April 23, 2022

I am rarely surprised by a restaurant. I do my homework ahead of time so I am typically pretty versed in what to expect. When a restaurant does surprise me, I sit up and take notice. Binkley's is a prime example of that. In that case, I had researched the restaurant, but not the chef. My mistake, for sure.

Saison is the next one to do so. I knew this place had 2 stars and stellar reviews. I came expecting it to be very solid. But I did not remotely expect the experience I had, which was one of the prime dining experiences of my life.

When restaurants fire on all cylinders, they pay attention. To everything. From sourcing and flavors to cooking and service, menu arc to wines and even the physical building. Nothing gets missed. Nothing is left to chance.

The kitchen at SaisonWalking into Saison, you can't help but notice the kitchen. Look at that photo! It says one thing: "We take this shit seriously." I had the pleasure of the best table in the place, looking right at the chefs. (This photo was taken from my seat.) I was delighted in my good fortune, and then perhaps found out why.

My server Preston greeted me with "You've had quite a week so far. And it continues after this, I see." I thought perhaps Tock (the reservation system) showed them a few of my other reservations. Nope. When I asked how he knew that, he replied "I spent a half hour reading your blog this morning."

Really? This blog?? I'm not sure whether to be excited or frightened. My goal for this website has never been external. I was pleasantly shocked to see it was being consumed (see what I did there?) by the restaurants I visit. (I presume he is reading this, so... Hi Preston!)

Saison had 3 Michelin stars until 2019. The chef moved on and Michelin does not allow a new chef to inherit 3 stars. You are demoted to 2 automatically if the chef leaves. Makes sense. They went down to 2, had another chef change, and then COVID. But they are shooting to get back to 3. And they will get there. I am quite sure of it.

The food was simply to die for, and insanely intelligent. Each dish drove a clear and central vision. The arc of the meal was phenomenal. Portions were appropriate and the chef's imagination gives you flavors and ingredients you would never conceive of. I mean, black trumpet mushroom sourdough parker rolls from 60 year starter?? They ain't playing!

I could talk about each individual dish, but let me focus on three of them. The first is the uni on toast. This is a clear homage (knock off?) of Chef Table at Brooklyn Fare's signature dish. It's difficult to think of how that one could be improved. They offer you a 2nd one there for a fee, and I always get it. Always.

This one somehow blows that one out of the water. The bread is far richer, like pumpernickel. It falls apart as you pick it up because it (and the uni) are drenched in brown butter. Yet, the top of the bread (directly under the uni) is super crisp. This was a giggle-worthy bite and worth the entire price of admission.

They follow that with an incredibly light and refreshing radish dish. That sequence is brilliant, cleansing the palate from the rich and heavy uni/brown butter bites. And that radish dish was incredible! The woman at the next table over (hello to you as well!) commented that somehow, it may have been the best dish of the evening. It seem incomprehensible to say so, but it really may have been! I'm sure no description of me will be sufficient here, but there was a springtime freshness to that dish, so simple in design but so complex in texture and flavor, that will stay with me for quite some time.

The main course was wild antelope. They utilize the animal fully, proving you so many varied preparations, but so diverse! The entire presentation was beautiful and interesting, immensely satisfying and incredibly delicious. The comparison to the lamb dish at Quince a few days prior was striking. They too offered many preparations of lamb, but each cut was prepared so similarly, they all ate pretty much the same. Not so here. As you were enjoying, they kept bringing an additional preparation. "Oh, also...here's a skewer." "Oh, and here's a broth." One of the most excellent presentations of an ingredient that I have ever seen.

The sommelier was also stellar. The wines were outstanding and her descriptions brought them to life before you had your first sip. She described not only what it was, but what it wasn't, helping you understand where each wine played on the scale. "This is going to be more fruit-forward than an X but have a dry back-note like a Y." (She was WAY better than my crappy example right there. LOL) I look forward to the next time she is able to take me on another journey. 

The only miss of the evening was the wagyu supplement. There are 2 keys to presenting wagyu. First, it must be cooked correctly. Enough to render the fat sufficiently, but not an inch further. Secondly, you need to balance that intense fat. This is often done with bright citrus and/or strong salt. Check out how Christopher's did it to see what I mean. Saison got the first part correct but not the 2nd. The dish therefore ate fatty and greasy, and that was it. The light sauce could not compete and a mushroom never would.

But literally - that was it. Everything else was absolute perfection. I was really taken with their attention to detail (as mentioned above). especially their sourcing. The quality of each ingredient was just stellar. The lettuce for those wraps is the best lettuce I have ever seen or tasted.

Bravo Saison! I am now a full-on believer. With all of the incredible options to choose from in the Bay Area, Saison would be my go-to restaurant. It's truly that good.

I can't wait to see when the 3rd star (re)appears.

Bundle of herbs in...
Meyer lemon water. A welcome tea.
My server Preston preparing the first bite.
Ossetra caviar, wrapped in a banana leaf, cured in house smoked salt, with braised pea shoots, scorched peas and creme fresche sauce. They come out of the gate STRONG.
Make your own wraps with all of this. Ingredients are...
Hawaiian amberjack loin, aged 3 days in house...
Fermented kohlrabi citrus gel (green). Sauce from head and collar pepper aromatics (in the box). Lettuce, which may have been the best item all night. I've never had lettuce tso fresh and vibrant...
Skin fried in tempura, lime..
They then bring out the belly of the amberjack, cooked on the embers with fermented chile miso
Asparagus, stuffed morel...I believe miso paste in the back? (I forgot to take notes on this dish.)
Cultured miso butter, black trumpet mushroom sourdough parker rolls from 60 year starter. Read all of that again.
Hokkaido urchin, sourdough brioche, brown butter sauce. Paired with an incredible sake rich in umami flavors because of a very unique milling process. A clear take on Chef Table at Brooklyn Fare's signature uni-on-brioche. I didn't think that one could be topped. I was wrong. This bite was mystifying. The bread soaked in the brown butter but with a crisp solid top supporting the uni. Come here for this bite alone.
Radish multiple ways (fermented, pickled, grilled, raw), Fermented radish broth with shiso oil. I lied about the uni. This dish - so simple - may have stolen the night. The freshness, vibrance and varying flavors and textures from each preparation, brought together with the most lovely fragrant (cold) broth. Refreshing, springtime and heaven. Never would have expect it from this dish.
Showing the loin of wild antelope, which is coming next.
Selecting my knife of choice for the mains. (I went with the 3rd from the left.)
Texas wild antelope, aged 18 days in house. It gets to the restaurant 18 hours after harvesting. With grilled chickoree and a sauce from the grilled bones of the same antelope. Many other components to this dish (in the photos following), but this is one of the best dishes I have ever had. Incredibly centered on the product while wholly delicious in each varied presentation. The coup de gras, to be sure. Truly impressive...
Braised antelope with grits spices lime zest. And...
Pickled kumquats. And then...
Skewer of antelope sirloin with green peppercorn. And...
Broth made from the grilled antelope bones. This was CRAZY good.
A5 miyazaki wagyu, bone marrow and dried mushroom sauce, hen of the woods mushroom. The only small miss of the night. The A5 ate very fatty, but had no counterbalance. The sauce needed more heft and depth to counterbalance the fat of the wagyu. And/or stronger seasoning on the beef.
Herb Sorbet (mint tips, shiso), jasmine, shattered lime. That herb sorbet was yummy!!!
Preparing the main dessert...
Pineapple upside down cake, Japanese egg cream. This should have been better than it was. Cream was delicious. The cake ate a little dry (even with the cream).
Buckwheat tea. The buckwheat is toasted in house daily for 4 hours.
Sesame praline


What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

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Replying to Steven Smith