What I ate at Saison

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While the actual day of my birthday this year was less than festive (our dog, Milton, passed in the morning), a proper celebration came a few days later when my brother, David and his wife, Jennie surprised me with an extraordinarily generous and extravagant gift: a meal at the 3-Michelin star Saison. What follows is a short description of the 17 (!) courses we had that night.

1st course

After a glass of sparkling wine from Charles Krug, we were presented with an infusion of herbs gathered from their garden. It was a refreshing way to transition from outside to beginning our meal.

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2nd course

The proper start of the meal and probably the most spectacular beginning I’ve ever seen. First they set down some mother of pearl spoons. Ahh caviar. Then we were presented with a bowl of clear gelée which containing more herbs and their version of a Parker House roll with a slightly caramelized top. Next they have a large opaque Victorian pressed glass covered bowl which was revealed to contain a mountain of Petrossian caviar house-cured with smoked salt. I thought perhaps it was like a truffle presentation: you are shown a whole mushroom, they shave a few slices and then return the truffle to the safe. Not here. The bowl left the table empty.

 

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3rd course

A broth of grilled roots, air-cured daikon (radishes in the kitchen were dangling above a fan like zeppelins). Flipping the chunk of daikon over revealed that it was “stuffed” with a scallop. To the side was a chicarrón of sea cucumber skin.

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4th course

Ikejime-prepared diamond turbot (sashimi) that was clear-tasting, if you can imagine such a thing. It was accompanied by a spot of grated radish and cucumber (like a refreshing mild wasabi), lemon and smoked salt.

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5th course

House-smoked Battle Creek (CA, not MI) trout, its house-preserved roe, and a shingle of its crisped skin. The smoking was delicate and the flavor of the trout came through nicely. Tom and I tend to prefer trout and salmon roe over sturgeon caviar and here it was ideal.

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6th course

I know this next photo isn’t all that appetizing but the reality of the dish couldn’t be further from the truth. Fresh sea urchin atop liquid toast. Absolutely heavenly.

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7th course

Beneath the seaweed is some grilled abalone, with a sauce of its liver (I didn’t know abalone had livers) and capers.

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8th course

This was described as “pickles”. I don’t know about that, but it was refreshing.

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By the way, the restaurant has but 8 tables with two seatings a night. The kitchen is open and you see a cadre of unnervingly young and preternaturally calm staff working their magic. The mop-headed chef was fun to watch, plating almost every dish with precision and chopsticks. The service was perfect, attentive without being pretentious. Each course was served on dinnerware curated by someone with obvious taste and an unlimited budget.

 

9th course

Transitioning from seafood to a more savory part of the meal, we were given a soft custard of parmesan and grilled onion.

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10th course

“Blistered-in-the-fire” brassica leaves (kale, radicchio, etc.) with a broth made from the same. This was the only dish that didn’t amaze me all evening.

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11th course

This more than made up what the last dish lacked. In fact it was probably my favorite of the evening. “Fire in the sky beets” with bone marrow. The beets had been hanging over the fire for 3 days concentrating the flavor, losing most of the sweetness and transforming the texture. The closest thing I could imagine would be venison!

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13th course

The first of three roast duck courses: velvety grilled duck breast and a cigar of foie gras wrapped in a leaf.

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12th course

Tom has a horror of foams after encountering too many over the past twenty years of fine dining. Yet when one appeared, there was not a peep.What we had next was duck liver in a broth made of Bavarian lager with a slice of crunchy toffee. With it we had a glass of the beer they used for the broth. As odd as it sounds and looks, this was near the top of the evening’s revelations.

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13th course

This part of the meal ended humbly with a rich bouillon of roasted duck bones. No spoons, just slurp it from the bowl. It was a poetic choice.

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14th course

Now to dessert. First up:smoked ice cream with roasted caramel. I don’t recall what the crunchy bits were.

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15th course

A gold nugget mandarin with sorbet served with glazed wild strawberries.

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16th course

A log of chocolate, caramel and gold leaf. And a birthday candle.

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17th course

A return to the beginning: a cup of tea and citrus.

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What this meal was not: decadently rich, over-buttered, or calorie-stuffed.

What it was: ingredients as perfect as they could be, honored with virtuosic cooking, flavors clean are clear as can be.

And that is what I ate a Saison.

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Thanks little brother!

 

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