notes and scribbles: the asian laundry…

1. I failed to find any “shark fin” in the “Shark’s Fin Soup” (n.b. the “scare quotes“). Either there was too little of it, or it melted into the soup.  All I got was some shredded cabbage. And I really searched for the faux fin, hoping to see what it tasted like. The supreme soup, however, was excellent – a rich, complex, bone-and-meat reduction that was satisfyingly sticky with collagen.  Coupled with a pungent black truffle chawanmushi, I thought this was one of the more compelling fusion dishes.

2. The Beef Rib Cap, a cut of meat that didn’t materialize as I had hoped or expected. When the dish arrived, the server described it as “beef rib cap saucisson.” True to that description, there were two, thin slices of beef “saucisson.” I didn’t know anything might be missing until the couple next to me got the same dish; it contained a slice each of beef rib eye cap and saucisson (interestingly, their tasting menu listed the item as “beef saucisson,” whereas my tasting menu listed it as “beef rib eye cap.”).  Despite this confusion, I have to say that I did like the ssäm-like composition, with baby lettuces, scallions, and an soy sauced-based dressing slightly sweetened with an Asian pear purée.  Unfortunately, I thought that the saucisson – which was extremely flavorful, and quite salty – overpowered the other, delicate flavors.

3. Of the first four canapés, only the Geoduck Clam, tossed with silky ribbons of seaweed, made an impression. This composition was just as much about texture – the silky seaweed and thinly shaved geoduck were delicate equals – as it was about flavors; the sweetness of the geoduck helped magnify and round out the raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

4. The Caramelized Anchovy Gelée canapé was less anchovy and more dashi. There was a faint sweetness in this dish that I really liked.  The peanuts were incredibly crisp, whereas the lily bulbs were crisp, yet tender, adding a milky, slightly fragrant note. I didn’t really get the pepper or basil at all – I suspect they were there more for color than anything else.

5. There is no bread service at benu. There is, however, a tray of wonderfully crisp flatbread coatead with (what I believe the server said was) “Ethiopian spices,” which was mildly sweet and musky, and definitely contained sesame, and perhaps nori.

Petits Fours
La Foret Chocolates
benu, San Francisco

6. The Chocolates that were presented on a specially-designed platform at the end of the meal are from La Foret Chocolate in Napa.  La Foret is a new “chocolate atelier” owned by Wendy Sherwood, an ex-pastry chef de partie at The French Laundry, where she and Lee became acquainted.  Her chocolates are very good.  I will pause and dote, especially, on the “dark chocolate” truffle (the frosted sphere with the gold leaf to the right).  I was dubious at first – it didn’t look dark enough. And, biting into it, I found a disappointingly sweet and creamy core of something more akin to milk chocolate mousse. But, wait for the creamy filling to dissipate, and you’ll be rewarded with an intensely bitter, dark chocolate shell that will melt along with your heart.  It was a fun truffle to eat.  I’ll also mention the “crème brulée,” which was kissed with enough lemon to help cut through its white chocolate richness.

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