Editor's note. Saisons has since moved to 178 Townsend Street, and the prices are much higher now: $298 for the tasting menu as of mid 2013.
Saison is in the Mission District of San Francisco, in a fairly down-scale neighbourhood. You walk down a path to a semi-covered area with a large open fire burning and a chef attending this (some of the dishes are cooked on the hearth). The dining room itself is next to this, and is open to the kitchen, a small room with a concrete floor. Some soul music played in the background. Chef Joshua Skenes trained at Chez TJ in Mountain View before moving to Saisons in 2009, initially as a pop-up restaurant. There is an emphasis on foraging, as is the fashion these days, and having vegetables as the stars of the show rather than their usual role as supporting cast.
The wine list included wines such as Rully Domaine de Folies Clos la Folie 2007 at $54 for a wine you buy in the shops for $26, Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne 2004 at $175 for a wine that retails at $84, up to prestige wines like Domaine Romanee Conti Echezeaux 1997 at $1168 for wine that will set you back $812 in the shops.
Amuse-bouches consisted of an oyster with wild onion flowers, slow-cooked egg yolk and salmon roe smoked in the hearth with parsnip milk and hand-foraged flowers, garnished with a parsnip crisp, which was pleasant (15/20). There was also Maine scallop served in its shell, with soft poached scallop roe, pickled kohlrabi, daikon radish, mountain potato shiso, raw radish and pique vinaigrette with olive oil, Myer lemon and radish flower, finished with some creme fraiche; I enjoyed this dish a lot, the lemon and the pique vinaigrette providing good balance to the inherent sweetness of the scallop, which was of good quality (16/20).
Bread was made from scratch in a wood oven hearth outside; we were offered two types of bread rolls during the meal, a dinner roll and an excellent olive bread, with plenty of olive flavour and good texture (17/20 bread). Next was a wild spot prawn, the tail chilled and raw with Myer lemon and olive oil. The head was fried, and the dish garnished with yellow tomato and yellow tomato jelly with flowers. Again the prawn was of good quality, and the accompanying elements were a sensible match to the prawn (15/20).
Next were brassicas (cabbage leaves) on toasted grains, with soft poached quail eggs and a bouillon of bonita and veg poaching liquids. This was my favourite dish of the meal, the flavour of the brassicas brought out by the slow cooking on the hearth, the grains giving a balancing note and the poaching liquid enhancing rather than distracting from the main element (17/20).
This was followed by asparagus, cooked on the hearth with ravigote (a veloute cut with wine vinegar) sauce. It was paired with wild oscetra caviar, which was fine though I am not sure was a perfect pairing for the asparagus (15/20).
Crab was served with raw Maine lobster tail wrapped in chard, with Myer lemon whipped cream. This was served with crustacean sauce infused with basil, tarragon and orange zest. The shellfish was of good quality though for me I didn't really see the raw lobster and chard as an obvious partner to the crab (15/20).
This was followed by sea urchin with black truffle custard, grilled lion's mane mushroom, crispy sea lettuce and sea lettuce sauce. The mushroom was carefully cooked and the sea urchin's richness balanced by the sea lettuce, which is a logical pairing (15/20).
Rabbit with foie gras mousse was steamed, with rabbit leg confit with fava beans. English peas and spring onions, garnished with edible flowers, with a sauce made from the rabbit roasted over the embers of the hearth. I didn't think this dish worked especially well, as the foie gras was too dominant a taste for the rabbit, whose delicate flavour was rather lost (14/20).
Mousseline of sheep milk cheese with honey was a brioche baked in honey from Marshall Farms, served with honeycomb, fresh green almonds, on a base of almond brittle, topped with a lavender flower and camomile petals; another capable dish (15/20). Raspberry with Myer lemon custard was served with crispy and fresh raspberries, with vanilla marmalade, raspberry soda and a sprig of mint. This was a pleasant dish, the raspberries having good taste and the lemon custard nicely made (15/20). To finish there was milk chocolate mousse, sesame cracker, rice cracker and milk ice-cream; I liked the mousse, though this could have had deeper chocolate flavour for me (14/20).
The bill was $156 (£95) per person. Our waitress was very knowledgeable about the food. Overall this was a pleasant and certainly interesting meal; it is nice to see vegetables being highlighted within a meal to this extent, and presentation of dishes was pretty. Generally the ingredient quality seemed high, though I was less sure about some of the logic of the ingredient pairing.
Further reviews: 22nd Apr 2014