Wednesday, September 22, 2010

benu Restaurant - San Francisco's New Cutting Edge Star

From Food Maven AggieGourmet74 comes a review of SF's hottest new restaurant.
One enters Benu under an arbor covered with new vines and a through a deck that has a Napa / Japanese “zen-like” design vernacular. Inside, the walls are all white except for tufted squares of grey fabric behind the seats of tables next to the walls. The space seems like a citified version of the French Laundry although quite the opposite mood of glitzy Per Se. Tables are set sans tablecloths with beautiful thin glass tumblers and “wood rocks” that hold cutlery similar in function to chopsticks rests.

The young wait staff is attentive, gracious and extremely knowledgeable. Service was near flawless. On the third day of the third week since one of the most anticipated openings of a restaurant in recent San Francisco history, the clientele was a mixture of the “artsy crowd” and young dot-commers with a few ‘tomahawk’ haircuts in evidence.

The food, for the most part, lives up to the pre-opening hype and in case of a few dishes, it is simply spectacular. The first course of the Tasting Menu below featured a Tomato Water Orb, which when eaten all at once exploded with flavor, a gustatory experience akin to eating an Indian Pani Puri. The mock ‘Shark’s Fin’ Soup is a lip smacking, complex and multilayered taste sensation that defies description. The congee-like Haiga Rice porridge could have been enhanced by the judicious placement of one or two red or green chili rings.

The pacing of the meal was brisk and comfortable except for the transition to the beef rib cap which took longer than it should have. The wine list including the collection of half bottles is comprehensive and well thought out. All the dishes were impeccably presented, and in many cases represented sheer genius in the kitchen.

After dinner, we were given a tour of the spotless kitchen. The staff was young, enthusiastic and busy tending to the presentation of the dishes with a meticulous attention to detail. Chef Corey Lee was gracious and came over to greet us and explain the inspiration behind the Asian inflected dishes. Benu is destined to become one of America’s premier cutting edge restaurants.

Tasting Menu

Tomato, cucumber, dashi, summer blossoms

Thousand-year-old-quail egg, black truffle, ginger

Summer flounder, mountain yam, fermented pepper, perilla

Caramelized anchovy gelee, peanuts, lily bulbs, chili, basil

Veal sweetbread grenobloise, cauliflower, parsley, lemon, caper

Eel, feuille de brick, avocado, crème fraiche

Monkfish liver torchon, apple relish, turnip, ramps, sorrel, mustard, brioche

“Shark’s fin” soup, Dungeness crab, cabbage, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard

Sea urchin, potato puree, corn, celery

Haiga rice porridge, abalone, chicken, sesame

Pork belly, sautéed lettuce, onions, spiced sugar, cherry and black olive sauce

Beef rib cap, bluefoot mushrooms, mizuna, pine needle honey

Melon, sake, wasabi

Strawberry sorbet, buckwheat shortbread, vanilla

Chocolates, coffee, tea

1 comment:

  1. I finally ate at Benu this week and wasn't as thrilled with the food as I expected to be. I tasted a chawan mushi-type custard, sea cucumber with pork belly, duck with eight treasures, tagliatelle with white truffle, and all three desserts. What struck me most about the savory dishes was the lack of vivid flavors. Second, Farina's pasta with white truffle and egg is absolutely ethereal and beats Benu's hands-down. That pasta & truffle dish was an oddball on the menu and it was lacking, so I don't understand why it was offered. As for the desserts, we enjoyed the chocolate ganache dessert most but could have skipped it. The chestnut custard with apples and cider with black truffle ice cream tasted like eating foie with truffle. The orange curd with tapioca and pistachio ice cream was so mild that it just wasn't exciting. The complimentary truffles served at the end of our meal included some extraordinarily delicious sesame truffles.



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