San Francisco has more than its fair share of fine dining and delicious experiences, but you have to make an investment in hard earned dollars to attend one of these tasting extravaganzas. One place that just might be worth it, is Saison Restaurant, 178 Townsend Street San Francisco. A 2 star Michelin restaurant that is unpretentious, on the casual side, yet delivers an extraordinary meal using seasonal ingredients, and thus its name.
The original converted powerhouse has been open since 2014 and served up the best meal on my trip to San Francisco.
The dining room is small, with only 18 seats. I think there were more staff than guests in the restaurant, although there is now an outdoor patio space too. Take it from me, request to sit inside. Ask for a table facing the entirely open kitchen. Warning; it is not very quiet as the chefs continually yell “chef” or “yes” throughout the night to the Chef de cuisine Paul Chang. Talk about major suck ups to the chef!
The restaurant is industrial looking with exposed brick, reclaimed wood tables, and a classic rock soundtrack that plays throughout the evening. Dried herbs hang all around the exhibition kitchen giving a fragrant scent. Cuisine is focused around the wood fire and you could see someone continually fanning the embers. I wouldn’t want that job. There are 5 large industrial fridges on display when you enter the restaurant. This is so they can separate the fish, dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetables. There are at least a dozen chefs working side by side in the kitchen, with 2-3 sous chefs. There is a prep kitchen upstairs, where they can preserve food such as tomatoes at their prime, smoke them and are able to serve them the whole year round.
Although the restaurant is casual in nature, the service and food are not. They do two seating’s per night and now with the outdoor terrace can average about 50-60 covers a night. Silverware and cutlery are changed with every course. A new napkin is provided whenever you get up and water is continually poured.
Each dish is delivered by the chef who executed it. They describe in detail what went into their creation. Nearly all the food is cooked with direct or indirect smoke and fire. But, they must have excellent ventilation because we couldn’t smell the smoke. The service and attention to detail was phenomenal. Being located in Northern California, gives Saison access to some of the finest produce in North America. There was lots of excitement and surprises throughout the evening. The quality of the food was on another level. From the local caviar served warm (a first for me), to the tender lobster, perfectly baked bread, the sweetest tomatoes. Each and every dish was outstanding. There wasn’t one course that wasn’t superb. The Uni (sea urchin’s roe) was pure perfection and the duck served in two courses meticulously prepared. Even the two dessert courses had a wonderful interplay of textures and flavours.
Saison has one of the country’s largest selections of old and new wines, with a special emphasis on burgundy. They stock 2,500 labels. They also have a mixologist who can make any drink just by telling him what flavours you like.
There are limited options for your dinner, so if you are not a true foodie you may be better off eating elsewhere. But for me, Saison impressed me with their inventive cuisine, utilizing the finest ingredients. Each dish served had so many wonderful components, vibrancy and multidimensional flavours. The meal started on a strong note and never wavered throughout the evening. Everything was cooked with absolute precision and needless to say, I was overjoyed. Now if they can only stop yelling in the kitchen…