Saturday, February 8, 2014

Birthday Dinner at Benu, San Francisco

For my birthday dinner , I wanted to try Benu. I heard great things from friends, plus it is a 2-star Michelin rated restaurant. I was going back and forth whether or not we should go, because it is pricey. Our priorities have changed a bit since we've had baby M. However, Dan said that the price will just keep going up so if I want to try, we should probably try now. Dan's parents agreed to watch baby M, so we could go celebrate my birthday. Reservations weren't actually that hard to get; we booked via OpenTable.

We arrived on time and decided to valet the car. The restaurant looked very modern, and the design was actually very simple. It looked very sparsely spaced and the lighting was quite bright -- a little bit too bright actually for a fine dining establishment. Maybe I'm used to dimly lit restaurants?

When we got to our table, Dan surprised me with a rose vase arrangement that he prearranged beforehand. Isn't he sweet? :)

Rose waiting at our table

There's a preset menu which was $195 pp++, as well as several upgrades. We went with the regular menu and didn't do any upgrades, and we didn't do the wine pairing either.

We actually came really hungry, and I was a bit worried at first since all the dishes were very small (bite size), but our servers mentioned that we would be very full at the end of the meal.

Thousand year old quail egg, potage, ginger

First dish was the thousand year quail egg with potato soup. Growing up, I did eat a lot of thousand year eggs, but never quail egg, so it was an interesting take. It's a lot milder than the typical thousand year egg. I mainly tasted the potato soup.

oyster, pork belly, kimchi

The wrapping on this next dish was very interesting, crispy but dissolved so easily. I actually enjoyed this dish and the combination of the oyster with pork belly and the kimchi flavored wrapping.

eel feuille de brick, creme fraiche, lime

I quite liked this next dish. I mean, how can you go wrong with deep fried? The eel was very mild, wrapped inside this very thin fried dough. Yum.

anchovy, celery, peanut

This next dish was sweetened fried anchovies with peanut butter and celery. Not my favorite. :p

homemade tofu, charred scallion, burdock

I'm always a sucker for homemade tofu. This one was good, soft and creamy. The toppings & sauce were very typical Chinese, so this dish reminded me of a Chinese tofu dish.

xo sausage with basil curd

This dish was probably one of the few dishes that didn't scream "Chinese" to me. It tasted more like a Spanish dish. The setting reminded me of Alinea, where there's no utensils, and you just grab and eat from the thong. The basil curd almost tasted like a salty cheese, which is always a good combo with dry cut meat.

beggar's purse of treasures from the oak

I couldn't really tell what "treasures from the oak" meant, but whatever it is it was delicious. This was probably one of my favorites of the night. I tasted a hint of mushroom.

salt and pepper squid

This was definitely not your typical salt & pepper dish. The squid was actually cut very small, and I'm not quite sure what the black cracker was. It tasted like a combination of shrimp cracker and nori.

The bread was served with butter & honey -- bread was really good and served warm. At this point I was really hungry and since all the dishes were really tiny, I helped myself to a couple servings of the bread. :)

wild bamboo fungi, chicken, cabbage

This chicken dish was probably one of the most disappointing of the night. It really tasted like a regular chicken stir fry dish at any Chinese restaurant.

pig's head with lentil hozon and bonji

I didn't dare to try the pig's head...Dan did and he said it was fine! hehe

lobster coral xiao long bao

This lobster xiao long bao was highly anticipated. One of the keys to a good xiao long bao is that the skin has to be thin enough, and this one fits the bill. It was quite delicious, too bad it was too small, even with 2 pieces!

5 prong forks

Dan was quite intrigued by the 5 prong forks. We noticed that for all the dishes, each serving plate and cutlery seemed to be custom made for the dish. This was a very interesting take, and I do commend the chef for putting so much thought into each dish and making it a cohesive experience.

sablefish, mountain yam blanquette, aged tangerine peel

This fish dish was very mild, cooked nicely and very soft. It paired well with the yam and the tangerine peel - I couldn't actually tell which was which since the textures were very similar.

duck, crosnes, persimmon, mustard

This duck was done very well - cooked on the rare side but texture was amazing. Typically I'm not a fan of duck dishes since they usually have a certain "smell", but this one had no smell at all - which tells me the duck was fresh and very well prepared.

beef braised in cognac, onion, black truffle

By the time this dish was served, I was finally feeling a bit full. This beef dish was executed nicely. I could barely taste the truffle though.

shark fin's soup: crab, egg white, jinhua ham

Hmm, this dish looked fancy, but tasted like a regular shark fin's soup.

lemon sorbet, cranberry, white chocolate

By this point, I was ready for the dessert courses. The lemon sorbet was a good palate cleanser. But I was really looking forward for the next dessert dish...

sesame white cake with salted plum

When I first saw another table getting this dish, I thought it was someone's birthday. Turns out it's part of the meal. I actually really enjoyed this cake. I could taste the mild sesame flavor, and the cream frosting was not too heavy at all.

Since it was my birthday, they brought out truffles for me, set in very interesting box!


To be completely honest, both Dan & I were underwhelmed with our experience. Maybe it was the high expectations that we had (highly recommended and 2 Michelin stars). Or maybe they had an off night? Or maybe, we just don't do high end Chinese food.

I did see that a lot of thought process was put into every dish. I bet it took a while to plate each dish. I also mentioned their custom-made utensils & cutlery that go with each dish, which was great, but the food delivery just didn't impress us. If I have to pinpoint why, I would probably say that I just can't justify paying almost $500 for a really good Chinese meal!

View of the busy kitchen as we were waiting for our car


  1. Hi there! I really enjoyed reading about Benu - it's a restaurant I've always been curious about but I have yet to try it. I was hoping to reach you by email to ask you a question, could you please let me know where to send you a note? Thank you!

    1. Hi Paulina,
      You can reach me at