An Exceptional Evening at Benu!

There are six Michelin Three-Star restaurants in the Bay Area with three – Saison, Benu, and Quince – in San Francisco. Needless to say, reservation at these restaurants can be difficult. We were lucky to actually manage one at Benu last evening with only a five-week in-advance booking (neither Saison and Quince had availability thus making the decision easy).

Benu offers prix-fixe Asian-inspired cuisine and its offerings exceeded all of our expectations. It was truly an extraordinary evening of creative culinary delights.

We also did the (shared) beverage pairings and enjoyed sake, Riesling, Grüner, beer, Madeira, Pinot Noir, and Côte-Rôtie throughout the evening but for the life of me, I can’t remember what was served with what!

The evening started with “small delicacies” and there were many of them! Each was single-bite size yet Benu managed to introduce so many fabulous and complementary flavors within that one bite – we felt like a symphony was playing on our palates with each course!

First delicacy was a chicken “jelly,” mountain caviar

chickenjelly

It was followed by tuna “marrow” but none of us took a picture! 😉

Third delicacy was ankimo (monk fish liver), crispy bulgur wheat, ikura (salmon roe)

ankimo

Fourth delicacy was dumpling with pork belly topped with an oyster

porkbelly

Fifth delicacy was Korean blood sausage wrapped in ika (squid) “sushi” (didn’t know blood sausage could taste this good!)

bloodsausage_squid

Sixth delicacy was abalone and crispy abalone “liver”

abalone

Last (seventh) delicacy was egg white custard, truffle, faux shark fin

custard

Whole-grain bread fresh from the oven served with tangerine-infused honey butter was followed – finally – by the first of our menu items! Wasn’t sure I was hungry at all by this time… but we did persevere! 🙂

Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger – it wasn’t quite 1,000 years but the egg did take six weeks to make

1000ydegg

Foie gras xiao long bao with house made soy sauce

xiaolongbao

Uni (sea urchin) marinated in fermented crab sauce served with green onion Koshi Hikari short-grain rice

uni

Crispy frog’s leg, lettuce, vegetable sweet and sour (I skipped this due to my issue with frogs… don’t ask!)

frogsleg

Steamed bass, fish maw, black moss

rockcod

Smoked quail (we were told that Benu works with a farm that has been raising these quails for the past 40 years, breeding them for a larger size, and picking the docile ones for their sweeter meats … )

quail

Served along with spring bamboo shoot

bambooshoot

Warm mantou (Chinese steamed bun) with truffle cream

trufflecream

Sea of Okhotsk sea cucumber (I never liked sea cucumber until tonight!) stuffed with lobster

lobster

Beef rib steak with assorted condiments – kimchi radishes, marinated fern with shaved cashew (sure wouldn’t want to be that sous chef shaving those wee cashews, one at a time?), and soy bean paste (the leftover from its house made soy sauce that takes 9-12 weeks – in the little celadon jar)

beefrib

Leafy crudités for dipping in the soy bean paste

crudite

Consommé, shiitake mushroom, vegetables

broth

Omija (five-flavor berry – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), olive oil

five-taste

Fuji apple, bellflower root, acorn and chocolate (another miss on the photography!) rounded out our scrumptious dinner!

I recommend putting a Benu dinner on your bucket list – it IS that good!

The Best New Bakery in America

On 10 August, bon appétit named Arsicault its Bakery of the Year. For 10 days, no matter what time of the day we drove by Arsicault, there was a long, long line out its door and down the street. So on Tuesday after our early workout (what better way to enjoy buttery baked goods guilt free?), we decided to check it out. We got there 15 minutes after it opened at 7am, waited 30 minutes (the line was actually short by comparison, others have waited upward to two hours!), and got our maximum allowance – one type per person, four items total (limit varies from day to day) – a plain croissant, a chocolate, an almond and chocolate with powder sugar on top, and a savory ham and cheese each for $18.50 (about the going rate for high-end baked goods in San Francisco).

The verdict? Let me simply quote bon appétit:

What does it take to stand out in a city of sourdough savants? One, and only one, thing: a croissant that’s simultaneously so preposterously flaky it leaves you covered in crumbs, so impossibly tender and buttery on the inside that it tastes like brioche, and so deeply golden that the underside is nearly caramelized.

And yes, it’s worth the hype. Most croissants this buttery and flaky get very greasy, theirs don’t. Have them fresh and enjoy a slice of nirvana!

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Clockwise from top left: plain, chocolate, almond and chocolate, ham and cheese

The Wonder of a Vitamix

Breakfast is the most difficult meal when it comes to a healthy diet. Most breakfast options are usually high in carbohydrates and/or sugar, and often high in cholesterol. We purchased this book, Clean Green Drinks by Candice Kumai, while on vacation years ago and promptly forgot about it until recently. It contains 100+ cleansing recipes for juices and smoothies that are healthy and some are quite filling. Healthy ingredients such as avocado, kale, spinach, beets, and ginger are paired with yummy fruits (frozen okay) such as bananas, berries, melons, mangoes, pears, pineapples, peaches, and apples. Add almond milk, coconut milk/water, and/or yogurt, as well as healthy powders such as protein, green superfood, or spirulina, and you have a wonderful breakfast (or lunch) smoothie.

CGD

The trouble is the actual processing of these ingredients. Regular household blenders just don’t do the job right. So we finally broke down and got a Vitamix… and truly understand the value of the “you get what you pay for” concept! Beside a perfectly blended smoothie every single time and doing it automatically (as in press a button and it stops on its own when the smoothie is blended) – I don’t know if it’s true with every model (we have the Professional 750) – it self cleans!!!!! I kid you not. We prepare our smoothie. Once it’s done and as we are drinking our breakfast, we simply give the Vitamix a quick rinse, fill it half way with fresh water, add a drop of dish soap, set it back on its base, and start the self-cleaning cycle. It automatically goes through 30 seconds of various speed to thoroughly clean the machine. Another quick rinse and before we finish our breakfast, the Vitamix is spotless, drying, and ready for the next morning!

Now we want a simple self-cleaning functions on ALL our appliances in the future … especially the juicer!!!

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Gjelina and Rustic Canyon

We were in Santa Monica over the weekend and did what we loved doing most – food!

Yes! This blog will include our culinary indulgence. We love to travel and instead of shopping, we enjoy local “epicurious” offerings instead.

A friend recommended Gjelina at Venice Beach. We ended up at the take-away counter – GTA – after completely missed the corner entrance to the restaurant! No matter for it was quite an experience. Sitting on a bench at a side alley with milk crates as our table, we devoured delicious sandwiches (my pork belly one is TDF) and shared a kale salad while people watched. As it turned out Gjelina had its own cookbook!

An afternoon along Abbot Kinney required a stop at Salt and Straw for some yummy fresh made ice cream – my chocolate brownie fudge is definitely worth another trip back to Southern California!

Whenever we travel, we try to research and make dinner reservations ahead for popular restaurants are normally booked up well in advance and don’t necessarily take many walk ins. Having done that, we found ourselves ready for dinner early and ended up eating at the bar of Rustic Canyon anyway. Sharing an endive salad, steak tartare, and pork shoulder main with tasty martini (our first time with Brooklyn Gin) and Vista Luna Borden Ranch Neyers Zinfadel (from St Helena by Napa!) was a perfect end to a lovely day.