Actually Pretty Awesome: Crudités at Saison

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The 'cru' currently on the menu at Saison. Photo: J. Barmann/Grub Street

It's not what you think. When you see "cru" as one of the first items on Saison's current nine-course tasting menu, you may guess fish. And perhaps not to set up expectations of carrot spears, chef Joshua Skenes is smart to use the abbreviation. But the dish, inspired by the classic French dish called crudits, is in fact a sophisticated array of fresh and foraged Northern California flavors, with a surprising brininess and an omnivore twist.

It was one of the surprises we found on the latest version of Skenes's menu, which remains as refined and delighting as it ever was, but now with greater depth and a few whimsical touches that make the dishes sing in new ways.

Take the lardo raviolo hidden among the leaves in the cru dish two thin slices of smoked pork fat stuffed with smoked crme fraiche. It's a welcome and surprising touch of fat and cream to counter the acidic and vegetal flavors of the dish.

Then there's a small trove of pickled anchovy, with a splash of fermented anchovy dressing over the dish: another welcome, and briny surprise that feels bold in what might otherwise (in the hands of a lesser chef) be just another haute salad.

But it's the leaves and roots that are the still the stars: the complex and earthy wild red orach; the scraggly but delicious "mermaid's hair" seaweed from Monterey which is flash fried like puffed rice, adding texture; not to mention burnet amaranth, nasturtium flower and leaf, sheep sorrel, lady fern, corne de cerf, wild pea shoots, barbe du capucin, tetragonian spinach, bitter melon, shaved giant radish, shaved little red radish, wild mountain potato, spigarello kale, shaved Orion fennel, dandelion greens, shaved chiogga beet, and pieces of ember-roasted golden beet, Musselburgh leek, and Brussels sprout.

The thing is an avant garde symphony of bitter, bright, green, sweet, unctuous, smoky, dirty, and downright foreign flavors, every bite a unique combination that you may never taste again. It's the kind of dish that burns into the memory before the plate's even clean, and yeah, pretty awesome.

Earlier on Actually Pretty Awesome:
The Roasted Broccoli Sandwich at Split Pea Seduction
George Mendess Partridge in a Pear Tree
The Buffalo Burger at Double Decker
A Preview of Dishes at Haven
Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas
The Cocktails at Outerlands
The Meatball Gigante and the Honey Pie at Tonys Pizza
Three New Gins from St. George Spirits
The Date Night at Sneaky's BBQ
Crab and Dumplings at Pican
The Fried-Chicken Sliders at The Lookout
The Tripe and the Pickles at Bar Tartine
A Dinner of Small Plates at Frances
Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Doughnuts at Beast & the Hare
Aaron Londons Take on Vichyssoise at Ubuntu