Benu restaurant in San Francisco has recently been promoted to 3-Michelin-Star, an elite designation of top restaurants in the world. In the Bay Area, we only have four: The French Laundry, The Restaurant at Meadowood (both in Napa Valley), and the newly promoted Saison and Benu, both in San Francisco.
I headed over to Benu, for my inaugural visit, to find out for myself what the fuss was all about. A fixed menu of numerous bite-size courses, Asian-fusion style, with an incredibly light touch, was impressive. Almost every decadent ingredient one can think of was somehow represented. The wine list was fairly impressive and versatile as well, with aged bottles of DRC at prices not far above the retail prices of current releases (so relative "value", one might say). Based on a recommendation of a wine guru friend and a Benu regular, I brought a bottle of white burgundy which I had been cellaring for a few years, and indeed it worked very well with the menu. Master Sommelier - Yoon Ha - one of a handful of Food and Wine Magazine 2013 Sommeliers of the Year - started us off with a tasty bubbly - an off-the-beaten-path glass of Cremant du Jura. He then did an expert job with his commentary on my grand cru. The "Montrachet" style wine glasses were perfectly suited for our 2006 grand cru Batard-Montrachet from Bernard Morey - his last vintage before the famed domain was split between his two sons - Vincent and Thomas - who, in my opinion, are yet to reach their dad's level of quality.
2006 Bernard Morey Batard-Montrachet. Gorgeous. Vanilla bean, more pear than apple, spice, coconut shavings, creme brulee, smoke, some well-integrated oak, butter cream, hint of mint, luxurious viscous texture, weighty, medium acidity, luxurious long finish, no signs of decline, better than a year ago, seamless and endlessly complex, and could probably continue to improve for years. Was a great match for the Asian influenced menu of Benu.
The Dishes (displayed in the order they were served)
All dishes were well executed, in my opinion, with great attention to textures and quality of ingredients. Every bite left me wishing for one more, but I put a star (*) next to my favorite dishes that I wanted ten times more of (!).
Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger
Oyster, pork-belly, kimchi (*)
Fluke, sesame leaf, daikon (*)
Smelt, mayonnaise, mustard (*)
Monkfish liver, trout roe, perilla (*)
Lobster xiao long bao (Shanghai-style dumpling, with lobster broth inside)
Bread with honey butter (*)
Grilled abalone with chicken liver (*)
Eel, porridge, pine
Frog leg, mountain yam, celtuce
Horse mackerel, kohlrabi, charred scallion
Chestnut bun w/ black truffle duck mousse (*)
Roast quail, chard, chestnut, aged tangerine peel
Braised beef in pear juice
"Shark fin soup", dungeness crab, Jinhua ham custard
Sake lees sherbet, persimmon, yuzu (*)
Fresh and dried yuba (tofu skin), almond, white chocolate (*)
More Asian inspired snacks (seaweed-like), chocolate and crackers
The opinions of the meal were somewhat split between my wife, our friends, and myself. Personally, I loved the food, and thought that five or six dishes were absolutely phenomenal. I am not a big fan of fusion food in general and Asian fusion in particular, as I prefer authentic cuisines. That aside, Benu's rendition was the best I had ever had. The decor / atmosphere at the restaurant was classy and comfortable. The rest of my group - all foodie Chinese - found some of the flavors perhaps either too familiar (for instance, Gochi deliver some of the similar flavors) or not quite as tasty as the original, authentic version (they were not too impressed by the lobster dumpling). But they too remarked on a number of dishes that wowed them. A couple of small nits that I didn't appreciate - our request for more bread was ignored and the request for a (empty) box for the cookies was denied. In the end, as a group, we thought 2 Michelin Stars - for sure! 3? Perhaps.