Always in Saison

Rarely have I been so captivated by a restaurant and its unique cuisine as I was at Saison. The Bay Area establishment is one of America’s finest restaurants, and perhaps the most exclusive, with only 18 seats. Saison is the vision of Chef Joshua Skenes, who created the 3-Michelin star restaurant and its sumptuous 18 to 20-course menu. Food critics have glowingly described Skenes’ cuisine as “brilliant,” to “spectacular,” and “flawless technique.”

For Skenes, however, the greatest compliment is his guests’ enjoyment.

“We try to present materials in their most honest form– the food, the design, the service,” said Skenes. “We use the very best of everything and present them simply and honestly.”

At Saison, the 3,700-square-foot restaurant is spacious, and felt that way, but owing to graceful dark-wood decors– the room also felt warm and cozy. The open kitchen at Saison lets diners see the chef and his staff in constant motion preparing each dish, like watching a theatrical show. They spoke amongst themselves in hushed voices and swift gestures. I visited Saison during the week Chef Skenes hosted a special “Collaborative Dinner with Friends,” where he cooked alongside five award-winning chefs, one for each evening. I dined on a Wednesday evening, when the special guest was chef Gabriel Kreuther of Modern restaurant in New York City.

“Chef Gabriel is a classically rooted cook, yet he has his own voice,” Skenes said of his friend. “I appreciate tradition a great deal. History gives us reference and knowledge to pull from. We can use that knowledge to create our own voice, moving forward and evolving in parallel.”

As for his own trademark style, Skenes described it as ”very simple in appearance and extraordinarily difficult to prepare.”

“Everything is cooked over the fire or has an element from a type of fire cooking. To me, this has the most genuine flavor,” he said.

The evening began on a celebratory note with the sommelier and co-owner, Mark Bright, welcoming guests at each table with flutes of Krug Champagne. The exquisitely presented dishes were small bite portions, each bursting with intense, raw flavor. Their diversity ranged from caviar, oyster “en Pannequet,” to Langoustine, and Sungold tomato. The chefs lavished attention on every aspect of a meal. Each dish was served on a different plate or bowl that complemented the aesthetic, as well as the texture and temperature of the food. This kind of careful, scrupulous cooking earned Saison its three Michelin stars in 2014.

The restaurant is located in a historic brick building built in 1800s that formerly housed the California Electric Company, just south of Market Street. The tasting menu is $398 per person, excluding wine. There are additional seating at the bar and adjacent lounge where guests can also enjoy a condensed, less expensive tasting menu from $13 to $88. Saison is truly a restaurant for those who care passionately about food and wine. I recommend the 18-course menu, an amazing experience that will span about 3 hours. Though time seems to float by as you find yourself immersed in the delicious food, conversation, fun and excitement of anticipating the next dish. If one agrees that a great meal is an experience, then Chefs Skenes and Kreuther have created an extraordinary one by producing dishes with high level of creativity and an unexpected combination of ingredients for an unforgettable meal.