Eaten at Benu (217/366)

“Benu really is the best restaurant in America.”
~ Chef David Chang, Chef/Owner of Momofuku


If you’ve read this blog much this year, you know about our various jaunts to really great (and sometimes famous) restaurants (including our crazy weekend in Yountville, our marathon meal at the French Laundry, and my birthday trip to the Restaurant at Meadowood).  Well, here’s another one!

Today is Nicky’s birthday, and as a very special treat, he wanted to have his celebration dinner at Benu, a two-star Michelin Guide restaurant, headed by James Beard Award-winner and Thomas Keller‘s former Chef de Cuisine of the French Laundry, Chef Corey Lee.  Chef Lee has made a name for himself being the first chef outside of Asia to push the envelope using modernist culinary techniques married with Asian flavors and ingredients.

There were eight of us tonight, and we got to sit at the beautiful main table in the center of the dining room.  We had pre-selected the tasting menu, and we were ready to experience it all.  Unfortunately, since the room was lit with a lot of natural light, many of our pictures came out grainy or dark as the evening went on – we didn’t bring the DSLR because we mainly wanted to enjoy the evening together.

Shortly after being welcomed and seated, we were served some very pretty seaweed crisps for us to nibble on while the kitchen brought out our first course.

Our first dish was the “thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger.”  Good thing I’d tried thousand-year eggs earlier this year!  This was very nice!

Next was “oyster, pork belly, kimchi.”  The kimchi was in the form of the “candied wrapper.”  Spicy, rich and delicious.

After the bit of spice from the kimchi, we had a Japanese style “potato salad with anchovy.”  Creamy and refreshing with a bit of crunch and saltiness from the anchovies.

Next was “wild salmon roe, eggplant, buckwheat, perilla.”  Rich, briny, and almost custardy.

After that, we had the “chicken liver steamed in rice wine, caviar, green apple, radish, brioche.”  Beautifully refreshing and decadent, sweet and savory, crisp and soft, all at the same time.

Next was the “eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime.”  A wonderful eel pastry “cigar” with a tangy, creamy crème fraîche sprinkled with lime zest.  This was not only a delicious treat, but it was fun and sensory as well.

Next was the “omasum tripe, shrimp, yellow chive, lovage.”  I had never had tripe before, but by looking at it, I had always “known” the texture and knew it wasn’t for me.  I wasn’t wrong, but Benu certainly made this unfavored (by many) dish palatable, delicate, and the flavors used in it were light, fresh, and tasty.

After the tripe came a palate cleanser: “tomato and preserved plum” with a tomato foam.  This was mellow, tart, salty, and refreshing, all at the same time.  A very interesting creation.

Now we were in for it.  Before the foie gras ban (don’t miss my post on the epic “Foie Five Ways” meal), Chef Lee had served a foie gras xiao long bao, a type of soup dumpling that in and of itself is a masterpiece – with foie gras, I can (now sadly) only imagine, but Benu has replaced it with an absolutely wonderful lobster xiao long bao.

Next was the very fun and different “salt and pepper squid” – on a puffed cracker made with squid ink.  So great!

After that was a beautiful “sablefish, soft shell clam, black bean, squash [blossom].”  So tender and succulent. Just lovely.

Next was the “abalone blanquette.”  Tender, delicate, and creamy.

And then – my favorite – the “duck, cucumber, scallion, Shaoxing wine, black truffle bun.”  A lot to say – and a lot to see – and of course, a lot to taste.  So deliciously wonderful.  The duck, cucumber, and scallion in the wine sauce was divine.

But that black truffle bun filled with more duck – warm and earthy, soft and savory … everyone at the table talked about that for the rest of the night.  Several of us fantasized about Benu selling the buns to us by the dozen (or two!), no matter what the cost, in magical pink Benu bakery boxes of heaven.  *Drool*

We weren’t done yet!  Next came the “beef rib, crispy lily bulb, celery, shiitake mushroom, steak sauce.”  Just delicious.

And to finish of the main courses was the famous “‘shark’s fin’ soup, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard.”  Chef Lee uses molecular gastronomy to recreate the “shark’s fin” – an Asian delicacy – without using any shark (which is now endangered due to overfishing).

This was great, but the black truffle custard was the real winner for me.  The broth, the custard, and some more black truffle buns, and I would be beside myself.  Just so wonderful.

Next, a palate cleanser before dessert: “melon, sake, pine.”  Refreshing, and lightly sweet.

Then came dessert – the “spice cake, blueberry, yogurt, oatmeal ice cream.”  Fabulous, and fun – more molecular gastronomy – incorporating such deliciously different textures and techniques!

And to finally cap off our epic meal, some gorgeous chocolate truffles.

Oh, and a special bite of cake for the Man of the Hour:

This meal was inventively delicious, the evening was great – it was all almost as special as my wonderfully spectacular, outrageously handsome, amazingly fantastic husband.  Happy Birthday, Nicky!

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One Response to “Eaten at Benu (217/366)”
  1. Ying says:

    Absolutely gorgeous presentation too. If the food was half as delicious as it looked, it must have been a spectacular meal! (P.S. Your husband is pretty cute.)

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