To Counter Bauer, NYT Critic Pete Wells Comes Around to Loving Saison

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Saison's SoMa digs. Photo: Alanna Hale/Grub Street

The food at Saison has always been pretty extraordinary, and decidedly of Northern California. Critics like Josh Sens have walked away awed, and so have we, but others, like Michael Bauer, have had a hard time warming up to chef Joshua Skenes's iconoclasm, and to the modern sensibility he and partner Mark Bright have toward the decor and fine dining environment. Well, now a slightly bigger fish, Pete Wells of the New York Times, has changed his tune about Saison upon visiting it recently in its new SoMa digs. "Facing down more than 15 courses," he writes, "I wasn’t bored once, and several times I was on the edge of my seat."

This review marks a bit of a change for Wells, who announced today, "I think it’s time for the restaurant critic of The Times to cast a wider net." He now plans to start regularly reviewing restaurants in other cities — without stars — perhaps every month or two.

Previously, he dined at Saison in the spring of 2012, and this was during his period of general fatigue with tasting menus, which was reflected in his somewhat negative take. This time, though, he has "one of the most compelling meals I’ve had on the job."

While Michael Bauer was put off by the rules of the restaurant — like one that keeps diners from immediately sitting down if they arrive late, due to the orchestration of courses from the kitchen — Wells says he found that the year since his last visit brought a much friendlier staff, and more solicitous service. And he says his night was "punctuated by one dish after another in which the flavors were as deep and long as any I’ve ever tasted." He also gives props to Mark Bright's wine pairings, and the "flurry of classical desserts" from pastry chef Shawn Gawle. All in all, he concludes, "For all of the extraordinary demands it makes on diners, Saison delivers a meal that is at least as extraordinary."

Before Rewards, Demands [NYT]
Earlier: Bauer Praises Skenes’s Food at Saison, Dings Them for Service, No Valet
NYT Critic Pete Wells Visits San Francisco, Talks About Tasting Menu Fatigue
Saison’s Latest Tasting Menu, Illustrated