Words cannot describe my extraordinary dinner at Benu in San Francisco.
Last week I finally dined at Benu, a three Michelin starred restaurant, for my 27th birthday (boy, I’m getting old). I’ve been wanting to dine at Benu for years now for numerous reasons. First of all, chef/owner Corey Lee is pretty much a badass. Before opening up his own restaurant in 2010, he was chef de cuisine and worked under chef Thomas Keller at the coveted The French Laundry in Yountville for nearly a decade. After Benu, he opened up his casual French bistro called Monsieur Benjamin in 2014 where I’ve been several times now. Lastly, chef Corey Lee is my boss at In Situ, his newest project that opened last month showcasing dishes from well known chefs from around the globe in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
I was most excited to dine at Benu because both Monsieur Benjamin and In Situ are his restaurants but not “his food”. At Benu, his tasting menu reflects his style of merging western techniques with eastern ingredients in the most fascinating and delectable way. With his immaculate precise technique and ample knowledge, he creates a tasting menu with such creativity and imagination that’s also mind blowing and tastes freakin’ incredible.
The meal started off with ten small delacacies one right after another which kept my palate excited.
Every single small delicacy was outstanding in flavor and execution and differing in taste and texture; each bite was unique and special in their own way. I thoroughly enjoyed every delicacy but a few really stood out. The first delicacy was the white surgeon caviar, a perfect opening bite with briny pops of caviar with a sweet luscious winter melon porridge underneath with tiny crispy pieces of smoked onion folded in. An extremely intriguing dish was the unlaid hen egg, which are harvested from the hen once they’re slaughtered. The unlaid hen egg popped in my mouth and was accompanied by a jammy bacon dressing and onion blossoms. The oyster, pork belly, and kimchi delicacy looked like a modern version of sui mai dumplings with a meaty filling topped with a perfectly plump oyster wrapped in a crunchy shell. A real beauty. The Korean blood sausage mixed with sweet rice and noodles was perfectly fried, crispy and light with a moist interior, and lightly dusted with a green colored onion powder. The charcoal grilled abalone was probably one of the best abalone I’ve had with its perfect soft yet firm texture, not chewy whatsoever, topped with seaweed. The last delicacy was an inventive take on a traditional Chinese dish, shark fin soup. Their faux sharp fin soup had a velvety steamed egg custard on the bottom of the bowl topped with morsels of tender Dungeness crab meat, silky chicken glaze, Xinhua ham, and slivers of black truffle.
After the ten small delicacies, we received fresh warm bread with butter that had orange blossom ginseng honey drizzled over it.
The first dish is one of chef Corey Lee’s signature dishes, the thousand year old egg, a take on a traditional Chinese century egg. Their egg is preserved for around five weeks and the yolk becomes a dark green/grey color while the white becomes brown with a jelly like texture. The rich lush potage flavored with ginger was poured table side around the egg complimenting the flavor and texture of the egg.
The next dish was vegetarian and packed a punch of intense flavor. Tender baby corn served with a creamy earthy cépe mushroom (porcini) dollop and a fermented pepper sauce.
The warm comforting lobster coral xiao long bao was a luxurious take on traditional pork filled Shanghai dumplings (soup dumplings) served with the vinegary soy sauce condiment.
The frog’s leg velvet was a delicate and refined dish with supple pieces of frog leg mixed with shiga rice (a high quality rice from Japan), perfectly brunoised pieces of celtuce (a sort of hybrid of romaine lettuce and celery), and tender yellow chive.
Next was the quail, deliciously cooked to perfection (tender and juicy) served with slightly bitter nasturtium leaves and a savory lam kok olive spread.
Half way through the quail, a pillowy soft steam bun arrived with the most scrumptious black truffle cream. Pure bliss.
The final savory course was dry aged beef but we received an entirely different dish than what other diners received. Other diners received the braised beef in pears with black trumpet mushrooms and mustard. Our dish was slices of beef accompanied by various pickles (cucumbers, daikon, ramps), an assortment of crisp fresh crudities beautifully wrapped, and a soothing beef broth.
The first of the sweet dishes was an aromatic sesame leaf ice cream with a sesame leaf crumble and a sweet red fruit sauce underneath.
Next was an elegant dessert of hand pipped meringue with a crunchy almond cookie and chewy dried apricot filling with a syrup like osmanthus tea sauce underneath.
We ended the meal with a complimentary mini birthday cake (so very cute) and various after dinner fruit bites that beautifully complimented the tasting menu.
Benu’s tasting menu is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced. Every dish was meticulously prepared and harmoniously flowed from one to another. Dining at Benu is more than just a meal, it’s a full sensory experience from start to finish. The beverage pairing was also spectacular; every drink harmoinously intertwined and elevated the dish to another level. As a whole, my dining experience in terms of food, service, and price at Benu was superior than the only other three Michelin starred restaurant in the city, Saison. Therefore my rating is a 9-9.5/10.