Food-obsessed people in San Francisco were giddy with excitement when news first broke last fall that Corey Lee, world-famous chef of three-Michelin-starred Benu, would be opening his first-ever Korean restaurant, San Ho Won, at the old Blowfish Sushi location at 2170 Bryant Street in the Mission. Lee, who is of Korean descent, famously has never run a full-on Korean restaurant — Benu, his celebrated tasting menu spot, could at best be said to incorporate certain Korean flavors and ingredients.
Of course, with a few exceptions, the current coronavirus crisis put the kibosh on restaurant openings, as the city’s chefs and restaurant owners have their hands full just keeping their existing restaurants afloat. It was somewhat surprising, then, that Lee announced today that San Ho Won, which was last slated to open sometime this summer, would be making an early debut this weekend — in a manner of speaking, that is.
This Friday and Saturday, April 10–11, San Ho Won will serve a preview of its menu as a takeout offering, available with a reservation on Tock for pickup at Benu between 5 and 6:30 p.m. — the Tock ordering page will go live sometime early in the evening of April 6. The opening set menu, priced at $45 a person, will include:
- Beef Short Rib Braised in Pear and Finished Over Charcoal
- Fresh-Milled Rice Cakes with Spring Garlic and Asparagus
- Chilled Homemade Tofu with Sesame
- Pea Leaf and Bean Sprout Soup
- Cabbage Kimchi
- Sweet Soy-Pickled Cucumber and Onions
- Gâteau Marjolaine from Monsieur Benjamin
Even as some of the city’s most prominent fine dining establishments pivoted to takeout and delivery, up until this point none of Lee’s restaurants have jumped into the fray — not Benu, not Monsieur Benjamin, and not In Situ. Why jump in with a takeout offering some three weeks into the shutdown? In an email to Eater SF, Lee explains that his primary motivation was to just provide some amount of income for the staff at his restaurants, and 100 percent of the profits will go toward paying for benefits for his employees. Beyond that, Lee says Korean food travels well and almost seems to have evolved, as a cuisine, “from the need to get people through crises.” And it also just feels better, psychologically, to be introducing people to something new during this challenging, disheartening time.
“Continuing to work on [San Ho Won’s] development is a nice reminder that there’s something to look forward to, instead of offering altered versions of existing concepts and being reminded just how much our lives have been ruptured by this pandemic,” Lee says.
The takeout offerings, which will continue at least through next week, Tuesday–Saturday, will be a public way for the restaurant to conduct its own research and development for potential menu items, serving much the same purpose a traditional preview dinner or pop-up would under normal circumstances.
Up until now, Lee has revealed very little about what exactly his approach to Korean food will be. Over email, he says the goal will be to “capture the soul” of traditional Korean cooking while also embracing modern techniques and cooking technology — “to make the tastiest, most consistent and relevant Korean food we can.” When the restaurant itself opens, it will feature charcoal barbecue but cooked at a central grill rather than the individual tabletop style many customers are used to.
As for San Ho Won’s official opening, complete with the grill, the sit-down dining room, and all, prospective customers will have to be patient: For now, the restaurant’s website and Instagram page both only promise that the restaurant will open “sometime in the future.”