A City that Knows how to Put on a Feast

San Francisco is by many considered to be a true food heaven. As a chef I’ll just have to agree that the area is very very interesting. For one, the city houses the biggest Chinatown outside of China, which is a safe bet for weird but interesting stuff. It is also less than two hours away from two of the best wine regions in the world. Unfortunately this time around the time schedule prevented me from making it up there. But I’m fairly certain I’ll be back…I need to eat at The French Laundry at some point anyways;)

I might be a chef, but I’m also a budget traveller, and it doesn’t matter how much I wish to be eating in Michelin Star restaurants around the city every night, my wallet wouldn’t approve. Luckily SF also got an excellent selection of street food. Apparently there are about 150 food trucks dotted around the city. And I for one can’t think of a better way to spend a friday night than eating delicious food from different parts of the world while listening to live music and having a few beers from local microbreweries.

Off the Grid is a daily market that since 2010 have been moving around the city center   and bay area, the idea is simply to put some of the areas best food trucks together in one spot, similar to an “asian night market”. So if you’re into food or just like having a good time I’m sure you’ll love this place. The markets are in different sizes, the biggest one is happening at the Fort Mason Center on friday nights, featuring 30+ food vendors serving up a feast from various cuisines around the world.  There is Thai, Indian, Mexican, American, Japanese, African, Chinese…the perfect spot for a quick RTW trip;)

I only wish they could serve up smaller portions. Cause it’s just too sad  to be full without even making it to the curries, just having one type of Crème brûlée and not being able to give dumplings another try…But the pulled pork sandwich I did try was pretty damn delicious, and the taco were really tasty as well;)

But even if I’m a budget traveller the foodie part of me sometimes takes over, and I feel like a just have to treat myself to a fine dining restaurant, purely for education purposes of course…

Getting a table at a fine dining restaurant however requires some planing ahead, which I pretty much suck at…So my only real option turned out to be the Two Star restaurant Benu. Run by the former Chef de Cuisine at the French Laundry and James Beard Award winning chef and owner Corey Lee. Lee’s cooking style got a lot of Asian influences, he is South Korean after all, hence the nickname “the Asian Laundry”.

Instead of taking 180 dollar tasting menu I felt forced to take the budget option and order from the À la carte menu,which is on offer on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but my expectations were still sky-high.

Overall my experience at Benu was good, but when I have dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world I expect nothing but brilliance. And Benu didn’t quite make it all the way. There were a lot of great concepts, but little excitement. Service was textbook correct, but it felt a bit stiff, uncharismatic and it didn’t reflect the same passion that I got to see on some of the plates.

Lee certainly have some very interesting dishes on the menu. The roast quail with barley, wood ear mushroom, mountain yam and pea shoots were definitely one of my favorites. It was cooked to perfection, the flavours were well-balanced and it felt very fresh.

Another favorite was the Soft poached duck egg, sausage, smoked cracklings,alliums with a black truffle bun. A classical dish, but somehow Lee manage to make it with a different twist, and each bite were nothing but pure joy.

The Monkfish liver with green apple, celery, poppy seed and brioche didn’t really appeal to me though. Nothing really wrong with the dish, but it definitely wasn’t something to write home about.

Dry-aged “pre sale” lamb, sea plants, abalone mushroom, parmesan jus

Pork cheek with potato, radish, lettuce, burdock and dried golden oysters

Good comfort food, which I love. But compared to other similar dishes I’ve had in the past this one simply didn’t measure up.

There are 47 Michelin Star restaurants in the San Fransisco bay area. And after having eating in one of five the two Star establishments makes my wonder if maybe the guide has been slightly to generous with their ratings. A question that has been raised several times in the past by various people. Without getting to deep into the subject I can only note that I’ve had far better experiences at places with no stars back home in Sweden…

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