A cherry blossom sea bream topped off with daikon and a gelée of roasted bones sat in a bowl that playfully emulated a cherry blossom and greeted me at the bottom with a meticulously crafted impression of a convolution. The course that came right after was a live scallop draped over smoked avocado and trumpet lilies and finished off with drops of pique, a fermented pineapple condiment. Just like a natural pearl found in the ocean, it lay above a glimmering mollusc shell and tasted just as smooth.
This evening, every piece of tableware that lay before me seemed to emulate nature in one form or another, yet at the same time they had a very stately quality to it. But at the end of the day, these subtleties were simply just the supporting acts to the night’s main performance.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, from start to finish, every course that came out of the bright lights of the Saison open kitchen stage onto my table, was a masterful performance of ulterior flavours and pure sublimity that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire meal.
Starting with a trip to their salon right by the entrance, I was surrounded by libations of metallic hues that warmly set against the rich tones of the wooden tables. A couple of glasses of Krug and cocktails later, I was ushered to my seat where shortly after my olfactory receptors got a waft of umami from a custard with grilled roots, sea urchin and a luxurious edible gold leaf. The night’s opening act was a delight even before reaching my gustatory senses. Subsequently, the staff informed me that the dish was meant to warm my palate, but instead, like the west coast heat of this summer saison, it warmed my soul.
What followed in Chef Joshua Skenes’ production was an onslaught of courses who’s various ingredients’ intrinsic flavours and subtle complexities blended together to create unions of pure euphoria on my palate. Such as the glistening platter of lightly smoked reserve caviar sandwiched between grilled tomato gelée, corn pudding, baby corn and thinly sliced pieces of okra. Individually, each ingredient had so much depth, which each intricacy and utter nuance significantly distinct and clean. But to simply say that it was salty from the caviar, sweet from the corn pudding and sour from the tomato gelée would not bring justice to its overall synergy. The varying textures also played a role, perfectly partnering with one another to produce verses of harmony.
The aforementioned live scallop and avocado dish was just the same. Where, instead of blending together like mush through their similar creamy nature, each ingredient’s inherent flavour was brought out to its most pure and maximum form. The result of that marriage was a singularly smooth and very focused entity with a depth of distinct yet complementing flavours.
As the night’s performance progressed, the hits came one after the other. Such as their risotto-like creamy stew of koshihikari rice with a parmesan custard and Australian black truffles.
Or their vegetable-based dishes which showed that the protein never has to be the star of the show, including: their play on crudités which was a combination of differently cooked vegetables where no two bites were the same, three unassuming simple but flavour-packed sungold tomatoes served with a grilled tomatillo consommé, and towards the end of the meal and a Saison staple, the brasiccas, that had a very refined heartiness to it.
Their lamb too was a tartare like no other: dry aged for 60 days and wrapped around low grilled nightshades, eggplant, tomatoes and a very subtle strawberry mint that nicely cut the richness of the protein.
Even their Parker House Rolls, with bits of salt on top – dare I say it – were better than the original version I had at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston a month earlier.
But the hits came not only through the layers of flavour within every course, but also through some of our favourite 70’s and 80’s tunes radiating throughout the restaurant: The Eagles’ Long Run, Queen’s Under Pressure and Dexys Midnight Runners’ Come on Eileen were just a few on the evening’s playlist.
Being located next to the kitchen, a group of loquacious regulars and a tank containing my little friend, Larry the lobster, only added to the pleasure emulating from the vibrant energy within the restaurant and the meal, which reached its peak at the end of the savoury courses with two very strong and rich creations. The first was a duck liver toffee accompanied by caramelized white chocolate, bread, milk and beer. Which was followed by a boudin of wood pigeon stuffed inside a shiitake mushroom served over dates stewed in coffee and finished off with jus pheasant confit over maple broth.
For its encore, Saison filled me with desserts in the form of a buckwheat soufflé accompanied by buckwheat ice cream on top of puffed buckwheat. And just when we thought we had enough of the grain, out came the buckwheat tea with the petite fours. It was a wonderful play on the different buckwheat properties. And even the suggestion of adding the buckwheat ice cream into the soufflé to serve as a sort of crème anglaise, was pleasurable and not overwhelming in the same flavour. Instead, similar to the savoury dishes throughout the evening, we mere spectators were left to peel back the varying layers of buckwheat flavour through our palate. And though it may seem like an over sensation of one’s buckwheat senses, as the Hall & Oates song that played simultaneously goes…Pastry Chef Gawle, you did in fact Make My (buckwheat) Dreams Come True.
As a final act of the evening, canelés were served inside a cinnamon box. Its soft and fluffy flan de leche-tasting custard enclosed by a crisp caramelized cinnamon outer crust left me buzzing along to the tunes of the night’s show the entire way back home.
A fitting end to a journey that started back in December of 2012 when disappointingly but understandable so, my brother’s initial reservation was cancelled only a couple of days before due to delayed construction at the restaurant’s current location. Giving me an eight month gap to fill my head with contradicting words of both praise and malign for the restaurant. But at least now, I finally have my own experience to draw from. And from my experience this August evening, I thought the meal was worthy of more than just an applause. My meal at Saison was a performance worthy of a standing ovation.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading and happy eating,
C & S