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Best of the Best 2011: Dining: Benu

After almost four years as Thomas Keller’s chef de cuisine at the French Laundry, Corey Lee stepped out from Keller’s shadow last year with an ambitious restaurant of his own in San Francisco. At Benu (415.685.4860, www.benusf.com) in the South of Market neighborhood, Lee brings everything that he knows about French and Asian cuisines together in a fascinating tasting menu with more than a dozen small courses. There is an à la carte menu, too, but to get the full experience, order the tasting ($150 to $170 per person), sit back, and let the experience unfurl. Dishes might include a pouch of dreamy homemade tofu in a dashi broth floating with wisps of black moss; a lobster “cracker” topped with caviar, bone marrow, and edible gold leaf; or delicate soup dumplings stuffed with foie gras and pork. Lee might continue with a monkfish liver torchon with apple mustard or a thrilling clear soup with faux shark fin (gelatinized broth) and black truffle custard. Whatever may follow, Lee’s focus and finesse are astonishing. More intellectual in his cooking than Keller, Lee is forging his own path with this lovely minimalist restaurant.

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