Benu, San Francisco


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When we decided to spend a couple of nights in San Francisco & Donny told me straight away that he wanted to eat at chef Corey Lee’s restaurant Benu, I didn’t object as his ability to pick brilliant restaurants from a crazy bank of retained information never ceases to amaze me! (On this occasion Donny had discovered Benu from an old tweet by Lee’s former boss Thomas Keller!)

We had a booking for a cold Winter Wednesday night so the minimalist garden area was looking extra sparse, but I’m sure it’s a beautiful area in the warmer months.

Dining midweek also allowed us the option of ordering from the a la carte menu or the 14 course tasting menu at $160pp (now I believe it’s expanded to a whopping 17 courses!!!). The tasting menu looked fantastic so having worked up a serious appetite after a huge day of playing tourist we decided this was the way to go :)

Thankfully each dish was a perfectly sized small portion (so I actually made it to the end of the evening without feeling like I was about to explode), beautifully presented on what appeared to be bespoke crockery – clearly a great deal of consideration was placed into the design elements of this ultra cool restaurant.

As with our other posts of tasting menus, I’ll let the pictures do the talking when it comes to the following 14 delicious dishes, so enjoy!

Course 1: Thousand-year-old quail egg, homemade tofu, chrysanthemum, black moss

First course

Quail egg close up!

Course 2: Oyster, cabbage, pork belly, fermented pepper

Course 3: Sea urchin, celery, almond, dark chocolate

Course 4: Sake lees, foie gras, mountain yam, yuzu

Course 5: Eel, feuille de brick, cremem fraiche, lime, caramelized anchovy, peanut, lily bulb, salt & pepper squid

The speckled looking dish on the left was the most unique take on salt & pepper squid that Donny & I have had so far – it was made into a prawn cracker of sorts & was totally moreish! Our waitress told us the staff love snacking on these & I can understand why :)

Course 6: Abalone grenobloise

Course 7: First of the spring vegetables, dashi, parmesan

Course 8: Monkfish liver torchon, turnip, apple, brioche

This was the only dish of the night that didn’t really float my boat. I’m not quite sure why as texturally there was nothing wrong with it & really, I couldn’t pick any flavour that wasn’t agreeing with me – maybe it was the mental image of the rather ugly monk fish that I couldn’t shake? Either way, once the accompaniments ran out, so did my enthusiasm for finishing my plate! Donny had no such problems though :)

(PS – looking at this picture now, I can’t help but see a striking similarity with the foie gras course Donny enjoyed only a few days before at Lee’s former haunt The French Laundry!)

Course 9: Lobster porridge with flavors of green curry

For this course we did have a choice between the above dish & a risotto with shaved French black truffle ($30 supplement), but the lobster dish sounded far more exciting so we both decided this was the way to go. The green curry flavours were very fresh & quite subtle so as to not overpower the beautiful lobster – YUM!

Course 10: “shark’s fin” soup, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard

A mock shark’s fin soup was by far our favourite dish of the night. The flavours were in perfect balance & the delicate softer-than-soft truffle custard at the bottom of the bowl was to die for! We ate this dish at deliberately slow pace, savouring each mouthful with huge grins on our faces :)

Course 11: Beef braised in pear, endive, date, watercress

Course 12: Rhubarb, cucumber, white sesame

Course 13: Banana ice cream, burnt acorn, ginger

Course 14: Chocolate, coffee, tea

Peppermint tea

Chocolates!!!

In some kind of weird freaky coincidence, it turned out that our waitress (a Napa local) was sitting next to us during our Sunday brunch at Ad Hoc earlier that week! We’d been talking about our holiday and eating adventures with her and word must have spread around that we’d also dined at The French Laundry… As we were leaving and the maitre de was giving us our coats he asked us which restaurant we liked better – no pressure or anything :P

We said at the time that we couldn’t decide as they were both different, and with a year now behind us, I stand by this statement.

At both restaurants the service was perfect and the food faultless. The French laundry is a smaller, more formal restaurant with jackets required (which we don’t mind as it kind of adds to the sense of occasion), while Benu has a younger feel – the no jacket requirement matches the minimalist setting I think…

If you prefer more traditional French flavours then maybe The French Laundry would be more your thing, but if you like Asian influenced food then Benu – but if you like both, I really fail to see how you could choose between the two!!!


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