This past weekend the Wall Street Journal compiled a shortlist of restaurants that could be in the line of succession to be “the next big restaurant,” or the new Noma, where chefs all over the world are going to look for inspiration. On the brink of super-success, they say, are D.O.M. in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. But the sole American restaurant on the “ones to watch” list — thanks in part to the recommendation of David Chang who calls it “the best restaurant in America” — is our very own Benu. Grub Street reached out chef Corey Lee to see how he felt about the mention, or the stress of becoming “the new Noma,” and to ask if he bribed his old buddy Chang to say that.
“To compare us to those kind of restaurants — like a restaurant like Noma that’s been so beloved for half a decade — it’s just not really right,” Lee tells us. “We’re still in our infancy, barely a year old. While it’s very flattering that they included us, we don’t put ourselves in that category.” But we’d still wager that Benu is going to notch two, if not three, stars in the 2011 Michelin Guide coming out in three weeks.
As for his connection with Chang, who we know ate at Benu back in June with friend Daniel Patterson while he was in town for the Lucky Peach launch, Lee says he and Chang go back a while, to when Lee was working at Per Se in New York, and he tries to return the compliment. “We met in New York when [Chang] was just opening up Momofuku — he’s certainly a chef who’s been enormously successful in opening restaurants that were really meaningful to him. And Momofuku was a real departure from the paths of most ambitious chefs, who would usually go on to open something in the fine dining realm to make a name for themselves. It think he’s been enormously influential on the new generation of ambitious chefs who see that there are other ways to carve out success.”
We shall see how Michelin feels about Benu when they make their big announcement about this year’s star update for S.F. on October 25. (The announcement about the New York guide just came out in the last hour.)