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Benu, San Francisco

22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 685 4860
view web site ›'s insider take:

Drawing on his time as chef du cuisine at Napa's famed French Laundry, chef Corey Lee showcases his culinary virtuosity in an elaborate 13-course tasting menu that masterfully blends Eastern and Western techniques. And big flavors come in delicate packages, such as a signature amuse-gueule that includes a flash-fried cigarette of eel wrapped in Moroccan feuille de brick (a nonbuttery filo) with a little spoonful of crème fraîche whipped with lime and salt for dipping. There's also an à la carte menu of dishes that intentionally run small—waiters call them appetizer-size—so diners may sample multiple flavor profiles. But it's not easy to create a cohesive culinary arc with three to four of them; better to opt for the tasting menu. Chef Lee places a premium on the sensory experience of the palate, but the dining room has an austere, almost too casual atmosphere. The chummy waiters, pop-rock soundtrack, and undraped blond-wood-edged tables (which look like high-end Ikea) simply don't match the caliber of the food.—John A. Vlahides

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

From the editors of Condé Nast Traveler:
Corey Lee spent four years as chef de cuisine at the French Laundry, earning a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award and the attention of fellow toques—including admirer Melissa Perello. Now Lee has his own place, Benu, where he's painstakingly planned every detail, from the minimalist decor to the imported Korean tableware. Chef Perello, who admits to being envious of his huge kitchen, describes Lee's Eastern-leaning food as "unique, creative, and cutting-edge without being pretentious or weird." His is a modern take on fine dining (a sign, perhaps, that fancy is making a comeback?), and the $160 tasting menu is worth every penny (entrées, $24-$40).

Must eat: Faux shark's fin soup with truffle custard. —2011 Hot List

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