Feature

What the experts recommend: Thomas Keller’s gifted protégés

Cory Lee in San Francisco; Jonathan Benno in New York; Ned Elliott in Austin

Benu San FranciscoIt probably was inevitable that chef Corey Lee’s new restaurant would have to endure comparisons to the French Laundry, said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. Lee worked for eight years at Thomas Keller’s landmark Napa Valley restaurant, the final four as chef de cuisine. But Benu is a “very different restaurant.” It looks to Asia for inspiration, “perhaps paying homage to Lee’s Korean heritage,” and its dining room “exudes the tranquility of a Japanese teahouse, sleek and minimal.” There are two options for dining: a 12-course tasting, for $160, or a 16-item à la carte menu. Almost every one of Lee’s dishes encompasses “so many components, unfamiliar ingredients, and cutting-edge techniques” that the food “requires a diner’s total concentration.” Dry-aged lamb is accented with “fleshy” ginkgo nuts and fritters made of cod milt, or sperm—“a Japanese delicacy.” Lee garnishes the fritters with yuzu, “tiny leaves of romaine for crunch,” plus horseradish, “creating two sublime bites.” Dinner here becomes an “intellectual as much as a sensual experience.” 22 Hawthorne Ln., (415) 685-4860

Lincoln New York CityWhen Jonathan Benno left the “mercilessly precise” kitchen at Keller’s Per Se, the word in New York dining circles was that he was looking to slow down and cook simple Italian cuisine, said Alan Richman in GQ. But Benno’s approach to Italian is “almost as exacting” as his French-American cooking was at Per Se. Benno has a lot to live up to. His chalet-like space on Lincoln Center Plaza makes palpable the $20 million that’s been invested in his new venture. Benno meets expectations with food that is both “rigorously Italian” and, to many devotees, “warmer” in its effect. Lasagna and eggplant parmigiana are “idealized but still lusciously gooey,” and a meticulous uni-and-crab rigati—a ridged pasta—tastes “more Italian than I’d expect from a non-Italian.” At a time when Italian food in America “is about overwhelming gusto and over-the-top portions,” the food at Lincoln is “remarkably thoughtful.” 142 W. 65th St., (212) 359-6500

Foreign & Domestic AustinIt may have a “flying pig on the front,” but chef ’s Ned Elliott's new restaurant can meet the culinary standards of the most upscale tastes, said Mike Sutter in The Austin American-Statesman. After working in some of New York’s top kitchens (under both Keller and Alain Ducasse), Elliott and his wife, Jodi, were ready to open a more casual place of their own. But Foreign & Domestic is a restaurant where “high technique” and endless inventiveness matter more than whether the food is served on white tablecloths. The Elliotts’ kitchen “is built into the dining room,” putting counter diners right in the thick of the cooking. The staff responds with great fare—from simple slices of “prized” Tennessee ham to “octopus and scallops with squid ink and chorizo.” Don’t let the appetizer menu pass by without trying the venison-heart tartare with fried pig’s ear. It makes for “a luscious chemical reaction, like infatuation.” Surprisingly, “it looks great, too.” 306 E. 53rd St., (512) 459-1010

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