22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 685-4860

After reading about Benu’s glowing four star review from Michael Bauer, their two Michelin stars, and Chef David Chang of Momofuku in New York City naming Benu as the best restaurant in America, the time had finally come to see first hand just what I had been missing. It’s hard not to have high expectations for such a lofty dining experience; it’s not everyday that you taste a meal prepared by someone who won a James Beard Award. Immediately upon walking through the gate, the experience begins with the staff whisking you through the zen garden area, transporting you right into the minimalist dining room. After deciphering the menu and snacking on their buckwheat seaweed crackers, we decide upon the Chef’s tasting menu, which consists of seventeen small courses.

The first dish was the thousand year old quail egg with potage and ginger, which initially made me nervous trying since I’ve seen them on Bizarre Foods. Benu’s much less intimidating version is a small savory bite of intense egg and poultry flavor with a gelatin texture. Second course was the oyster with pork belly and kimchi, which was lovely bite and a elegant presentation. The third course was the monkfish liver with sour cherry, pistachio, cauliflower, and cherry blossom brioche, which had the rich liver flavor one would expect, a smooth texture, and a similar preparation to a terrine of foie gras. The eel that came next was a bit surprising as it came looking like a rolled cigar with feuille de brick, creme fraiche, and lime, very tasty none the less. The caramelized anchovy, lily bulb, peanut and pickles was a nicely thought out dish with many layered flavors.

More familiar flavors of the night include the foie gras xiao long bao, which was basically a Shanghai dumpling, the salt and pepper squid served on a shrimp chip, the duck served with a black truffle bun, and the beef braised in pear, beech mushrooms, sunflower seeds and leaves. The Hokkaido sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp, cucumber, onion, and fermented pepper was probably the weirdest thing I’ve eaten in a long time, but definitely worth being able to say I’ve now tried it before. The chicken velvet was also a strange dish with its strong poultry flavor but a velvety texture. The “shark’s fin” soup made with Dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, and black truffle custard tasted very similar to the real thing, just minus the guilt. The desserts were all very good, but my favorite had to be the caramel, prune, coffee, cashew, and thyme.

Though I wouldn’t find myself dining here on a daily basis, I can say it was definitely one of the most interesting meals I can recall having in a long time. Benu is successful at creating a unique journey through Asia with every course, encouraging their guests to sample flavors and ingredients they may never get to experience otherwise. Chef Corey Lee is masterful at utilizing Asian ingredients with European techniques and modern cooking methods to create a truly unique dining experience that will leave a lasting impression. |Benu|