12 Nov Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Dinner at Two Michelin Starred Saison in San Francisco
When you run into an old friend who is the co-owner of a 2-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco and he mentions that he will be opening older bottles of his wines (from Burgundy and Santa Cruz) and that you should come, it is hard to say no. This was on Saturday and the dinner was Tuesday night…in San Francisco. But again, how could I say no?!? So, I booked a last-minute ticket to fly up Tuesday afternoon so that I could dine at Saison, the two-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco. This is one of those meals that exceeded expectations on all levels and is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Saison was founded by Wine Director Mark Bright and Chef Joshua Skenes in 2008. By 2014, Saison was a 3-star Michelin restaurant (it currently has 2 stars). I had the pleasure to eat there within the first year of Saison’s opening and have always remembered the meal.
Saison is in a different location from when I first went a decade ago. It is in an old building located near Oracle Park in downtown San Francisco. There is a coziness when you walk in that feels like you have entered someone’s home. The dining room is in the center of the room with large silver refrigerator lockers along one wall. To the left is the open kitchen decorated with hanging dried flowers. To the right is the bar. The bright lights from these two sides of the room illuminate the warm glow of the dining room.
Saison is an extraordinary experience on every level. The ambience offers a homey-feeling as 80s music plays overhead just loud enough to find yourself humming along. The dining room tables are large with plenty of room for numerous dishes and wine glasses. And cashmere throws hang over every chair should one feel a chill at any point in the evening.
Service is impeccable. Everyone who approached our table to serve a dish, pour a glass of wine, or clear the table, was professional, friendly, and knowledgeable. If I had a question about a dish we were eating, any one of them could explain the ingredients and preparation.
Chef de Cuisine Richard Lee is at the helm of the kitchen. An open kitchen, it is like an artful dance to watch the Saison kitchen and floor teams work. Every time an order came to the kitchen, the kitchen team would chant “Yes Chef!” in unison. Not the least disruptive, there was a beauty in the unity of this chant that was like calming Gregorian chant. There is a reverence for the kitchen felt throughout the restaurant.
On the night that I flew up for dinner at Saison, Mark Bright was opening older vintages of his three labels. His Saison and Partage labels are from grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains. His Maison de Partage wines are sourced from the cellars of top producers in Burgundy.
After a glass of Champagne to welcome us, we had a glass of the Maison de Partage 2014 Chablis.
We were then brought a beautiful floral tea cup with a bundle of herbs and hot water was added for a Farm Tea Infusion.
We then were poured the Saison 2018 Chardonnay Orange Wine from the Regan Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Our first dish was caviar wrapped in a seaweed packet and warmed and placed on top of wilted spinach. This dish was mind-blowingly good. I found my spoonful getting smaller and smaller as I tried to extend this enjoyment of this dish. If this dish was a sign of what was ahead of us, I was ready.
Amberjack sashimi was served with lettuces, a gel of Buddha’s hand, crispy fish skin, and a sauce made from the fish bones.
And we built lettuce wraps with the ingredients.
And then the Amberjack collar was served.
Mark continued to pour us more Chardonnays, including the Partage 2013 Ben Lomond Mountain Chardonnay from the Bald Mountain Vineyard.
Delicate Abalone was served on top of Monterey wood ear and in a sauce of its liver.
Three beautiful white wines were enjoyed with our first few dishes but then it was time to move on to the red wines.
And we proceeded to drink a lot of red wine! We enjoyed Pinot Noirs from the Santa Cruz Mountains under the Partage label and Burgundy from Maison de Partage from provenance such as Nuits Saint George, Beaune, and Gevrey-Chambertin.
Two pieces of Sea Urchin were served on grilled sourdough that had been soaked in brown butter for a dish of pure decadence.
The grilled scallop was served, as well as a small bowl that had the skirt of the scallop, quickly grilled on a high heat, in a broth made from mustard, seaweed, and cucumber. There was also another part of the scallop battered and fried.
Radishes lightly fermented and served in a broth.
Our final flight of wines were three wines from the Saison label. There was a 2017 Merlot, a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2018 Hearth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Two beautifully cooked pieces of duck with crispy skin were served with persimmon, duck sausage with nasturtium leaf, the heart and gizzard, and a broth of its bones.
As an addendum to the tasting menu, the Wagyu, with radicchio, was served in sauce of its bones and was rich, savory, and tender as it melted in my mouth.
As we finished our savory courses, I was in awe of the number of glasses in front of me, each filled with beautiful wines.
To cleanse the palate, we had a huckleberry, hibiscus, and preserved spring pine glace.
Dessert was a grilled apple on a sunflower cake served with butterscotch ice cream.
Hoshigaki (Japanese dried persimmons) honey cake was the finishing touch.
And then to cleanse the palate and finish the night, we had some warm Buckwheat Tea.
And as we left, we were gifted a small glass jar of Buckwheat Tea and a box with a chocolate bar.
Dining at Saison was one of those meals I will never forget. Saison hits it on every level: the food, the service, the ambience, the professionalism, the passion. It ranks as one of the top 10 meals I have ever enjoyed.