At first glance, Hayes Valley’s Monsieur Benjamin, the second restaurant by chef-owner Corey Lee (Benu), could be mistaken for a straightforward shrine to the traditional French bistro, with its centerpiece bar and dark red banquettes, tables set with paper tablecloths, dishtowel napkins, and Opinel knives, which beg to be paired with steak frites.
Chef Ken Tominaga reaches over a refrigerated case stacked with pristine slabs of fresh fish and places a slice of raw sea bream, which is wrapped over a Brazil-nut-sized clump of sushi rice, onto a pretty ceramic plate. “No dipping,” he advises. This, I already knew. I became a fan of Tominaga’s sushi spot, Hana Japanese Restaurant, 14 years ago after Japanese chef Hiro Sone (of Ame and Napa’s Terra) clued me in. Hidden in a low-slung strip mall off the 101 in the Santa Rosa suburb of Rohnert Park, this was where he and his wife, Lissa, ventured when they craved one of Northern California’s most elusive culinary indulgences: good, authentic sushi.
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