USA- Benu- ✪✪✪

Set in the middle of downtown San Francisco, Corey Lee's Benu restaurant is an advanced laboratory of Asian-Fusian cuisine that isn't afraid to try adventuresome, interesting dishes. 

 Benu Outer Entrance, Hawthorne Street

Benu Outer Entrance, Hawthorne Street

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $298 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Corey Lee is a rising-star alum of Daniel in New York and the French Laundry in Napa, and is in the process of making a name for himself in the fine-dining world. Benu has only had their third Michelin star since 2014, and the whole place exudes a rockstar vibe that I found very cool. 

With its own beautiful urban courtyard and a gorgeous, understated interior, I found even the walk inside an entrancing start to the evening.

 Benu Exterior Courtyard

Benu Exterior Courtyard

 Benu Interior

Benu Interior

 First Bites: Caviar + Winter Melon + Chicken Cream, 10/10

First Bites: Caviar + Winter Melon + Chicken Cream, 10/10

The first portion of the meal consisted of approximately 10 mini-courses, called Small Delicacies. The first one out was this absolutely stunning winter melon and chicken cream with caviar. There was a nice gel texture in the under layers, and the gold leaf is over-the-top but adds beautiful colors to an already gorgeous dish. Wonderful start. 10/10.

 First Bites: Mushroom + Eggplant + Ginkgo, 8/10

First Bites: Mushroom + Eggplant + Ginkgo, 8/10

Next, a small grouping of delicately-plated dishes- mushroom with squash and pine nuts, eggplant uzu, then ginkgo nut. 8/10 overall

 First Bite 2 of 10: Mushroom + Squash + Pine Nuts, 9/10

First Bite 2 of 10: Mushroom + Squash + Pine Nuts, 9/10

  First Bite 3 of 10: E ggplant + Uzu , 7/10

First Bite 3 of 10: Eggplant + Uzu, 7/10

  First Bite 4 of 10: G inkgo Nut,  8/10

First Bite 4 of 10: Ginkgo Nut, 8/10

  First Bites Continued: Unlaid Egg + Beggar's Purse + Drunken Chicken, 9/10

First Bites Continued: Unlaid Egg + Beggar's Purse + Drunken Chicken, 9/10

These next three were a really impressive experimentation with textures. A cured, unlaid egg with bacon, a "Beggar's purse" with essence of oak tree, and an Eastern Chinese "drunken chicken" dish with quail jelly. Overall, 9/10.

  First Bite 5 of 10: Unlaid Egg  , 10  /10

First Bite 5 of 10: Unlaid Egg, 10/10

The unlaid egg is exactly what it sounds like, and it literally explodes in your mouth under lots of tension- 9/10, a really fascinating dish. 

  First Bite 6 of 10: Beggar's Purse  , 8  /10

First Bite 6 of 10: Beggar's Purse, 8/10

The Beggar's purse is full of mushrooms, and unfortunately was a bit dry... 8/10

  First Bite 7 of 10: D runken Chicken , 10  /10

First Bite 7 of 10: Drunken Chicken, 10/10

The Quail jelly is firm, and the chicken has great texture- 9/10

  First Bite 8 of 10: Eel Taco  , 10  /10

First Bite 8 of 10: Eel Taco, 10/10

Next came an Eel taco wth mountain yam with a tiny micro-lime perched nearby. Great textures with the crunchy shell, and the eel was fresh and delicious. 10/10.

  First Bite 9 of 10: BBQ Duck Liver + Pork  , 9  /10

First Bite 9 of 10: BBQ Duck Liver + Pork, 9/10

An amazing square slice of bread with barbecue duck liver and pork, then liver again, with a marinade as the sauce. Nice, strong sherry flavors. 9/10.

 Last of the First Bites: Bread + Butter + Honey, 9/10

Last of the First Bites: Bread + Butter + Honey, 9/10

  First Course:: "1,000 Year Quail Egg," 9/10

First Course:: "1,000 Year Quail Egg," 9/10

 Quail Egg post-Ginger Spice Foam

Quail Egg post-Ginger Spice Foam

A "1,000-year-old quail egg," came next. We were informed that they were actually aged in Korean pots for 4 weeks. Right after serving, a thick cabbage broth with ginger spice and foam was poured over. It had a little spice kick to it, which was almost perfect. 9/10.

 2nd Course: Tomato + Celtuce, 7/10

2nd Course: Tomato + Celtuce, 7/10

Tomato and celtuce came next. Celtuce is a vegetable that I had never experienced before- this HuffPost article nicely summed up my response. Strong bruschetta flavors throughout. 7/10.

 3rd Course: Lobster Bao, 8/10

3rd Course: Lobster Bao, 8/10

Next came an ornately-served lobster coral Xiao Long bao. Corey offers an extensive explanation of the dish here, but the bao is served super hot and with strong ginger and vinegar flavors. 8/10.

 4th Course: Sea Urchin, 8/10

4th Course: Sea Urchin, 8/10

Next, a very good marinated sea urchin and fermented crab sauce. The urchin is good, but not Tokyo good. Rich tastes of whole wheat. 8/10

It comes with a not-terribly-photogenic broth.

 5th Course: Cucumber + Peanut + Black Truffle, 8/10

5th Course: Cucumber + Peanut + Black Truffle, 8/10

This cucumber dish with peanut and black truffle had a steamed bun off to the side. Very umami and rich. 8/10.

 6th Course: Abalone + Iberico Ham, 9/10

6th Course: Abalone + Iberico Ham, 9/10

Next, a whole braised abalone with chicken and Iberico ham. 9/10

 7th Course: Beef + Burdock + Wood Ear Mushroom, 10/10

7th Course: Beef + Burdock + Wood Ear Mushroom, 10/10

The beef rib is so tender that it is literally cuttable with butter knife. It comes with a burdock root and Wood Ear mushrooms, and is literally one of the most perfect things I have ever tasted. 10/10

 8th Course: "Shark Fin" Soup, 8/10

8th Course: "Shark Fin" Soup, 8/10

So, first and foremost, this isn't real shark fin soup. Dry salt-cured ham from Jinhua gives the soup its flavor- egg white custard at the base with Dungeness crab. 8/10. Another really creative dish. 

 9th Course: Kampuchea Tea, 8/10

9th Course: Kampuchea Tea, 8/10

Kampuchea tea- a delicious palate-cleanser. 8/10.

 10th Course: Pear Sorbet, 9/10

10th Course: Pear Sorbet, 9/10

An unspeakably soft, beautifully shaped Hosui pear sorbet, 9/10

 11th Course: Apricot + Osmanthus Flowers, 10/10

11th Course: Apricot + Osmanthus Flowers, 10/10

A beautiful apricot dessert with Osmanthus flowers and almonds. 10/10

 12th Course: Dark Chocolate Sculpture, 9/10

12th Course: Dark Chocolate Sculpture, 9/10

Lastly, a lovely, delicate sculpture of dark chocolate with candied seeds. Big, crunchy, delicious. 9/10.