In contrast to my recap of the most memorable dishes this year, it was surprisingly easy to pick my top three favorite restaurant experiences. 2016 was a weak year for new restaurants in the Bay Area, so the standouts were established, proven destinations. Excellent food was just the baseline, and what made them my favorite is a combination of uniqueness and personal significance.
Let’s get right to it!
Number Three – Benu, San Francisco, California
This was our second visit to Benu, two-and-a-half years after our first. The meal was actually the backup birthday dinner for Mr. A. My first pick, SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, kept encountering opening delays. Luckily, I had the foresight to reserve a backup 60 days in advance!
I knew this would be a standout surprise dinner. We are big fans of Chef Corey Lee, and our first Benu meal was one of our favorite meals to date. Their xiao long bao (XLB) soup dumplings are literally perfection – the thinnest skin, millimeters from bursting, and the most amazing, rich broth center.
The first time we had the foie gras pork XLB, and the second meal was lobster coral XLB. I preferred the first, but both were leagues better than any other XLB I’ve experienced.
#13 lobster coral xiao long bao – Benu, SF, Oct 2016
I had a grand total of one birthday party as a kid and it was a joint celebration months ahead of my actual birthday. I’m also not one to expect extravagant gestures. Having said that, it does feel nice to be spoiled once in a while. My birthday this year was all that and more, thanks to my amazing partner!
I was whisked away to Chicago, and the itinerary was a complete surprise. Once in Chicago, I guessed that one of the meals would be Grace, 42 Grams, or the legendary Alinea. Well lucky me, it was Alinea!
Alinea recently transformed their dining experience with a new menu and interior decor. I wasn’t able to visit pre-renovation, so I can’t compare, but the new “2.0” menu was ridiculously delightful. They excel at incorporating all senses, and the performance aspect was far above my other 3-Michelin star experiences. The food itself was also very good and in my top three.
We had the upstairs Salon menu, which was the shortest of the menu options. With 11 complex courses, I left thoroughly satisfied. I can only imagine what the Gallery or Kitchen Table menus must be like. A future trip for sure!