You've probably heard about Benu by now. It is one of SF's most celebrated and also most expensive restaurants. And unless you've experienced it yourself, you're probably curious as to what the hell goes on inside those walls that makes it cost so much money. You're also probably wondering if you should actually consider spending much of your net worth on a meal here.
The thing is, dinner at Benu isn't entirely about having a lot of money - it's about how you like to spend the money you've got. If you’re the kind of person who might actually seriously consider adding a $210 abalone supplement to your $228 dollar meal even though it means you're probably going to miss rent next month, you’ll like it here.
You'll also probably appreciate the fact that there is a different server for pretty much each of the 16 courses - the anchovy guy, the dumplings guy, the water guy, the wine guy...there are a lot of guys. And as you might hope once you've decided to spend your money on Benu, many of the dishes those guys deliver will be absolutely mind blowing - most notably the 1000 year old quail egg (unclear how this is accomplished).
To be honest, this was my first time having a meal of this caliber, course number, and astronomical price tag. Would I go back again? Undecided, unless I develop a successful online gambling habit/strategy. But I can say I'm very glad I went once, and I think you'll be too. Just don't expect a perfect experience from front to back.
Despite the extensive variety of servers, and the fact that the meal took, in our case, over three hours, some things still managed to feel a bit rushed. Dishes came out while we were still eating others, and we got the feeling they were trying to get us through our dinner in a hurry so they could go do whatever they do when they aren't running this restaurant, which we're guessing has to do with operating a bank or the Federal Reserve.
As far as advice on the meal itself, we can’t really tell you what to get and what to skip, since it’s prix fixe, but we can tell you what made our brains explode in the Food Rundown. We are chatty people, and some of these things left us speechless. Which may in part explain why this place is so quiet.
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Thousand Year Old Quail Egg, Potage, Ginger
An exquisite purple quail egg drifting in an egg-yolky potato soup. Incredible.
Oyster, Pork Belly, Kimchi
We actually had to ask where the kimchi was, and turns out it’s the stained glass looking cup that the oyster and pork belly are served in. This is sex.
Not on the menu, but it is fantastic. Honey butter with a honeycomb print alongside sprouted toast. SF is the land of fancy toast, so of course Benu needs to do some too. They nail it.
Caramelized Anchovy with Potato Salad
A ball of potato salad coated in tiny salty, fried fish. Not for the faint of heart, since you can see their little eyes - but it’s good. The fanciest potato salad you will ever consume.
Fluke, Sesame Leaf, Daikon
A fluke sandwich served between two leaves. Amazing.
Monkfish Liver, Feuille de Brick, Crudites
This is a baby taco of monkfish liver and it is incredible. Foie gras of the sea. And so far, no one’s upset about the potential torture of fish.
Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao
Soupy foie dumplings with a brown rice dipping sauce. Definitely one of the top four dishes of the meal. Docked points for being served on a plate that looks like a pool drain.
Cod milt, Cucumber, Horseradish
This is a fancy fried cod ball, and was very fishy. Fisherman dock smell fishy.
Frog Leg, Mountain Yam, Celery
These are tasty little nuggets of frog leg, not the actual entire leg you might imagine. Delicious.
Wild Bamboo Fungi and Shoots
This was like eating straight fungus. Not feeling it - and we’re usually very pro mushroom people.
Baked Ham, Fish Maw, Peas, Black Truffle
The ham melts in your mouth and the black truffle is introduced in an excellent hot cross bun situation.
Beef rib, Eggplant, Fermented Broccoli, Charred Scallion
This was mind-blowing - the beef is insanely tender and all the vegetables go with it perfectly.
Ossetra, Winter Melon, Chicken Cream
You know how you make caviar even fancier? Sprinkle some gold flakes on top. Jesus Christ. This was rich, served over a creamy chicken porridge. We could eat this until our bodies cry for mercy.
‘Shark Fin Soup’, Dungeness Crab, Jinhua Ham Custard
Sort of a shark fin broth, with hints of soy and the rich touch of ham and crab. Holy lord is it good.
Fresh and Dried Yuba, Almond, White Chocolate
Addictive - salty and sweet and the first dessert tofu skin we’ve ever seen.