Since chef Corey Lee opened Benu after four years at The French Laundry (see No. 6), it has consistently been ranked one of the finest restaurants in the country. Lee is a rising star, and he continues to collect stars, too. In 2015, Michelin gave three to Benu, putting it on par with two of California’s most celebrated restaurants, Thomas Keller’s aforementioned St. Helena icon and Chris Kostow’s Restaurant at Meadowood (see No. 18). But unlike those wine country establishments, Benu is located in a historic building in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district.
Lee’s menus incorporate the best of Asian and American cuisine, combining them in thoughtful ways. To hear him discuss a recent source of inspiration for his upcoming cookbook, the Haenyeo of Jeju — women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s (the oldest was 87) who carry on a dying, centuries-old tradition of free-diving for seafood to provide for their families — is to understand the depth of consideration and feeling the chef puts into his work. On the plate, this all translates to a $228 tasting menu featuring dishes like thousand-year-old quail egg with potage and ginger; frog leg with mountain yam and celery; sea urchin with okra and nori; foie gras xiao long bao; and Ossetra caviar with winter melon and chicken cream.
— Arthur Bovino, 101 Best Restaurants, April 1, 2015