Benu provides everything you want from a 3-star dinner - the highest quality ingredients, prepped to perfection with flavors that blow you away. The chef spent years as the Chef de Cuisine of The French Laundry, and that level of respectful treatment of each ingredient, precise handling and maximum flavor was found throughout the meal, deftly applied to Japanese cuisine.
I dined with a vegetarian friend which allowed us to see even more of their incredible skill. The vegetarian dishes often eclipsed their meat-friendly counterparts.
The restaurant was strangely unaware that my friend was vegetarian, despite having asked the about their vegetarian options weeks earlier. They had even inquired about my friend's needs in greater detail via our email exchange. I may have missed a final "Yes, he is coming" but this oversight resulted in an awkward start. I can't imagine the curveball thrown an unsuspecting and unprepared kitchen, especially for the last seating of the evening. The staff's fluster and confusion was felt. However, they graciously assured us that it would be accommodated without any trouble but it might take a few minutes before our meal began. Completely understandable.
It was one of the few service missteps of the evening, the most egregious of which was a rushed plate clearing from a busperson that spilled sauce all over the table without concern not apology. He then grabbed at my dish though I was not yet finished. Our waitperson (who was delightful) quickly cleaned the table with her apologies and I noticed we never saw that busperson again. Overall, the service was outstanding - present, friendly and incredibly helpful.
And the food! My word, the food. The meal begins with many smaller bites/plates which were as diverse as they were delicious. The sheer amount of technique and prep that goes into this array of dishes was staggering. Each dish had its own identity and flavor profile, keeping the coursing interesting and raising excitement and anticipation for the next one.
The 3 main courses were selected from 9 total options (3 each). The mackerel seems out of place with the flow of the meal but the rice/truffle dish was stupendous and the BBQ quail is a must-have, living up to all expectations.
A wine pairing is not offered but the sommelier brought some excellent though forgettable wines throughout the meal. I had read some question marks about the desserts but each one was fabulous, flavorful, light and refreshing. And again, the execution on each was jaw-dropping.
Benu is everything you want a 3-star meal to be. As Michelin describes, it is definitely "worth a special journey". I traveled to San Francisco simply because I landed this reservation, and I'm so very glad I did. This meal was completely worth it.
Replying to Steven Smith
What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.