Ben Benson’s overall score: 83
UPDATE: BEN BENSON’S IS NOW CLOSED!
Ben Benson’s opened in 1982 and has been known in the steak industry ever since. Nestled in the heart of midtown’s active workplace environs, and close enough to the theater district, it has become just as wildly popular as any other steakhouse in this highly competitive area of beefery. After eating here I heard some disappointing news that Benson’s is closing for good. From Johnny Prime: It is sad to see you go! I guess that makes this review somewhat obsolete and unnecessary.
I had the ribeye. Surprised about that? Nope. All you assholes should know my ordering habits by now if you are keeping up with this blog. The steak was perfectly and evenly cooked to medium, and it had a great crust on the outside, but the meat was under seasoned. This was the first time I ever had to use the salt and pepper shakers at a steakhouse. Damn! But once seasoned, it was good. I noticed a general lack of salt in a few other dishes actually (sides in particular), though the lobster was just right. I guess not enough salt is better than too much salt though. In any event, despite an overall satisfying meal, I took some points off for that basic cooking 101 blunder.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 10
Ben Benson’s has a wide variety of cuts available. They have strip, filet and porterhouse – all three cuts available for both one or two – as well as a roasted prime rib (for pussies) AND a ribeye (for real men). They have several preparations of filet, “steak a la stone,” a skirt steak, a chopped steak, and lots of alternameats (see below). They even had a cajun ribeye and a bison ribeye. All the beef is aged prime, so you are good to go. To top it off, they also offer smaller portions of most cuts listed here. NOTE: if you go with bison, know that there is less marbling in the meat, as it is leaner. That means less flavor, and more toughness. The bison is also not aged or prime like the beef is. It is also a smaller cut. In short: stick with the beef cuts and give a hearty “fuck you, but thanks anyway” to the bison.
Portion Size & Plating: 8
Sizes here are good for the beef. They don’t list the ounces on the menu, but I was told the ribeye is about 22oz (bone-in), and the buffalo ribeye (which I was considering) was about 14 or 15oz. The sides are a bit small for the price of $11.50.
The price is average to a bit on the high end here. However they do offer a steak dinner for two, 7-days a week, for only $95. You choose between a filet with shrimp, or chateaubriand. It comes with soup, salad, and two sides. That is a fantastic deal. Our total bill for two apps, two entrees, two sides, a dessert, a lemonade, coffee, tea, and a martini came to $276 (tax and tip included). The 3lb lobster rang in at a whopping $73.50. KABOOM! As noted above, sides were $11.50. Martini was $15. Steak was $52.50.
The bar is a little disjointed. When you walk in it is on the right, and it wraps around making a squared off U-shape, but the bottom part of the U is essentially a narrow hallway type thing to the other side. There is also an unsightly entrance into the corporate office building lobby on that side, but no big deal. The $15 martini was made well, though could have been made colder. They also serve some cool homemade french fries/potato chips at the bar, which were interesting. The bar also attracts some after work people from midtown, so it IS lively for socializing, mingling, finger-banging, and all that other bullshit.
Specials and Other Meats: 10
The $95 steak for two special is available every day. In addition they had a bone-in strip steak, salmon, mahi mahi, soft shell crab, shrimp bisque, and broccoli rabe on special. For other meats, they had veal, pork and chicken – each served a few different ways – as well as “winter wild game,” which I assume were the bison ribeyes. A really great and diverse mix. This place really has a big selection.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 7
We had the house cured gravlax and the soft shell crab for starters. Both were good, though I think the lox could have been cut a little thinner and chilled a bit more, perhaps topped with some capers (though it did come with garlic toast). The crab was a little bit heavy (meaning buttery like a belly bomb), but the portion size was good (one 5in crab I would guess, point to point across the top of its shell – that’d be blue claw, assholes). As such it wasn’t overwhelming to the gut. On the side we had creamed spinach and broccoli rabe. The broccoli rabe was a simple saute in garlic and oil. It was light and not too potent or bitter. The greens were barely wilted, so it had a crunch. The creamed spinach was similar; also very light – lightest creamed spinach ever actually – and not salty. For dessert we had key lime pie. I’d say all of it was average. Nothing really shined or stood out as exceptional, but also nothing was disappointing. I’ve been to a lot of places, and not every meal is going to blow your mind. It is terrible when you pay that much and they completely ruin shit. But here, nothing gets ruined. On the other hand nothing is mind-blowingly jerkworthy either. The sides did seem a bit small for the price, however (not like we could finish them all anyway).
Seafood Selection: 9
Ben Benson’s is the first place where I have seen crab on the menu as an entree. This made me very excited. Crab, I feel, is one of the only things you are allowed to order if you aren’t getting a steak at a steakhouse. And when I say crab as an entree, I don’t mean crab cakes, or lump crab meat (which they have as well) – I am talking REAL crab. Stone crab. I was down when we were told it was currently not in season/unavailable. They did have soft shell crab though (both as an app, and as an entree). I may have to come back just to try the stone crab someday… oh wait… can’t because they’re closing. They also had several preparations of shrimp, some scallops, filet of sole, fish of the day (plural – they were salmon and mahi mahi), 3-7lb Maine lobsters (holy shit 7lb is HUGE), and a variety of typical shellfish (calamari, Blue Point oysters, smoked salmon, salmon tartare) on the app menu. The only thing missing was a “seafood plateau” or sampler, which is what my wife likes to get. Point off for that. BUT – the lobster was incredible, and it was a nice touch for them to crack it table side.
The host upgraded us from a small table in a central area to a booth up on one of the elevated dining areas once he realized we were there for our “anniversary” reservation. The waiters are all male, and they all had ties on with some kind of beige jacket on their shoulders. It almost looked like outerwear. Our waiter was great. He cracked my wife’s lobster at the table and pulled out the meat for her (that sounds awesomely perverse). Later, he and another waiter sang a happy anniversary song for us, and more importantly, they knew their steak. Our waiter spoke with me about the difference in quality and marbling between the buffalo ribeye (on special) and the beef ribeye. He was attentive and friendly. In terms of bread, which I always mention in some way, it was not warm and the butter was not cold. It was somewhere in the average area. A crispy ciabatta type bread was in there, a raisin walnut, and bread sticks. Their steak sauce tasted like dark red cocktail sauce – I generally don’t dig steak sauces so I just tried it with the bread.
This place is somewhere in between a new steakhouse and an old steakhouse. The decor says it is trying to be the older type, the classic chop house, but the location and environs says the opposite. Contrast this with a place like Del Frisco’s, which embraces its corporateness and blows it out the water in terms of ambiance. It works there. I guess it didn’t help that the entire front of the building was covered up by the scaffolding on 52nd street, which, by the way, never seemed to go away until I learned of their closing. The bathroom was basic – nothing fancy. Thick paper towels though. You know I like that shit.