The procession of the courses was crisp and regular, and the presentation of the plates by the servers was nigh flawless. Eleven of the 12 courses came with their own glasses of wine, sake, or beer, each poured by sommeliers Yoon Ha and Michael Ireland along with a story of why they were chosen. Most of the pairings were exquisitely matched. The celery and coriander of a German Sylvaner weaved in between the horseradish and yuzu sauces served with a crispy bloom of fried cod milt, and the Madeira accompanying a faux shark's-fin soup echoed the rice wine in its broth. (A few of the reds had a hard time blending in with the food they accompanied, perhaps because it was so delicate.)

Again, the tours de force of the meal were all written in the language Lee is inventing for himself. That faux shark's-fin soup, for instance: The waiter poured a deep broth redolent of ham and dried seafood over great lumps of crab, threads of hydrocolloid-gelled broth that mimicked the texture of shark's fin, and a steamed black-truffle custard; as the truffles diffused into the broth, the soup increased in potency. And in a meal of soft-voiced witticisms, my favorite quip was Lee's reworking of the Korean equivalent of bar pretzels — cubes of anchovy gelée, more a wash of salted-fish flavor than a crashing wave, tossed with poached peanuts, translucent curls of lily bulb, and dried anchovies the size of nail clippings.

Chef Corey Lee garnishes eel wrapped in feuille de brick, one of 12 courses on Benu's tasting menu.
Lara Hata
Chef Corey Lee garnishes eel wrapped in feuille de brick, one of 12 courses on Benu's tasting menu.

Location Info



22 Hawthorne
San Francisco, CA 94105

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: South of Market


22 Hawthorne (at Howard), 685-4860, 5:30-10 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Muni: 10, 12, 14, 30, 45. Reservations required well in advance. Noise level: quiet.

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If I were the kind of diner who easily parts with $300 in pursuit of gastronomic thrills, I would already be calendaring a succession of reservations to watch Benu evolve. If I were plotting a once-a-year splurge, anticipating a flawless parade of perfect moments, I'd hold off — say, six months to a year. Corey Lee's technique is so exquisite, his sensitivity to aesthetics so acute, that the language he's developing is certain to rival that of Vladimir Nabokov or David Foster Wallace. It's not quite there yet.

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