It’s been 3 years since we’ve been to Benu and I don’t know that I detected a lot of change in the interior, however they said it was completely re-done since we were there. Classical music is in the background and completely fits the soothing peacefulness of the place. The well spaced large bare dark wood tables are set with comfortable seats, exquisitely thin stemware and gilded flatware and chargers. Service is friendly but totally professional, shown with their knowledge of our previous visits and orders. You feel elegantly at home. Everyone still has a tasting menu and the food is fantastic. Pacing is spot on and portion controls allows you to really enjoy the meal with its amazing flavors and textures. The spectacular visual affects (down to the presentation plates) of the food are not for show, they match the quality. If you can, get there, you won’t be disappointed.
They also know to start you – with a wet cloth to clean your hands for the first bites to come and with a glass of champagne to go with the ‘small delicacies’ section.
A 1000 year old quail egg potage was presented with ginger and cabbage juice. The creamy base with the smooth egg and strong ginger sauce was an excellent bite.
Marinated mussel with glass noodles and fine vegetables had a sweet aftertaste and was a stunning layered presentation. The really tender mussel was delicious.
A jellyfish-wrapped shrimp with kamtae (seaweed) was lightly fried to a perfect doneness. Another delicious treat.
Soondae (Korean blood sausage) and squid braised in its ink were in a tartlet shell. The most delicate crisp crust ever supported the blood sausage without a hint of iron. It was tender and wonderful.
A gingko nut pancake was covered with dried gingko nuts, charcoal grilled river eel and rose wine. The really thin pancake was to be folded up and eaten like a “taco.” It had flavors of citrus and marigold. Another winner.
A bamboo shoot was stuffed with chicken, fungi and wasabi chestnuts. The thinly sliced bamboo was mild and tender. It was served warm and felt so silky it seemed to slide down your throat. Terrific.
A chicken wing was stuffed with abalone and onion blossoms and wrapped in more abalone and then finished on the grill. The sweet, sticky and smokey sauce blended perfectly with the tender meats. This was a truly ‘wow’ dish. They nicely brought you a wet cloth afterwards to clean up.
“Shark fin” was paired with dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, steamed egg white and black truffles. The truffles actually had truffle flavor that completely complimented the delicate crab. It was warm and delicious.
Smoked grain bread was served with honey butter. The dense hot bread was yummy.
Lobster coral xiao bao was served with a sauce of homemade soy sauce and vinegar. Inside the tender, thin and tasty wrapper was a rich filling and for once the wrapper did not break prematurely and the delicious juices stayed inside until they were in your mouth. I’d love to find ones as good as these at a dim sum restaurant. They were delicious and a yum x3.
White sturgeon caviar with hand-pressed sesame oil was served with sesame leaf and daikon. At the same time there were bowls with sea urchin marinated in fermented crab sauce with thinly sliced celtuce, razor clam jeotgal and Koshihikari rice. The caviar was very good. The crab sauce perfectly set off the flavor of the sea urchin. The razor clams in chili and sesame oil were delicate and great. The wonderful bowl of short grain rice was perfect to aborb every last bit in each delicious bowl of food.
Barbecued quail was first presented whole and then taken back to the kitchen to cut and plate. The half bird was served with white asparagus and mustard pickle as well as an XO condiment. A bit of truffle cream was worked into a jus for the slightly pink, totally moist bird, that was delectable. The asparagus was on the tart side and the XO condiment, made from dried shrimp, overshadowed the bird but they were good on their own. A lovely steamed bun also came out and was perfect with the bird and the truffle/quail jus.
A veal short rib was presented with bowls of chrysanthemum-scallion salad, kohlrabi kkakdugi (kimchi), pear kimchi (with napa cabbage) and tomato meju (with soy sauce) and lettuces. The veal rib was grilled on charcoal and seasoned with pine nuts, sesame seed and another seed. It was so tender the meat just fell off the bones and was totally rich and luscious. The many types of lettuces presented included mustard frill and dandelions, that I got down from a huge list. I admit I skipped most of the lettuces because I didn’t want to dilute the amazing flavor of the meat and condiments. It was a great combination of flavors.
The palate cleanser was omija and olive oil sorbet. Omija flavor is from the magnolia berry and only found on a few vines. The name means 5 flavor berry and is supposed to evoke tastes of salt, pungency, sweet, sour and bitter. It was cool and smooth and a beautiful color that was well highlighted in the serving bowl. It was good.
Milk pudding had a sauce of caramel with a bit of sea salt and smoked peat. It was a totally smooth pudding with a divine caramel that was rich and velvety on the the tongue. An exquisite dish.
Next were some gingko cookies and rice cakes stuffed with dried persimmons and pinenuts. Both nice.
Toasted marshmallows were a ribbon like piece that tasted just like marshmallows roasted over a fire (except they weren’t burnt like mine usually are). Quite good.
Lastly was a mint infustion rice tea that was a fine way to finish an outstanding meal.