketchup away from them!
A pound-cake sundae is even more decadent than it sounds, with a big chunk of pound cake, eggy vanilla ice cream and sweetened freshly whipped cream, all dribbled with a dark chocolate sauce.
Bread pudding is a 10 x 2 x 2 inch lump of egg-fried bread studded with raisins, with a low pitcher of warm caramel Wild Turkey bourbon sauce—one of the most satisfying desserts I’ve had all year.
As in all the best restaurants, from the moment you enter, you know you can relax completely, because you’re in highly experienced, convivial and professional hands.
123 W. 52nd St.
Between Sixth and
Entrées: $29 to $48.50
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