Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dining at Benu

Chocolates at Benu San FranciscoFrance and Japan are probably the top two contenders for the designation of the most food-obsessed nations. Western fine dining and high-end restaurant kitchens always seems rooted in French traditions while the artistic detailing that goes into a top-notch kaiseki meal is unsurpassed in the East. Which brings me to Benu, a recent entrant to San Francisco's dining scene where Chef Corey Lee successfully melds the two traditions together.

Corey Lee was chef de cuisine for several years at America's most revered restaurant, French Laundry. He now brings that same ethos but in a wholly original form to his new restaurant in town. His ancestry gives him an unique familiarity and insight into the best Asian traditions from which he frequently borrows.

Benu San Francisco
Benu in San FranciscoThe restaurant itself is very different from any other. As you enter Hawthorne Lane, you notice the large, brightly lit kitchen first. The kitchen faces the road and you can see the chefs going through their chores through the large glass windows. The dining area itself is tucked away behind; in fact, the doorman had to help me locate the entrance! The dining room is stark and minimalist in design with polished dark wood tabletops and no table-cloths. Menus were attached with monogrammed ebony magnets. However, I liked the unique feel of the place. The waitstaff were efficient and friendly and did not attempt to overwhelm.

The kitchen of Benu San FranciscoThey started me off with an amuse bouche of home-made tofu with crysanthimum and black moss. Very nice! Took me back to my kaiseki meal at the Ritz in Tokyo just the week before.

Benu San Francisco
Amuse at Benu San FranciscoNext came an exquisite presentation of foie gras. The dish was beautifully presented and the sharpness of the ginger and turnip perfectly complimented the richness of the buttery soft foie gras. The intensity of the perilla and the crunchy brioche provided a medley of flavors and textures to this starter.

Foie Gras at Benu San FranciscoThe egg yolk tagliatelle was served with some deal of showmanship. They brought out a lacquered box with French black truffles and delicately shaved off several thin slivers of this earthy luxury onto my pasta. As I ate, I discovered more egg-yolk below the pasta which was cooked in roasted chicken jus and parmesan. I enjoyed the dish, but it was not quite the highlight of this meal.

Egg yolk tagliatelle at Benu San FranciscoFinally the main course. I had chosen the beef braised for several hours in pear. I actually enjoyed the interesting flavors of this dish; the mushrooms and other winter vegetables provided an exciting contrast to the sweet and aromatic taste of the pear juice.

Beef braised in pear at Benu San FranciscoI ended this dinner with a dessert of mace ice-cream and chestnut custard. Served with apples and cider, this was clearly a great end to a fantastic dinner. This restaurant is clearly going places; I am surprised it doesn't already have a couple of Michelin stars.

Mace ice-cream and chestnut custard at Benu San FranciscoSan Francisco has several good dining options, especially in the Union Square-Financial District area where Benu is located. However, after this dinner, Benu scores above some of my other favorites here such as Ame and Fifth Floor. Incidentally, I discovered this restaurant through the Yelp application on my iPad. I was at the W Hotel and this app does a great job of showing restaurants within walking distance sorted by user ratings.


dining room tables said...

The place looks so perfect. I like that it looked clean and so elegant. The food is perfect, as well! Very good-looking.

Shantanu said...

@Dining Room: Yes, simple clean lines.

ferestre pvc preturi said...

I don’t know about Japan, but I do know about France. I visited France twice already and I have to agree with you. They are food-obsessed. Or, dare I say, dessert-obsessed. I never ate more delicious dessert in my life than those I ate in France. They are creamy, rich and full of flavor.

Shantanu said...

@pvc: I guess anything edible is great in France, be it breads, cheese, wine, entrees or desserts.