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Fodor's Northern California 2014
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One of the most high-profile restaurants to open in the city, chef-owner Corey Lee launched his contemporary American restaurant much to the delight of food-obsessed locals and travelers alike. His pedigree spans 15 years in fine dining (including a position as chef de cuisine at the French Laundry), but Benu is decidedly more relaxed—no jacket required. The dining room is very minimalist, with bare-wood tables and high-backed banquettes along the walls. While some guests come early in the week to dine on the à la carte menu, the tasting menu, which has anywhere from 14 to 18 courses and is mandatory on Friday and Saturday nights, is the way to go if your pocketbook can handle it ($180). Each dish is a marvel, from the meticulous presentation (Lee has had pieces specifically designed for the restaurant and each course) to the sophisticated flavors and textures. Fans of Asian cuisine will be particularly thrilled to see his elegant handling of ingredients like xiao long bao dumplings and sea cucumber. He utilizes many modern techniques, but never in an alienating way. You may find dishes like Hokkaido sea cucumber stuffed with lobster, pork belly, eggplant, fermented pepper or eel, feuille de brik (flaky pastry), crème fraiche, lime. An extremely professional staff is behind the quick pacing and on-point wine pairings. Couples expecting an ultraromantic environment may be a bit disappointed by the stark atmosphere, but culinary adventurers will be thrilled.
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