Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crossing the t's at Benu, San Francisco

The food at Benu was thoughtful and meticulous, like crossing the t's after every sentence...

Benu - San Francisco
I will try not to bore you with a long detailed recap of my meal at Benu with info such as Cory Lee, ex Chef de cuisine of French Laundry or the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2010 or-- See, I am already spouting all the facts. There are a plethora of blogs covering the details especially from one of my favorite food blogger Ulterior Epicure, click here to read his post.

Benu - San FranciscoOn a breezy weeknight I meet 3 of my girlfriends for dinner. These girlfriends are some of my favorite people in the world. Most of my spectacular meals in San Francisco are always with these girls.

Benu - San Francisco, crackers

We were immediately greeted by two Gavin Newsom-like host who lead us to the quiet and fabric covered dining room. The dining room had a feeling of softness, cream colored heavily cushion chairs, gray plushy carpet and even triple-ply toilet paper. The entire feel of the restaurant was 'plushy.'

Benu - San Francisco, basil amuse
Amuse - basil, gin
Benu - San Francisco, foie gras custard
matsutake mushrooms, crab and foie gras custard, green yuzu

The restaurant was business causal, most guest were dressed in business wear with Alicia Keys' 'No One' playing in the background and our server was polite but not too formal. We ordered a la carte to try as many dishes as possible and we were able to share which is my preferred way of dining even in " small portion big plate" places.

Benu - San Francisco, sea cucumber
sea cucumber, pork belly, lettuce, wood ear mushroom, fermented pepper

After each dish my mind would naturally take note of the thoughtfulness and details of each presentation. The details are elevated like a boyfriend who gives flowers and a boyfriend who gives your favorite flowers and a card signed with a personal message.

Benu - San Francisco, abalone
abalone grenobloise, cauliflower, caper, lemon, parsley

The monkfish torchon had the texture and airiness of the foie gras but it had a milder flavor and slight sweetness which exposed my mind to the color blue.

Benu - San Francisco, monkfish torchon
monkfish liver torchon, turnip, persimmon, mustard, brioche

Another dish as luxurious as the monkfish torchon was the black truffle risotto with uni. The custom printed art ceramic plate arrived with a lid and dramatically lifted to revealed the treasure. The visual evoked emotions similar to seeing my childhood crush. (You know, the spidey tingle feeling.) Luxurious with a lingering luxurious finish.

Benu - San Francisco, uni risotto
risotto, sea urchin, butternut squash, celery, black truffle

Benu - San Francisco, truffle pastaThe only disappointing dish was also the most expensive at $75, egg yolk tagliatelle with freshly shaved Alba white truffle. Our nervous 'truffle shaver' was fumbling with the lid and quickly shaved it onto our plate. I was hoping to take a glance of the truffles but she quickly put everything away. I understand, I would have stage fright too handling hundreds if not thousands dollars worth of truffles.

Benu - San Francisco, pasta
egg yolk tagliatelle with white truffles from alba

Aside from the table side presentation the truffle was very mild and the texture felt awkward even though truffles, pasta, heavy cream, and eggs are a winning combination.

Benu - San Francisco, squid ink pasta
rigatoni, squid and ink, karasumi, artichoke, spicy sausage

Some of the minute details and refinement were the components of the dish. The wood ears in the sea cucumber dish was most memorable, the crunchiness versus firmness of the wood ear was in absolute ratio. There were no grits or sandiness in texture; one side was crunchy, shiny, silky and the other side was firmer. I go on about the wood ear because it is one ingredient that is in concert to a song or be a noticeable sore thumb.

Benu - San Francisco sea bass
sea bass, shrimp, beech mushroom, broccoli, lily blub, eggplant, xo jiang

Another component that I found accentuated a dish was the cucumber in the duck dish. The cucumber was cubed, flesh only, devoid of seeds or skin and cooked to a perfect tenderness. The tenderness had a similar feel to fish cheeks, almost transparent enough to see the pierce of my fork.

Benu - San Francisco, duck

Benu - San Francisco, duck & beef cap
left: duck. cherry, black olive, sunchoke, cucumber
right: beef rib cap, daikon, chestnut, mustard greens

We ordered two desserts and a cheese plate, Benu uses Andante Cheese. The huckleberries, douglar fir meringue, candy cap sable, cultured cream dessert was unique in an 'Installation art' way. My friend commented it tasted like a "Christmas tree." The dessert had a woody scent with a grainy layer, it was odd and we did not enjoy it or maybe like an 'Installation art' piece we might not understand how to enjoy it.

Benu - San Francisco, cheese course
selection of Andante cheeses

I was not pleased about our server's push for the menu. She was adamant about us ordering the tasting menu even when we declined twice and reminded us over and over about plate portion. We were informed about the smaller sizes when we were looking over the menu but she re-emphasize it during the meal and when we were ordering dessert. The first few times is courtesy to the patron but bothersome after awhile.

Benu - San Francisco, huckleberry
huckleberries, douglas fir meringue, candy cap sable, cultured cream

Benu - San Francisco
Soft chocolate ganache, feuille de brick, banana ice cream, Bourbon caramel, ginger

The custom chocolate box filled with velvety chocolate was a sweet touch. The options included matcha tea, hazelnut and others my hands weren't fast enough to grab.

Benu - San Francisco, chocolates
chocolate mignardises

The overall experience felted like a Bette Midler concert with some upbeat songs but majority of the dishes were harmonious love ballads. I left with a feeling of calm happiness especially when my friends and I were discussing the dishes. Chef Lee waved to us gleefully from the window as we were walking by the kitchen outside. Cute.

*Chef Cory Lee is hoping to open for late night grub in order to use up all the leftovers from the kitchen. High-end post drinking food, I will be first in line. Read article here.

22 Hawthorne St
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 685-4860
Benu on Urbanspoon


Heavenly Housewife said...

What an incredible looking meal. I am in awe of the beautiful presentations. I want to go!
Wishing you and your family a really fabulous Thanksgiving. May you always have much to be thankful for.
*kisses* HH

Lolia S said...

Absolutely stunning photos. Happy Thanksgiving B!

Forager said...

You sound truly enamoured with this meal - ringing endorsement and it looks fantastic! Love the more casual feel you describe of the atmosphere - my kind of restaurant! Also love the concept of the late night post pub grub - what an inspired idea! I wish something like that would open in Sydney! said...

Benu & Commis. One on each side of the bay. There's a slight chance I can still make it to both before NYE? Right? Haven't eaten thru SF for nearly 6 months months now.. So behind!

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