Highland Park’s Chez Benoit is open for dinner

Is Highland Park the new Paris, restaurant-wise? Last October, native Parisian Benjamin Levy opened That Little French Guy, a patisserie, in the city’s downtown.

On Dec. 27, fellow Parisian Benoit Fliou (pronounced Flea-you) and his Illinois-native wife Christi opened Chez Benoit in the space formerly occupied by Cafe Central.

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Levy smiles when asked his reaction to having a countryman open a new restaurant here. “Really good,” he replies. “It brings something new to Highland Park and (because we serve breakfast and lunch and he serves dinner) we’re not in competition.”

Fliou describes Chez Benoit as “a little part of Paris in the middle of Highland Park” and adds, “I was born and raised in that beautiful place. I miss my city and try to create that atmosphere of a classic French bistro.” That translates to “a little noisy and the owner is behind the bar cracking jokes and calling customers by their name,” he mused. “Each bistro is a kind of family and all the customers become like a new member of the family.”

Chez Benoit’s first patron was Harlan Breger, a Highland Park resident, who took a seat at the bar that looks into the kitchen. He has seen restaurants come and go over his 61 years in the city. “I wanted to try this out,” he said. “I can’t say I’m a foodie; I’m not looking for tastings and small portions.”

Lured by a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, he orders the Chez Benoit burger (with Emmental cheese) and asks the server behind the bar for a house wine to accompany it. And with that, the first glass of wine is poured. “Bring it on,” Breger encourages her.

About the owner: Fliou came to the United States six years ago. He has worked in kitchens in France and Chicago for 32 years, but it was time, he says, to open his own restaurant. Christi grew up in Richmond and Spring Grove, Illinois.

Her Greek father was in the restaurant business his whole life, she says. She met Fliou through a mutual friend on Facebook. A massage therapist for just over 20 years, she now serves as Chez Benoit’s general manager to help fulfill her husband’s American dream, she says.

Philosophy: “Make my customers happy; that is my first goal,” Fliou states. “My chef friends from back home just sent as an opening gift a beautiful book about the best bistros in Paris. I feel that energy of welcome, happiness and sharing.”

On the menu: Recipes based on French tradition but are uniquely paired with side dishes. “Everything is made from scratch everyday,” Fliou says, and adds with a smile, “It’s not that complicated.” All the fish is ‘wild-caught,’ the chicken is free-range and the meats are from small farms. “I want for my customers the quality of ingredients I used to have when I was in France,” he states.

Appetizers include a selection of cheeses, a butternut soup and foie gras. One of the entree specialties, Fliou says, is a seafood dumpling, quenelles de brochet. Other dinner entrees include mushroom risotto, roast chicken and steak “au poivre” with frites. A standout dessert is Dad’s chocolate cake made with chocolate mousse.

Decor: Chez Benoit seats just over 60; the zinc bar accommodates six. The window opening into the kitchen, retained from Cafe Central, was enlarged. The cozy dining room is warmly lit. Leather banquettes line both walls, with wooden tables and chairs in between. Vintage photos of Paris scenes grace one wall.

Pricing: Appetizers range from $8 (the butternut soup) to $18 (a charcuterie selection). Entrees range from $26-$37. Most of the sides are $6. The desserts are $8.

Logistics: Chez Benoit is located at 455 Central Ave., Highland Park. Hours are 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Call 847-266-7878 or go to facebook.com/Chez-Benoit-Bistro-1791493860911207/.

Donald Liebenson is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.


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