San Franciscans are smitten by Benu. Multiple Michelin stars decorate Benu’s crown. When we went to Restaurant Sant Pau a few years ago, Carme Ruscadella said good things about Benu. So we decided to make this the celebration spot for the 25th year of our partnership. It turned out to be a 20 course meal with 23 independent plates – almost one for every year!
There were a few favorites – the fresh bamboo shoots were our first and perhaps the highlight of our meal, the malted rice with shaved ice, the tiny tiny new turnips, and the cypress caviar. Then there were many well executed dishes – the beef steak was melt in your mouth, juicy and plump barbecued quail, fresh tofu skin wrapped shiitake logs, monkfish liver, steamed bass, fried frog legs, and the charcoal grilled abalone. The meal reminded us a bit of Jai Yun – particularly with respect to the meal cadence and number of dishes. A dish was served almost every 5 minutes.
Unfortunately, romantic it was not. When one goes to a Michelin starred restaurant, particularly a 3 starred one, there is an expectation of being swept off one’s feet. Benu food is clever without being passionate. The decor is cold. The service was mixed. It is unfair to expect old school service like Tour d’Argent, but lackadaisical is unacceptable. Perhaps we made the mistake of not combining the meal with alcohol – some wine might have made us feel warm and fuzzy.
My first experience with Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest, aside from youtube videos and his TED talk, was a model kit. This is a 3d printed kit of Animaris Ordis Parvus that we bought from his website. It’s very sight gives joy. Yesterday, I noticed that the elastic holding the backbone had disintegrated, my poor strandbeest with a broken back and in captivity and it made me a touch sad.
In Theo’s words:
“Since 1990, I have been engaged in creating new forms of life. These forms are not made of protein like the existing life-forms. Theirs is another basic stuff: yellow plastic tubing. Skeletons made from these tubes are able to walk and get their energy from the wind, so they don’t have to eat. Their habitat is the beach where I was born. They evolved gradually, over several generations. As they developed, they became more adept at weathering storms and coping with the sea. My ultimate wish is to release herds of these beach animals on the shore to make their own way through life. By redoing the Creation, so to speak, I hope to become wiser in my dealings with nature that is already there. It presents me with the same problems the Real Creator must have come up against. Strandbeest is a testimonial to my experiences as God. I can assure you that it’s not easy being God, there are plenty of disappointments along the way. But, on the few occasions that things work out, being God is the most wonderful thing in the world.”
Such a pronouncement would normally sound a little crazy but in this case, it is the best kind of crazy there is.
Theo makes these from hollow plastic tubes and ties, it allows him to iterate cheaply. He is an engineer’s engineer. But as a spectator, to me all that matters is that these creatures move and breathe and then they die. When they move, they move like insects -some nimble and some lugubrious. When they breathe, the wind blows through these hollow pipes and makes an eerie sound, it is never the same sound twice. And when they die, they look like old disintegrated skeletons. In its movement, it is joyful, in its breathing, it is doleful, and in its death, it is sad.
Recently, San Francisco Exploratorium held a Strandbeest exhibition.
I was ecstatic to go. The youtube video captures the best of the exhibition and yet, it was an antithesis for me. The strandbeests on the cavernous exhibition floor were stranded. And in their sadness, they were deathly quiet.
We knew we would be able to source good Mezcal (e.g. Amaras Espadin) in California. But we were also certain that there would be no easy access to grasshopper salt. We were lucky to be living right opposite, Tlapaleria Gastronomica in Roma neighborhood, that sold artisanal food products made in Mexico. And what respectable gourmet shop in Mexico City won’t have grasshopper salt amongst its wares!
Following murals are from rooftop of Museo Del Juguete Antiguo. This was a bit of a pleasant surprise, no one had really mentioned that the local artists had adopted the rooftop. We just noticed someone walking up, above the topmost floor of the museum, followed them and found the collection.