Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Saison - 08/27/2011

2124 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 828-7990

The man behind the stove at Saison is Chef Joshua Skenes.  Chef Skenes has an impressive pedigree, earning perfect marks at the French Culinary Institute, while working under one of New York's top chefs, Jean Georges Vongerichtten.  From there he spent two years working at Troquet, and Ambrosia on Huntington in Boston before heading West.  At the tender age of 23 he landed the Executive Chef spot at Chez TJ, one of the South Bay's best restaurants.  Michael Mina who came in for a meal was so impressed with the young chef that he tapped Skenes to help him open Stonehill Tavern in Dana Point.  Following a 3-year stint as a culinary consultant, Skenes first started Saison in 2009.

Saison started life as a one-day a week pop-up built inside a rustic stable next to the Stable Cafe with a 4-course New American menu utilizing local seasonal ingredients (no surprise given saison is French for season).  This dedication to the locavore movement goes beyond simply sourcing from local farms with the staff actually foraging for ingredients whenever possible.

The restaurant opened with the goal of providing a dining experience that celebrated fine dining techniques but without demanding the same formality from the diners.  Since then Saison has shed its pop-up beginnings, expanding dinner service from 1 to 3 then to 5 nights a week.  With that growth comes ambition and Skenes has expanded the menu to 8-courses but with the same casual spirit of the original restaurant.  In its current form the restaurant also includes a four seat kitchen table that allows guests to enjoy an extended menu.

Domaine D'Orfeuilles, Vouvray, M/V
The first course was a delightful study in fish roe featuring wild Oscetra caviar, trout and shad roes, and bottarga (mullet).  Aside from the caviar, the eggs are presented on a thin flatbread crisp made in the restaurant's outdoor wood fire oven.  The topping of herbs and flowers brighten the dish immensely both visually, texturally, and on the palate.  Eating the Oscetra in conjunction with the flatbread helps refocus the attention on the roe thanks to its unbridled salinity.

trio of canapes
Next up was a trio of artfully presented canapes.  We were told to start with the Kusshi oyster then progress to the poached egg and finish with the pickled radish.  The oyster was seasoned with lemon and olive oil and topped with a slice of cucumber, the clean flavor of the shellfish is tempered by the olive oil and the cucumber adds a nice crunch to the mix.  The egg topped with parsnip was noticeably heavier, I loved the almost gelatinous texture of the yolk but the puree was too sweet for my tastes.  The piquant crunch of the daikon and watermelon radishes was an effective in washing out the richness of the previous course and was my favorite of the trio.

Mahoney, Albarino, Carneros, 2007
I don't know what how the chef came up with the name but the dish itself consists of the most seductive flavorful tuna tartare that I've ever had.  The bright red flesh was torn by a scallop shell then mixed with a roasted blend of fish fat and sinew giving the mixture an extravagant oily char reminiscent of a grilled toro.  If that weren't enough the dish was paired with gelĂ©e made from marrow extracted by boiling fish bones and white soy sauce that gave the dish a lighter more savory brine.  A rice cracklin topped with shrimp floss and river vegetables provides a brazenly salty textural variance.  The third component was a shot of spinal jelly that we were told to eat midway through the course.  With a flavor like a muted saltwater, the jelly helped reset the palate between bites of the tuna.  This was so good we asked for seconds.

Ici/La-Bas, "Philippine," Santa Maria, 2007
Brassicas refer to any number of mustard greens which are presented in a myriad of ways including dehydrated, roasted, and poached in a bonito broth.  Accompanying the varied greens were a poached quail egg and a broth made from three types of fish and five types of kelp (but the chef specifically said it wasn't dashi).  Breaking the egg releases a golden rush of yolk that thickens the soup giving it a weighty texture to accompany its beautiful savoriness.  I enjoyed this dish immensely but if I had one complaint it would be that the greens were marginalized  by the broth and egg and I would have liked their astringency to play a more prominent role.

summer vegetables
Displaying crisp vegetal textures and a bright summery levity that are par for a vegetable course, this dish goes beyond simply being light and refreshing thanks to the squash and avocado which buttress the dish with a satisfying hearty weight.

wild spot prawn
Boeckel, Riesling, Alsace, France, 2009
From the instant I walked into the kitchen and saw the tank of live spot prawns I was looking forward to this course.  The shrimp was presented simply boiled in seawater to preserve and celebrate the prawn's natural flavor.  Unfortunately the brains and innards of my prawn were incredibly bitter and earthy, the unpleasant flavor tainting my enjoyment of the shrimp's flesh.  The one saving grace of this dish was the accompanying bowl of mixed shellfish including: uni, lobster, and Dungeness crab along with a crustacean broth seasoned with orange, basil, and tarragon.

Chateau Couronneau, Bordeaux, France, 2009
The final savory of the night was labeled a stew but the flavors were so genteel and refined that it hardly felt like one.  Starting with rabbit two ways, confit and mousse, the dish also features foraged flowers, peas, assorted greens, and even a piece of foie gras for good measure.  The mousse is superb, the texture akin to a fish cake but so much more robust.  The confit augmented by the foie provides most of the savoriness which in turn is countered by the grassy peas and peppery bite of the greens.

preserved lemon 1:27
Strub, Riesling Kabinett, Germany 2008
A simple but expressive dessert that displays of a multifaceted array of citrus flavors tinged with a floral levity from the chrysanthemum foam.  The elegance of the dessert begs to be savored but I couldn't stop myself from devouring it.

Singla, Rivesaltes Ambre, 2008
The final dessert was a chocolate but like the rest of the meal the dessert manages to convey a rich nuanced flavor profile without feeling heavy.  A white chocolate quinelle is paired with a caramel cream and finished with a sesame tuile.  The combination reminded me of the Jin Duei (fried sesame seed balls) served at dim sum.

popcorn ice cream
This was my favorite of the desserts, the concentrated essence of popcorn at once brazenly buttery and salty but balanced by a sweetness very much like kettle corn.

raspberry pate de fruit
A final sugary pate de fruit ended the meal on a very sweet note.

Yet another stellar meal, unlike many other tasting menus I left feeling satisfied but not overly full or sluggish.  Chef Skenes wisely lets the ingredients speak for themselves resulting in a transcendent purity of flavor and a captivating integrity that places Saison squarely among the best in the Bay Area.


Rodzilla said...

I really like the look of that menu. Way back at shibucho I was trying to think of a certain roe, shad was it.

aside from the spat prawn everything looks like a hit. I've now added tuna spinal fluid to must try dishes.

Epicuryan said...

Yeah my prawn was off, but everyone else enjoyed theirs. The tuna spinal jelly was definitely unique, hopefully they'll still have it when you try out Saison.