Words by Corey Lee
During our opening, I often got asked, “What kind of restaurant is Benu?” That question always made me a bit uneasy. If I tried answering with any sort of detail, I could see people tune out; they wanted a term or category they understood or had at least heard before. So I used words like “contemporary” and “modern American.” They seemed to be satisfied with those, although I’m not sure if anyone really knows what they mean; I certainly don’t. The truth is, when we first opened, I had no idea what kind of restaurant it would be. I knew some of the dishes I wanted to make, and some ingredients I wanted to feature, but I didn’t know why, or if those things even qualified in defining a cuisine. What I did know was how I wanted diners to feel. I wanted them to feel comfortable and relaxed. To feel taken care of, but not pampered in the traditional, fine-dining sense. I wanted them to be excited, for there to be a sense of discovery, and also find warm familiarity in our food. But these things don’t make up a genre either.
In the process of establishing an identity for the restaurant, I came to a better understanding of my own. These days, when people ask me that dreaded question, “What kind of restaurant is Benu?” I try to convey what I’ve explained here. People often respond, “Oh, I see. So, fusion.” I just smile and say, “Yes, fusion.”