We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Saison is an amazing restaurant and the finest, most quintessentially S.F. dining experience you can probably have right now. We don't know why it doesn't have four stars from the Chronicle yet, but it likely will soon, and before Bauer comes around the place may even have a shot at three Michelin stars. But we don't want to jinx them. We'll just say that a recent meal at Saison proved to us that chef Joshua Skenes has only honed his craft and upped the ante over the past three years in that humble, cozy space behind the Stable Caf and as he prepares to expand (or move?) to SoMa next year, he's doing some of the best work of his career.
All of the sixteen to eighteen dishes in the current, non-chef's-counter tasting menu (the chef's counter is now upwards of 22 or more, not including intermezzos) are fairly small, with one of the largest remaining his signature Brassicas course of roasted and braised brassicas greens and seaweeds with seaweed consomm and toasted rice. And now the service and pacing are so smoothly orchestrated that the dozen and a half plates don't feel like an onslaught, or like drudgery. Dishes float in front of you, Steve Winwood and Hall & Oats play on the dining room speakers, sommelier Mark Bright pours some obscure French whites, and before you know it, three hours have passed and you've just had some of the most intricate, inventive, and cleanly flavored food of your life.
Check out our slideshow of the ever-evolving menu at the restaurant, including a couple of new additions from recently hired pastry chef Shawn Gawle, formerly from New York's Corton.
The menu now kicks off with a palate "awakener," which is a simple citrus soda in a glass rimmed with tart, Sour Patch Kid-like citrus sugar and flower petals.
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The small splash of soda has just a hint of sweetness, and is dotted with lemon oil.
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Peas and Parmesan
The first dish is a small bowl of fresh English peas and flowers over a warm bed of light parmesan custard.
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One of Skenes signature openers, a perfect complement to Champagne, is this amuse of golden Osetra caviar over sea urchin and seaweed gelée.
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Next came a trio of canapés starting with this bit of almost raw tuna with turnip and a tiny bit of roasted bone for texture.
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Next came this barely seared piece of live scallop topped with sea bean and flowers.
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Kindai Tuna Ham
Then came this visually clever presentation (done with a perfectly seamless use of plastic wrap over glass) of a pleasantly chewy, house-made aged "ham" made of kindai tuna.
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The wild nettle purée is given top billing in this dish featuring a small piece of wild salmon, along with potato purée and anise hyssop.
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Another mainstay on the menu is this small dish of egg yolk, and urchin.
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Skenes has gone with the English word for this dish, formerly listed as "crudités," which we previously wrote about and which is his take on the classic French dish of dressed raw vegetables. Also, diners are now encouraged to eat this with their hands. In this Californian version, multiple tastes meld from various leaves, flowers, roots, and herbs, including baby heirloom carrots, fennel, nasturtium, chiogga beet, sheep sorrel, and tetragonian spinach. They're dressed lightly with a touch of anchovy, and underneath is a single lardo ravioli.
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Tokyo Turnip and Sea Urchin
Another preparation of fresh uni is this dish with Tokyo turnip purée and oyster foam.
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Skenes's puts this signature at the mid-point of the menu now, with ember-roasted cauliflower greens, mustard greens, dried seaweed, seaweed consommé and toasted and puffed Forbidden rice.
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Abalone and Its Liver
This dish of ridiculously tender, barely seared abalone is served with sauce made from its liver and summer vegetables including crisp okra.
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Pain au Lait
As of this year, Saison began baking its own bread, and now diners are given these buttery little rolls topped with sea salt.
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The starring component here is the duck liver whose name we dare not speak, and much as when we wrote about it previously, it's basically dessert in the middle of the meal. The foie is made into a mousse-like gelato, and accompanied by bits of dried olive and foie toffee.
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This delicate presentation of rabbit comes with fresh fig, and a sweet jus of rabbit liver.
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The final savory course of the night is this bite of rare lamb with braised lamb belly.
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Andante Dairy is now making a sheep's cheese exclusively for Saison, and here it comes wrapped in a gougère and coated in whipped sheep's milk and ash.
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Just added to the menu is this new palate cleanser from pastry chef Shawn Gawle featuring tart green apple, green apple sorbet, and honey foam.
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Preserved Citrus 6.08
This dish of Meyer lemon gelato and preserved lemon has been a staple for over a year.
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This perfectly portioned dessert from Gawle is a small disk of caramel pot de crème over a disk of huckleberry gel with a small scoop of buttermilk ice cream, and topped with huckleberries and bits of chocolate.
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Popcorn Ice Cream, Mignardises
Lastly came the finishing touch of heirloom popcorn ice cream with several candies: an espresso truffle, black sesame macaron, and mandarin pate de fruits.