We ate at Benu last night for a birthday celebration. It was a mixed bag. I found the atmosphere there very un-relaxing. The wait staff were courteous but were ultra formal and looked miserable. No one smiled or showed any kind of enthusiasm. I wanted to stick my tongue out at them and yell “Lighten up!”. It’s one thing to have a formal atmosphere at a restaurant but here it’s taken to the extreme and it felt out of date. If I am going to spend a lot of money on a meal I would rather go someplace slightly more relaxing.
Onto the food:
We had the chicken cooked in pig’s bladder which you special order. Special ordering the thing is an ordeal in itself. It was just ok. It was served to us in three courses. First the breast was served. It was incredibly moist but kind of bland. Then the leg meat served with pork belly. It was ok but completely unmemorable. I was surprised at how small the portion of dark meat was. Then a consume. Again it was just ok. I couldn’t believe the rave reviews I read about this dish.
Next we shared some courses. All were good to excellent, although the portions were very small and the prices very high.
Sea cucumber stuffed with a seafood filling. An interesting and flavorful dish.
A fried Abalone dish with cauliflower. This was very good.
We ordered two pasta dishes which I thought were the highlight of the meal although the portions were small:
Acorn pasta with iberico ham. Really delicious. The flavor of the ham and pasta was very satisfying.
Risotto with uni. I have had uni-pasta combinations at other restaurants and they tend to never be as good as you hope. This one was amazing and I wish I got it as a main course instead of the chicken.
For dessert we ordered olive oil cake and a chocolate pudding dish. Both were surprisingly mediocre. After dessert they brought out some chocolate truffles from Napa that were excellent.
Overall I left feeling like the place was trying too hard to be the French laundry: super expensive, too many waiters, tiny plates, food saturated with as much butter and cream as possible. I was expecting the food to be a bit more bold and the Asian flavors to be a bit more prominent in the food but it seems like the Chef is going for a more restrained refined style. He would be well served by trying to break away from the Keller mold. Perhaps our experience would have been different if we ordered the tasting menu but we left underwhelmed although the pastas were quite memorable.
22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103