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Chef Corey Lee’s Benu (Michelin 3-stars) closed at the start of shelter-in-place. Then it re-emerged to preview the stylings of his not-yet-opened Korean restaurant, San Ho Won, as take-out from Benu's kitchen on April 10. Initially, the reservations for picking up to-go orders sold out very quickly in advance. But in the last couple weeks, the weekday time slots are often still available the day before. A prix fixe menu is announced each week.
Last week I had a chance to try this $52 per person menu:
Traditional Beef Short Rib Soup
Rice Cakes and Dumplings with Hot Mustard
Soy Sauce-Sesame Leaf Condiment and Radish Kimchi
Albacore and Stonecrop Namul Salad
Korean-Style Rolled Omelette with Rock Seaweed Sauce
Omija and Asian Pear Hwachae
깻잎 장아찌와 깍두기
Pick-up was from an outdoor table positioned outside the entrance to the restaurant. I was nearly a half-hour late for my reservation time. I exchanged apologies with the staffer who explained that my order was not at the ready because it had been returned to the refrigerator to keep it cold. Chef Lee was in the kitchen and smiled and waved right after I took a photo of his window.
The courses were carefully packed, labeled, and provided chilled for reheating at home. The small containers of condiments were bagged together securely, a good idea to prevent jostling and loosening of the lids. The printed menu card detailed the warming and assembly instructions, as well as providing a glossary of Korean ingredients and dish names. I’m developing a preference for the reheat at home model. I don’t have to rush home to eat it right away. And it lets me save my purchase till the next day or longer for consumption without loss in quality.
In fact, that’s what I did with this one. Arriving home late at night, I dressed the namul salad for a light snack before turning in, then had the remainder of the meal the following day. Stretching it out worked well because this turned out to be quite a bit of food.
The traditional Korean preparations introduced me to some ingredients I’ve not run across before. The Albacore and Stonecrop Namul Salad was my least favorite. Though it was interesting to experience the crunchy stonecrop, a succulent plant called dol-namul, it was too bitter and astringent without anything in the dressing to tone down or contrast with those qualities.
Allowed to warm up to room temperature, the Rolled Omelette was light and spongy, and still quite tender and moist even after holding overnight. Aggressive and umami-laden, the condiment of marinated rock seaweed, dolgim, added pizzazz to the otherwise meek and mild omelet.
The Traditional Beef Short Rib Soup, kalbi tang, included three big hunks of meat on the bone. For a what’s normally a homestyle dish, this version stood out for the careful execution. The meat was tender to the bite yet kept its integrity. The beef stock had an uncommon subtlety and lightness. The overstuffed mandu were so delectable. The knifework on the scallions and using only the white part showed the breeding in this kitchen. The rice cakes were a degree more firm to be a little chewier than others. The soy sauced perilla and the fermented radish kimchi tasted cleaner and more polished somehow in their complementary roles.
My favorite of the courses was the Omija and Asian Pear Hwachae. The lightness of the pear-flavored panna was just right to end the meal. Perfumed and tasting of summer berries, the tanginess of the omijia and watermelon juices was so refreshing. I’ll confess that I’d initially been disappointed that this prix fixe did not include a pastry from Lee’s Monsieur Benjamin as earlier ones had. I’m glad to be introduced to this hwachae fruit punch.
Ordering was easy via Tock. A 20% service charge is added to the order automatically. An excellent experience all-round.
San Ho Won @ Benu
22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
To order online: https://www.exploretock.com/benu
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