Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Saison (09/12/2013)

We arrived for our first of a week and a half of highly anticipated reservations a bit late, and starving after mediocre plane food.  (Luckily, we'd gotten a call in the cab asking if we wanted to move our 9:00 res to 7:00; yes, thanks!)  The room is absolutely gorgeous, an airy loft space with warm brick walls, beautiful trunk cross section tables, and conveniently, well-placed overhead lights that resulted in well-lit photos.  (I may be annoying with wanting to photograph everything, but I'm not jerky enough to use the flash, even if not expressly forbidden.)

The pineapple soda was awesome; we were excited for the meal from this first sweet-and-smokey sip.  (We decided then that we may want to follow dinner with cocktails, on the assumption that the soda would make such a great cocktail base that the bartender is probably doing good things.  Turns out, he is.)
soda, smoked pineapple, sage

The custard-and-urchin combo had a lovely oceany richness -- one of the first times I recall not being bothered by the texture of urchin -- but the purportedly grilled slice of turnip in the custard, presumably to add a textural contrast, was actually a tasteless distraction.  The gold leaf on top was pretty, if sort of ridiculous.  The menu says the wine pairing was a Demiere Ansiot Blanc de Blancs 2006, but we were poured a small glass of Krug when we first sat down, which was delicious, and I don't recall receiving a second one.  (We split a pairing, an awesome option that we'd never done before and that we repeated at all our subsequent dinners except one, which allowed us to also order a bottle -- or bottles, on some nights -- and see how the sommelier did with the pairing; also appeared to have the unintended side-effect of a more generous pairing as the pours often ended up being larger-than-half in each of our glasses.  Saison's pairing, like many we tried in California, was excellent; better than we've come to expect back East.  We also ordered a 1990 LeFlaive Clavoillon, which we've loved in younger vintages; unfortunately this one, while enjoyable, was a bit past its prime and not as interesting as we'd have liked.)
custard, grilled turnip, sea urchin

Loved this one.  (Adam: "this kitchen is the real deal.")  Briny from the caviar, perfect tomato flavor from the gelee, a bit of textural contrast from sliced okra, and then the surprising sweet richness from the layer of custardy corn pudding underneath.  (The server had announced it as containing the okra but not the corn.)
reserve caviar, corn pudding, tomato gelee

A series of "cru" courses came next, paired with a Kunstler Riesling Trocken 'Kirchenstuck' 2007.  Some sort of pickled vegetable under the fish gave the jack a bright acidity that elevated it from normal (however high quality) sashimi.
(cru) striped jack, cherry blossom

A cube of seasoned avocado buried in the raw scallop half was simple but very nice.  (I managed to squeeze mine out of the scallop when I picked it up, so I don't think I got the full effect of the combination.)
scallop, avocado, lily

The little roe-laden crisp tasted like a very salty potato chip; nothing too memorable.  The smoked salmon with a bit of (I think?) creme fraiche tasted like a bite of excellent brunch.  (It recalled -- and probably would have impressed us more but for -- the awesome smoked salmon at Willows Inn.)
king salmon, its roe, anise hyssop

The abalone was the second most disappointing dish of the meal.  I've never previously loved abalone; a creamy Indian curried version at Daniel on my 28th birthday stands out as one of the worst dishes I've ever had at a well-regarded restaurant.  Here little cubes of it provided a nice textural element, basically in lieu of tofu cubes in what was otherwise an haute miso soup.  Nothing particularly wrong with it, but not particularly interesting.  However, the sort of sea bean-ish green (bottom half of the photo) was surprisingly bright and tasty.
abalone, roasted over the embers

Another brilliant tomato dish.  As much as I love sweet sungolds, the star was the tomatillo consomme.  Simple and gorgeous, great balance of sweetness and acidity.  While I like a pairing that goes beyond wine, the Shindo Brewery Daiginjo Sake picked up on the sweetness of the tomatoes, overwhelming the tomatillo.
tomato, sungold tomato, safflower oil, grilled tomatillo consomme

(According to the printed menu that we received after the meal, we didn't get a "king crab, pine mushroom, eucalyptus, pine nut" dish that would have come here.  No idea why; sounds pescatarian, and if it wasn't, disappointing that we didn't get a substitution.)

The melon soup was velvety sweet, pretty good but not amazing.  The printed menu listed ham, and I think some fatty saltiness would have been great.  Paired with Jorge Ordonez 'Botani' Moscatel Seco 2011, which I vaguely recall being a very cool wine -- surprising dryness given the nose -- and a well done pairing.
melon, melon soup, fermented melon skin, coconut (sans ham)

The spot prawn was very good; the spiced yogurt -- a vaguely Thai curry sauce -- got a nice pop of acidic contrast from the bits of orange.  I don't really recall the Nicolay Joly Saviennieres 'Coulee de Serrant' 2011 pairing, nor does Adam.  Cool plate.
spot prawn, swarnadwipa spices, yogurt, mandarin

Delicious Parker House rolls came with some of the best, most cheesy butter I can remember.  (Yes, those adjectives are somewhat redundant when it comes to dairy.)  Turns out they culture the butter; apparently it changes over the course of the summer as it ages.

(Here the menu again indicated a  meat dish -- 60 day lamb, slow grilled nightshades -- for which we unfortunately did not get a substitution.)

The Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 'Vergers' 1er Cru 2009 was good, but this was the most disappointing dish of the evening.  Similar to the abalone dish, but even less interesting -- a sort of salty greens broth with some starchy grains.
brassicas, toasted grains, wild seaweed bouillon

This intermezzo was pretty great, and the Reutberger Dunkel beer pairing was fun.  I'm not usually a beer drinker, and I really liked the dark lager.  I always enjoy toffee (a sort of toffee custard on the bottom); loved the little bread crunchies on top.  But we were disappointed that the brassicas were our last savory course -- turns out we were wrong -- and in retrospect I would have preferred this one to actually precede the desserts as a savory-to-sweet transition.  (Trippy plate.)
toffee, bread, milk, beer

Mushroom subbed for wood pigeon and boudin in the last course, which I really enjoyed.  I liked the mushroomy-sweet (blackberry and date) complement, and I even didn't mind the mild coffee flavor!  (I can't stand coffee ice cream or flavored, whipped cream slathered frappuccinos.)  I'm sure the Frederic Magnien Chambolle-Musigny 'Bourniques' 1er Cru 2011 went well, but I can't now recall its standing out.
mushroom, warm spices, dates, coffee

The raspberry-lemon pre-dessert was delicious, and I particularly liked the use of basil.  (I always enjoy a fizzy dessert wine, in this case Malvira Birbet, but I don't really remember it.)

raspberry, meyer lemon, basil buds

Dessert's use of buckwheat was awesome.  The beautiful souffle was basically savory, the ice cream only slightly sweet, and the buckwheat flavor in four textures fantastic.  (Adam in particular loved this one; he's not usually a dessert fan, but he is a huge fan of Masa's buckwheat tea.)  The old Sauternes, Chateau Coutet Barsac 1989, was a great pairing, providing the sweetness that the souffle lacked.
buckwheat, souffle & ice cream

tea, grilled buckwheat tea

Good mignardises, especially the Earl Grey macaron.  (The isi-whipper cake was cute, although I don't remember the specific flavor of it or the chocolate truffle.)
There's a name for this sort of cake, which we were told and can't recall, but I really liked it; sort of caramelized, chewy crust encasing a soft, sort of spongy cream cake.
We ended our night at the bar, where we ordered three cocktails because we couldn't decide: oloroso sherry, plantation 5 year rum, citrus, smoked pineapple, crushed ice; chamucos reposado, vida mezcal, beet, orange, memphis bbq bitters, lime; and elijah craig 12yr bourbon, grilled popcorn, salted caramel, lemon.  With how good the pineapple soda was, the first was a no-brainer order, and it was Adam's favorite.  A fun, summery, not too sweet cocktail, served in a julep cup.  My favorite was the infused bourbon, which like plain (if excellent) bourbon at the front, with a distinct caramel popcorn finish that I thought was awesome.  Great nightcap.  The beet cocktail was a bright beet reddish-purple, and while it was good, it was my least favorite; too beety.

By the time we got our cab, we were stuffed, drunk, and thrilled with the night.  I'd ended up in conversation about our plans with our waiter, who recounted that his (I believe) girlfriend's father had thought Saison was the best of a recent, similar food-oriented visit.  He was right.  (The waiter also recommended a few lunch places at our request, including Cotogna and Bar Tartine.  Points for great recs.  Despite some reviews' suggestion that service could be a bit rude, we found everyone to be really great.  I mentioned this -- there was a conversational opening that made this less weird than it sounds -- and he suggested that there was an older, more old school set of waiters who may come across stuffier, but none of them were working that night.)  Saison set such a high bar for fantastic dining experience that it wasn't surpassed for the rest of the this amazing food trip.
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