In the quest to conquer some of the heavy hitters in the restaurant world, the next in line is Saison, another recently crowned three Michelin starred restaurant helmed by the very capable head chef, Joshua Skenes. We scored a table at the newly established Chef’s Counter, which is a more intimate setting with three chefs who are crafting some amazing, ingredient driven cuisine.
After parking the car, we’re brought to the temporary space beside the original restaurant for this new venture. Initial impressions are that the setting is a bit more minimalist, and the cuisine having more Japanese leanings (besides the chef himself being Japanese, which was probably a dead giveaway).
We started off with a light tea infused with herbs and douglas fir from the chef’s garden. It certainly feels like I’m soaking up the smell of the forest, which was actually quite cathartic.
After having that lovely tea, we went straight into the meal, starting off with a broth of sea cucumber and citrus leaves. The sea cucumber was adroitly fused with daikon to mimic the look of a marrow, whilst the broth itself was also made using daikon an kaffir lime leaves. The flavours were intense and comforting, which is perfect for the cold weather outside. The sea cucumber had an almost fishball like texture, whilst the broth was warm and inviting, with a look that belies a flavour intensity unlike most broths that I’ve had. The kaffir lime leaves in it brought a nice twist to the dish, which makes it all the more appetizing. In retrospect, this was definitely one of the best dishes I’ve had during this trip.
After a rather punchy starter, we moved on to pickled cucumbers with ume plum, chive flowers and horseradish ice. From the intense broth, the meal progressed to a lighter side. The cucumber had a slight salty tinge to it, but well balanced with the horseradish ice.
Next was Japanese mountain yam, bottarga (i.e. cured fish roe) and sauce made from roasted peels. Apparently the mountain yam is rarely used in this manner due to its slightly gooey texture, but the chef did a good job in preparing it to give it some crunch. The flavours of the dish was good, accentuated by the salt hit from the cured fish roe.
After that, we were served an array of well made tempura using padron peppers, shiso leaf, squash blossom and amber vegetables. The batter was very crisp, and the quality of each individual ingredient definitely shone through.
The meal progressed to a dish of wild thistle and red abalone, which I must say was not particularly memorable.
After the various starters, we moved on to the Negiri course. We were presented with a vast array of very fresh and well executed sushi courses ranging from Kinmedai, kurodai, akami, mirugai, otoro, and the classic tamago finish. Here are some highlights which really blew my mind.
Give me a good piece of lean tuna (or Akami), and I’ll be a happy camper. I’ll say that leaner cuts may lack the fatty unctuousness of Otoro, but it does make it up with a ton of flavour.
The geoduck or Mirugai is always delicious especially if well prepared, and this certainly was. The texture was just about right, and not immensely chewy.
I won’t say no to fatty Tuna (or Otoro), and the marbling on this specimen was exceptional. When you look at a perfect slab of Otoro, it seems almost indistinguishable to a good piece of Wagyu beef.
Another one of my personal favourites is the horse mackerel or Aji. This specific one was line caught, and had very good flavour.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Uni me baby! A perfect bite.
Now, moving into the desserts. We started off with a citrus sorbet dish that was placed into an orange. Flavours were refreshing but also intensely delicious, packed with citrus flavour.
Nothing beats wild strawberries, which were petite but the sweetest specimens you could possibly find.
And finally mochi, the very classic Japanese dish. The texture of the mochi was good, and overall a delicious but not overtly sweet dessert.
And we capped things off with a very nice twig tea.
Comparing between the two very excellent meals at Benu and Saison, the former was more skillful and innovative, albeit Saison seems more soulful and comforting. Perhaps this was more reflective of the chef’s counter, which may have differed from the core restaurant. That being said, I had a fantastic time and was definitely more satisfied from this outing.
Good food always starts with good ingredients, and this meal at Saison was certainly the case.
Location: 178 Townshend St, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA. +1.415.828.7990. Website