San Francisco, USA
Corey Lee (pictured) and chef de cuisine Seunghyun Cho
What’s the deal? Opened in 2010, Benu is the definition of friendly fine dining. A nuanced menu riffs on transnational culinary traditions including Korean and Cantonese, using local produce and western technique. The result epitomises the melting pot of influence intrinsic to modern American cuisine, while the service – convivial and relaxed – is all-out Californian.
Who’s behind it? Korean-born globetrotter, Corey Lee, cut his teeth in the kitchens of Lespinasse, Pied à Terre and Daniel, and completed stages with Marco Pierre White, Guy Savoy and Alain Senderens, before going on to be head chef at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry.
On the table: Home ferments, big flavours and pretty presentation lead the charge on Lee’s sensory tasting menu. A stalwart dish is the thousand-year-old quail’s egg with ginger and cabbage. Elsewhere, expect dainty mussels with glass noodles and vegetables, and a beef and oyster saengchae with radish and oyster leaf.
And the design? Pared-back and poised. A serene courtyard gives way to a jasmine-clad, ryokan-like façade. Inside is a modern marriage of minimalist Asian and maximalist American aesthetics, featuring an earthy colour palette and gilded accents.
Other projects: Lee heads up the low-key Hayes Valley bistro, Monsieur Benjamin.