Possibly the strangest thing about Benu is that no one had any idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it (which was not that many times). Clearly, I do not fraternize with anyone particularly interested in French Laundry alumni. I could’ve just as easily said I was dining at Benihana for my birthday (the hibachi chain has been on my to-try list for some time).
The food at Benu is the style–seamlessly blending Chinese luxury ingredients with modern technique and a greenmarket sensibility–that I expect I might find in the more wealthy, aggressively image-conscious Asian capitals like Singapore or Hong Kong, but never encounter. Presentation is definitely important here, but never for the sake of showing off. The components are subtle and thoughtful.
I have resolved not to dork-out and take photos during higher-end meals, but the atmosphere while mildly stark, was not stuffy or nerve-jangling in a manner that I always associate with Corton. After settling into a relaxed (I was going to say quiet, but there was nothing hushed about the odd foursome next to us, what appeared to be married men showing off for married women who were less than impressed) corner table I was glad that I had not left my camera in the hotel, after all.
To be perfectly frank, though, I don’t really enjoy blogging about tasting menus. Who cares what I have to say about 18 courses, wonderful as they may be? (In a similar vein, I’ve really started to tire of those talking head food tv shows where minor personalities ooh and ah over moijto ice pops or food truck fish and chips for people sitting at home on their couches.) After getting the play by play on the elaborate method used to craft the translucent kimchi wonton wrapper, I stopped focusing on techniques (well, the “shark’s fin” demanded a few questions—it’s made from Dungeness crab and hydrocolloids are involved) and took in the food at face value.
Continuing surface appreciations…here are photos without commentary. I can’t just let them flounder on flickr (do visit, if you would like to see full-sized images).
thousand-year-old quail egg, cèpes, ginger
oyster, pork belly, kimchi
belly, maple-sake cure, fennel ash
roe, homemade sesame tofu, Serrano chili
cherry blossom, yogurt, cucumber, pistachio
beef tartare, caviar, horseradish, chive
tomato, hand-pulled mozzarella, dashi
eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime
jasmine chicken with dates
foie gras xiao long bao
monkfish liver torchon, turnip, plum, brioche
abalone, potato, caper, lettuce
fresh noodles, shrimp roe, tarragon, chicken jus
“shark’s fin” soup, Dungeness crab, Junhua ham, black truffle custard
Duck, glutinous rice stuffing, fermented pepper
Pork rib, sunchoke, pine nut, cherry, black bean
Passion fruit white chocolate, chili
Peach, matcha, elderflower
Benu * 22 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, CA