I’m back in San Francisco, and it is glorious to be back at this amazing city. The smell and feel of the place is certainly quite different than that at Europe, and the sunshine is certainly welcoming albeit the evenings come with a nice, bracing chill to keep things interesting.
The first meal of the trip is none other than Benu. This restaurant has always been in my bucket list, albeit never had the chance to dine here. The chef Corey Lee had previously trained in the French Laundry, the venerable culinary institution around these parts. In addition to that, they were recently promoted with their third Michelin star, which is no small feat indeed. And finally, it’s about time.
First thing to note is that the service was exquisitely warm. Our server was excellent and I couldn’t have felt more at home.
The chef started us off with an array of starters, and I’ll focus on the items that were more memorable. We began with white sturgeon caviar with chicken cream and winter melon. It was quite a punchy starter, with plenty of flavour from the intense chicken cream.
Another starter that I enjoyed was the acorn beggar’s purse with Iberico ham and black truffles. The texture of the purse was chewy in a good way, enveloping the lovely Iberico ham with a tinge of black truffles.
The grilled eel with perilla and mountain yam taco, drizzled with lime, was subtle and well balanced.
After a rather dizzying array of small delicacies, we finally hit the main courses. The first was a Thousand year old quail egg, potage, and ginger. I never would have figured to combine the French potage soup with his twist on the century egg. The richness of the thich potage combined with the delicate quail egg and the spice from the ginger was a success.
Next, was a dish of tomato, celtuce and XO. Celtuce, a lettuce-like vegetable valued for its stem, is all the rage in restaurants as of late. The flavours were quite subtle, and every single ingredient could be tasted without overwhelming each other.
My favourite course of the meal was the perfect bite that is the lobster coral Xiao Long bao, dipped in vinegar to counterbalance the richness of the broth inside the soup dumpling, which had descended from the heavens. This was truly the xiao long bao to trump all other xiao long baos. I could have had a few more of these and just call it a day. It was that good.
The previous dish was a tough one to beat, but the subsequent offering of sea urchin with fermented crab sauce was no slouch either. The sea urchin was lusciously decadent, and complemented the accompanying rice and daikon broth very well.
The next dish of peanut, cucumber and black truffles was an interesting dish with various textures and flavours, albeit wasn’t the most intriguing of dishes.
The mantao (or steamed bun) with black truffle cream, on the other hand, was a revelation! Another hallmark of chef Corey Lee’s ability to marry Asian and Western cultures in a rather unorthodox, but ultimately very successful manner.
The next dish was braised abalone presented in the manner of a meat dish, paired with rich abalone jus, potato puree, onion and mustard. The abalone was well cooked and had a nice firm texture, which paired well with the richness from the jus. A good dish.
The final meat course was a beef rib with burdock root and wood ear mushrooms. It’s not often that I’ll have burdock in a meal, which is usually known for its medicinal properties, the texture itself reminded me of bamboo shoots, which is commonly served in Chinese cuisine. The beef rib was perfectly cooked and luscious, with the burdock root and wood ear mushrooms providing some texture to the dish.
For the final savoury course was a faux “Shark’s Fin” with dungeness crab, Jinhua ham and egg white. The texture was very much like Shark’s fin, albeit haven’t had it for many moons. The dish itself was a good mix of textures and flavours.
As an intermezzo, was a Shinko pear sorbet and a pear ice beneath it. The sorbet was deftly shaped into an immaculate white rose, and in addition to that, was utterly refreshing and brimming with pear flavour. A lovely break before hitting the final dessert course.
For the coup de grace, was dried apricot, osmanthus and almond. It seems to be an almond cream enveloping a dried apricot filling, which appears a bit understated but rather delicious finale.
This was definitely a meal to remember. A few of his creations truly stood above the rest, such as the immaculate lobster coral xiao long bao, which puts all other soup dumplings to shame. And to be honest, most the dishes were actually quite good albeit the portions could have been a tad more generous. That said, this place is definitely worthy as a three Michelin starred establishment.