I maintain a fairly lengthy list of restaurants in the Bay Area that I want to visit. Each time I cross the country from East to Left I seem to be overly constricted by time or budget, which makes for very slow progression through my ever increasing line-up. Last November, by the generosity of The Bro, I was able to make a decent little advance through my SF roster.
After a run along the water, a kick-ass lunch at Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food, a tour of really long staircases, and a hike through the Sutro Baths, The Bro and I were amped for dinner at Corey Lee’s Benu.
Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger. A two week preserving process yielded a superb quail egg. The potage of cabbage and bacon was a nice supporter. Of the dozen+ quail egg openers I’ve had at as many restaurants over the past several months, this was easily my favorite.
Oyster, pork belly, kimchi. A great contrast of the cold oyster to the hot belly. A good pepper-like spice with the lingering pork richness was great.
Potato salad with anchovy. With celery and caramelized Fresno Chile curls. Another fantastic contrast, this time of the sweet crunchy anchovies to the soft starchy potato salad.
Homemade pumpkin tofu. Soy bean and butternut squash tofu with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin juice, and Korean sea salt. Not a particular standout for me, but the pumpkin seeds and juice were very enjoyable.
Chilled porridge, abalone, matsutake mushroom, pine. The abalone had a good texture. A thorough chew of the mushroom rewarded with great earthy flavor. The pine nuts were a nice little surprise.
Monkfish liver, persimmon, turnip, mustard, brioche. We were told this used to be made with duck liver before the foie ban. I thought the monkfish liver had a bitterness that made the dish more interesting than I imagined the foie to be. Good compliments of mustard spice and sweetness from crystallized mustard seeds. The crunchy turnips were nice to break up the flavors and cleanse between bites.
Sake lees, chestnut, green apple, yuzu. I thought this dish was terrific. The frozen sake lees were phenomenal; very exciting when paired with rich chestnut puree and sweet apple gelee. The yuzu foam had a vibrant, bright energy that heightened the ensemble.
Eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime. Beautiful umami combination of eel wrapped in filo. To be dipped in a cooling, tangy creme fraiche with lime zest.
Omasum tripe, scallop, yellow chive, lovage. The dish was well-spiced. The tripe in particular was a pleasure, with a great density and snap.
Salt and pepper squid. The Bro was a huge fan of the squid chip. A cracker flavored with squid ink topped with confit squid, pickled serrano, garlic creme fraiche, cilantro, garlic and chile powders. I got pretty excited about the pickled serranos.
Lobster in two courses:
– xiao long bao. Shanghai style soupy dumplings filled with a perfect lobster broth. Contrasted with a potent Banyuls/fermented soy vinegar.
– fresh noodles with fines herbes. Damn! Delicious. Like a refined high-end bolognese. Lobster stock, veal stock, bacon, garlic, red wine vinaigrette, and classic Italian fines herbes.
Rabbit cassoulet with black truffle bun. As delightfully rich as it should be with good starchy beans. Accompanied by a steamed bun flavored with black truffles wrapped around a dense but soft rabbit sausage.
Beef rib, pear, broccoli, burdock, charred scallion, fermented pepper. As expected, a flawless cut of beef rib. I adored the fermented pepper sauce with its lasting smoky heat that was mellowed by the asian pear puree.
“Shark’s fin” soup, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard. Chef Lee’s famous faux shark fin soup. The crab lent an oceanic salinity for the ‘fin’ and broth. The grand earthy truffle is always good.
Shiso, white chocolate, almond, pomegranate. The dryness of the frozen shiso was really cool..haha..get it? I loved the herbaceousness of the shiso against the rich white chocolate snow. The pomegranate seeds gave a fun bright pop.
Spice cake, huckleberry, yogurt, oatmeal ice cream. Seasonally appropriate. Possibly a little distracted and disjointed, but a fun dish to eat.
Chocolates. White chocolate with dried fruit. Sesame chocolate with a good crunch. Dark chocolate with cognac. Walnut chocolate with walnut liquor.
Some wines we were served:
Date of visit: November 8, 2012
Benu. 22 Hawthorne St. San Francisco, CA. 415.685.4860 http://www.benusf.com/