Well, me and the SO have definitely hit the yearly triple for 2017. We kicked off the new year with Atelier Crenn then summered at French Laundry and fall'd into Saison of all places. That is some chef menu, big ticket dining in the Bay Area if ever there was. And anyone who has read my blog over the last seven or so years knows, that is more super high end dining in one year than pretty the lifetime of this blog. Not sure how it worked out that way this year but here we are now at Saison. That $398 per person set menu spot from farm to table Chef Joshua Skenes that just so happens to be a block away from where we live.
Both of the other places were special occasions and this time was bon different. The SO's parents were in town and it was their mother's birthday this time as they were conveniently visiting from Texas. To be honest it really was kind of a fluke, almost like how I got the French Laundry reservations. We found out the 'rents were coming and I just happened to be online surfing and a reservation came up on the Friday they would be in town. When I let the SO know they gave a resounding YES! to the taking it. I guess you could say it was fate and just destined to be for us since we had already hit the other Michelin starred spots this year. Fortunately for me, unlike French Laundry, I didn't have to pay up front for all of it. A credit card to hold the reservation yes, but as long as I cancelled if necessary within 72 hours of dining date.
The space is an old converted warehouse updated with lots of dark wood and iron beams, though it was surprisingly light inside, especially since you can't see all that much from the outside. We were seated at a giant wood table ten could have fit at though it was just the four of us. The place is a buzz of activity as waiters scurry about, each with what seems their own special job to do. And point of note, they are all suited up and quite attractive to look at and friendly to talk and ask questions of. I don't usually mention things like that, but I will say, it was one of the things that really stood out as a positive. At these prices, service should be as exceptional as it was. Another thing I found funny and slightly charming was the music. It was a mix of mostly 70's and some 80's pop like a Casey Kasem Top 40 countdown from my youth.
From there I must say I was torn about how to go about talking about the food and other things we were served. I will tell you up front, there were roughly sixteen different "dishes" thus this will be a two parter. They do ask upfront if you have any allergies or specific food dislikes and we all know my thing against raw fish so I did let them know and it had an effect on one of my dishes. I guess I will just dive in and give the best description I can, though I may delay judgement on some till the end.
I guess as a palate cleanser(?) to begin you get a teacup of hot water with a tiny bundle of herbs from their garden. Though they refer to it more as an infusion of flavor, one that was mint and became more so if you let it sit for a bit. So yeah, floating leaves in hot water.
First official course is when it kicks in with their own private batch caviar that is poached with butter in a a banana leaf served with greens. Hmmm, fish eggs, the server said we'd be surprised by the flavor. I was expecting the usual salty but that is only a mere under note. The main flavor is the butter, it permeates through the dish. With the soft creamy texture of the caviar, it comes off a bit like eating butter. I'll admit my tongue was a bit weirded out by the flavor texture combo. But you know, it isn't like I haven't eaten butter being the butter fiend I am.
Next was spot prawn char grilled whole with skin, legs, head and all. And it comes with half a lime to squeeze on it! It wasn't like this was flash fried whole so there was some work to do to shell and eat this. I'll say it was also mostly cooked. There were still areas of the shrimp close to being not fully cooked and I found it a bit of a challenge to eat those parts. And no, did not use those chopsticks to eat this, it was hands on to get the shell off but we did get warm tiny towels to clean up afterward.
Here's where my "no raw fish" came into play, though it didn't go as planned. Normally this round is where one of Saison's signature dishes comes to the table. It would normally be uni (sea urchin) on top of this liquid toast which is sourdough bread grilled and drenched in a mix of brown butter and tamari (kind of like soy sauce). Since I ask for now raw fish, they seem to take this to also mean the uni and replaced it with avocado--something else I just can't stand. When they set it down before me I just sighed and the SO laughed a bit knowing exactly what was going through my mind--UGH! I didn't say anything since they had already made the initial change and decided to give it a try anyway. It was mushy, squishy and a bit salty.
They all got the uni one above which the SO gave me a bite of and I could just repeat the above description for their version.
These were a couple of shared plates for the table. Roasted cherry tomatoes and grilled onions and eggplant. Simple presentation and preparation but the flavors of the individual veggies really came through. Subtle but tasty rustic side dishes.
Here was an interesting addition to the menu, tomato and olive oil infused gelatin with fresh okra on a bed of corn mousse. At first we were a little hesitant but this was just a little bit sweet from the tomato and corn then you get a small crunch kick from the pieces of okra. There was a bit of a disconnect as you have to wrap your mind and taste buds around the fact this is tomato jello with corn for the most part. A little odd but a bit cool and kind of refreshing. Hey! Just like J-E-L-L-O!
Looks like bacon so I had just a tad bit of hope but it was wood smoked red bell pepper on a bed or buttermilk cream. It was sweet and smokey and actually kind of reminded me of some hickory bacon flavor. And that cream underneath was smooth and silky and paired quite well with the peppers. This was like a super tiny jewel box of flavor I wish had been more like a shoebox.
Talk about going with an old school rustic dish, here we have ratatouille--wrapped layers of squash and zucchini though not in béchamel sauce, more soup like tomato broth. It was definitely a miniature of a portion, kind of reminded me of the Pixar movie and the way the rat in "Ratatouille" made his layered version of the dish. I know, I just compared a Saison dish to a something made by a cartoon rat, but you look it up and tell me what you think. It was a light veggie bit that marked the halfway point in the meal.
A mark I'm taking as an opportunity to end part one and take a break before diving into the next eight dishes. Yes, eight more. So far, it has been....different. Intensely interesting to the SO who is loving it so far. Me, I'm not overwhelmed. I will say much has to do with the textures of a number of the dishes which I'd classify as soft and spongy. Not necessarily unpleasant, in most case, though a bit repetitive if you are hungering for something the feels substantive. But, as I say, there is more to come and I can't wait to see what they do for dessert. Plus, the music is still delightful, so I have hope!