Is Corey Lee’s Benu better than Thomas Keller’s French Laundry?

Resident Foodies say: It’s the two year anniversary of our first pilgrimage to Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville, California, currently one of only two 3-Michelin starred restaurants in the Bay Area. To our chagrin, we found the food to be mediocre that weekend and the service even worse–after waiting for 1 hour after being seated to receiving one morsel of food or bread. C’mon, kitchen, it’s not that difficult. Click here for our 2010 review of French Laundry.

Later, someone on the inside advised us that the reason The French Laundry may have been so bad on that July 4th weekend was that Chef Corey Lee had left to start his new restaurant Benu. Lee was the former Chef de Cuisine at French Laundry, and his departure left the kitchen at The French Laundry in transition–read: utter disarray-at the time.

Well, this past weekend we decided to try out Chef Lee’s Benu in San Francisco on the 2 year anniversary of our dismal food weekend at French Laundry. Happily, the experience we had at Benu was fantastic. We all were blown away by the creativity and taste of the 18 plates in the food tasting. There’s no surprise that Food and Wine Magazine named Lee (35 years old) one of the best new chefs of the year.

Each plating was visually beautiful. And the flavors were amazing, with an unbelievable crescendo building up all the way through the dessert. After several wonderful dishes, we did not think Chef Lee could top the last dish, but Lee kept proving us wrong. Each dish in the 18 courses kept amazing us with the creativity and distinctive flavors. Based on a head to head comparison, we believe that the young upstart Benu is already better–in terms of plating, creativity, and taste–than the old vanguard The French Laundry. It will only be a matter of time before Benu claims its third Michelin star, and The French Laundry quite possibly loses one. Benu is on the cutting edge of culinary creativity. Chef Lee deserves all the accolades he is now receiving. Bravo, Benu!

18 Course Tasting at Benu

thousand year old quail egg, potage, ginger

oyster, pork belly, kimchi

potato salad with anchovy

monkfish liver, peach, daikon, brioche

brioche for dish above

wild salmon 2 ways: fillet, cherry, hot mustard, roe, eggplant chip, perilla

salmon second way

eel, feuille de brick, creme fraiche, lime

tofu, basil, xo sauce

mozzarella, basil, xo sauce

hearts of palm, shrimp, yellow chive, lovage

salt and pepper squid

foie gras ciao long bao

chicken velvet, abalone, abalone mushroom, chrysanthemum

sablefish, lobster, black bean, corn

duck, celery, scallion, Shaoxing wine, black truffle bun

beef rib, wood ear mushroom, lettuce, pine nut, fermented pepper

“shark’s fin” soup, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard

raspberry, tonic, lavender, olive oil

spice cake, blueberry, yogurt, oatmeal ice cream