My first and only visit to Benu was just after it opened, ten years ago. Much has changed in those years as the restaurant has received recognition from all over the world, holding three Michelin stars since 2015. It is generally regarded as one of the city’s top fine dining establishments with a price that expects as much. At a current price of $350 ($456 with service charge + tax), paid upfront, it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in the country.
I first came across Birdsong in 2020 while going to one its neighbors in Square Pie Guys and now-closed Saint Frank Coffee. The restaurant is striking even from the outside; peeking through the bars on its windows offers a glimpse of the Pacific Northwest-inspired oasis behind. The restaurant is in stark contrast to its neighborhood, adjacent to Civic Center in an area generally not recommended for lingering.
Chris Bleidorn, formerly chef de cuisine of Atelier Crenn, staked out on his own to open this place in 2018. The restaurant’s received rave reviews ever since, earning its first Michelin star in 2019 and second in 2021. I first tried the restaurant for its pandemic-special fried chicken takeout offering. The chicken was so popular it spawned its own offshoot called Birdbox just a mile away.
I’ve been to SPQR once way back, just over ten years ago. That first meal was a bit unmemorable, which is a large reason why it’s been so long since I’ve returned. Since then, the restaurant has consistently received a Michelin star (since 2012) and has converted to a tasting menu-only setup. While a la carte is no longer available, there are multiple options for almost each course and the $92 price tag (5ish courses) is pretty reasonable for a Michelin-starred spot in San Francisco.
State Bird Provisions has been one of the most popular restaurants in the city since opening over eleven years ago. Accolades came quickly to the restaurant, including being named one of America’s best new restaurants by Bon Appetit and a Michelin star in 2014 (held ever since).
I haven’t been in over 9 years, but was able to snag a spontaneous prime reservation so off we went. The famous “dim sum carts” finally returned in May after a pandemic hiatus, so it was an opportune time to revisit.
I’ve been a fan of Gordon Ramsay’s food for a long time, and my 2014 lunch at his London flagship was one of my most memorable meals abroad. It’s taken me a while to come back here, but I’ve been wanting to have a dinner here ever since that first visit. An extended layover in London (en route from Portugal) was a perfect opportunity.
While an a la carte option is available, there’s also a six-course Prestige Menu (£170) and a Carte Blanche menu (£220). For this meal, we went with the Prestige Menu and added a seasonal supplement of white truffle risotto. Pricing is definitely on the higher side, but the restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars since 2001.
While in London I was excited to try Brat, a seafood-focused concept with Basque influence. The restaurant has been a hit ever since opening in 2018, and even gained a Michelin star. The restaurant reminds me a lot of Ibai in San Sebastian, where I had a fantastic meal, so it was near the top of my list of places to try while in London.
Belcanto is one of the most highly acclaimed fine dining restaurants in Portugal, even Europe. Holding two Michelin stars (seven years running) and ranked the 41st best restaurant in the world, it’s the flagship restaurant in the mini restaurant empire of chef José Avillez.
And at 250€ for the chefs table (150€ wine pairing), it’s priced accordingly. Given one can eat and drink very well in Portugal for much less, I had a hard time deciding whether to commit to a price tag like this. However, finding a chefs table opening while in town was such a fortuitous find that we decided to do it.
Hakkasan began in London in 2001 and expanded rapidly worldwide in the 2010s, but has contracted in recent years. Only two US locations remain (Las Vegas and Miami), with recent openings concentrated on the Middle East and Turkey. Hakkasan’s Mayfair location is one of two locations to currently hold a Michelin star (they’re both in London), and this was our choice to be the first meal on a recent European trip.