Dinner at Saison was an extraordinary, overwhelming way to end 2014. The dinner was a surprise gift from my husband to celebrate Christmas and 10 years together :) I'm the luckiest [cue Ben Folds]. Or, if you're at Saison: Phil Collins.
I still think about this dinner. When people ask me how it was, I don't really know what to say. Dinner here was just one giant overwhelming FEEL. The price, the food, the moments-everything was staggering. It was kind of beyond me. Is what Chef Joshua Skenes doing considered modernist cooking even though he uses fire which is so... primal?
The doors didn't open until exactly 5:30 PM. I was delighted to find that we had one of the best seats in the house: one of the cozy tables with bench seating facing the bright, open kitchen. This was the place to sit. The kitchen was so quiet. It was like watching a ballet.
We had 3 main servers: Max (the somm), Matthew (the now-former maître d), and Simon (I may have hugged him). Everyone was friendly and tidy in their trim suits.
Even though the wine pairing was staggering ($398 + $50 addition for sharing), we went for it. We couldn't resist the fact that they were opening special magnum bottles because it was New Year's Eve. Balloons hung in nets waiting to be released at midnight.
Right as we sat down, Max poured us a taste of Krug (!). If I'm lucky enough to return, I may not do the wine pairing again because it was part sake and even if it's the best sake in the world, I am not a fan of the fermented rice. I'd stick with champagne (more Krug, please) and cocktails.
I ordered a cocktail because he's the bartender at one of the best restaurants in the world. Max helped me decide (I was having trouble). They were offering 3 cocktails not normally on the list for New Year's Eve. Max recommended the Jungle Bird which is what the staff drinks, he said. A tiki drink. I was sold.
It tasted like burnt, sea salt caramel. It was layered and delicious.
Our New Year's Eve menu:
* meyer lemon water tea... our tea was served in delicate, flowery china teacups. they made me feel elegant and giddy.
* anaheim peppers preserved in the wood burning oven, buttermilk... this was a delight! it was served in a small, crystal jewelry box and it was so delicious. definitely top 3 of the night for me.
* [an exuberant amount of] golden caviar (with pork fat)... it _is_possible to have too much caviar in case you were wondering. it was a very generous portion.
* lobster warmed over coals... served with an adorable wedge of yuzu... something in this dish tasted like... paper bacon. it wasn't bacon... but the umami was undeniable.
* mt lassen trout, its skin & roe... the skin was like... a perfect potato chip. and the broth was... even though it was unladylike, I went after that broth like a kid going after the last drops in a cereal bowl. I think Simon said it was OK.
* dungeness crab, the whole thing
* abalone grilled over the embers, sauce of the liver and capers... I think this one tasted like bacon, too. I just remember it being very, very, very yummy. I liked the texture of the abalone.
* seaweeds in seaweed vinegar... my least favorite dish
* blackgill rockfish, pine mushrooms, pine bouillon
* brussels & cabbages blistered in the fire
* naple long pumpkin, hung over the fire for 3 days... when they first brought this out, I thought it was beef! but no, it was all-pumpkin-3-ways and it was amazing.
* toffee, milk, bread & beer... this... this makes your mouth HAPPY. (One of the best things I've ever eaten.)
* whole duck grilled near the fire, a bouillon of the grilled duck bones, ham from the legs... the duck was delicious and the ham was like the best prosciutto ever.
* red hawk mousseline, yali pears... my favorite cowgirl creamery!
* ice cream & caramel cooked in the fire... it was ice cream. cooked in fire. it was ICE CREAM. COOKED IN FIRE.
* tea & persimmon
Everything tasted like it was kissed by fire and smoke. That's the thing about these 3-star Michelin chefs. They set out to do something and they succeed.
If you're collecting 3-star Michelins, then Saison is already on your list (as it should be). But if you are trying to decide on just one of the four 3-star Michelins in California, I haven't been to Benu (yet), this is how I'd rank the others:
1. French Laundry
2. Meadowood & Saison tie (I couldn't decide which was better)
1. Saison (they talk to you [if you like that])
2. Meadowood (they kind of talk to you)
3. French Laundry (they don't really talk to you)
1. French Laundry