Saison has been around in one form or another since 2009. Even today, it’s considered a once-in-a-lifetime type of meal that you probably really need a reason for, like an engagement, an anniversary, or whatever milestone in your life you’d want to mark with something you may never do again.
The roughly 9-12-course meal here is a long marathon of small, precisely plated dishes, and if that doesn’t make you feel close enough to dining in the court of Louis XIV, the price will. Dinner here costs $288, with an optional $188 wine pairing (there is a shorter tasting menu, too, starting at $178), but it’s an amount worth paying if you want to spend a night pretending to be the heir to the throne of a country no one’s ever heard of.
photo credit: Mary Lagier
When you walk into Saison, it feels like you could be in some sort of modern, royal hunting lodge. There are animals mounted on the walls and firewood stacked so precisely that you wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone’s entire job to do this while wearing white gloves. The ceilings are high, the dining room is sleek and precise, and the open kitchen looks like it could be a lab. It’s the kind of place that a movie about a restaurant would be filmed in, not one you actually get to eat at.
Everything here is presented to you with great ceremony - from the staff showing you to the bathroom like it was a Swiss bank vault, to the food and wine being announced like it was their debutante ball. Each dish is brought out with different plates, flatware, and glasses, and when you’re served meat, you are presented with a tray of knives to choose from like they were yours to keep. Sadly, they’re not.
photo credit: Mary Lagier
The menu here constantly changes, but the food generally focuses on two things - the wood burning stove in the kitchen and using an ingredient to the nth power in one dish. You might see things like a lobster broth served with grilled lobster tail and a lobster dumpling, or a piece of grilled bread soaked in a sauce made of more bread before being topped with uni.
The wine pairings at Saison definitely make the cost of the meal add up, but there’s also nowhere else in the city where you’ll get to try some of these bottles by the glass. Each pour (including a glass of champagne to start) are mostly French and come from some of the most famous producers in their respective regions. If you don’t want to spend the extra $188 for the beverage pairing though, there’s also a 130-page wine list you can spend an entire night looking through.
Dinner at Saison is a meal to anticipate. You may think a few dishes are overly complicated, or that the service can feel a little alien at times, but it’s the entire experience at Saison that makes it one of the most incredible meals in San Francisco.
The menu here constantly changes, but this is a sample of some things you might eat.
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The first thing put in front of you when you sit down here is a teacup, but it’s not full of tea. Instead, it will be full of something like a bundle of herbs that Meyer lemon-infused water is then poured over. There’s about a football field of space between the level of ceremony this gets and your actual experience of drinking it because this is pretty much just warm Hint water. It’s all uphill from here though.
Lobster & Roasted Chestnuts
The best thing about this is also what you get the least of - the lobster dumpling. It’s incredible, but otherwise, the broth is clean and the tail meat is well grilled.
This snapper is served chilled in a broth of its own bones and rose. It’s good, but the rose doesn’t add much, and you won’t be able to see the Matrix when you eat it.
Cauliflower From The Oven
This cauliflower is roasted all day over the fire and basted with cauliflower jus and butter. If you didn’t know it’s life story though, you would probably just think it’s very nicely roasted cauliflower.
King Salmon Cured Over Sake Lees
This is delicious and a good sized portion for a tasting menu. If you focus a little harder than normal though, the togarashi on the skin makes this one of the best pieces of salmon you’ll ever have.
Sea Urchin On Grilled Bread
Grilled bread soaked with a sauce made from bread and topped with a gigantic piece of uni. Everything up to this point in the meal is fairly delicate, but this hits like Led Zeppelin in the middle of a harp concert. Everything about it is amazing, and it’s one of the great dishes you can ever eat.
Millbrook Farms Venison
Everything about this just works - the venison is perfectly cooked, the hot grilled avocado in chili oil laughs at other avocados that need toast to survive, and the beef tendon chicharron is all we’d ever want drunk at 3am.
The best thing about this is the tiny confit pigeon leg it comes with, but the roasted breast in a coffee barbecue sauce is still excellent. We want more of the legs though.
Tiny radishes in a vinegar gel that follow the barbecued squab. The vinegar helps it stand up to the pigeon before it, and nothing is lost here. This is great.
Chicken and mushroom broth with a dumpling that falls apart right when you put it in your mouth, but this soup is actually fit for the Queen.
Holy sht, there’s actually an end in sight. How many things have we eaten? What year is it? This is a little sweet, especially with the syrup it’s in, but still really solid.
Pear & Yuzu
We’re ice cream fans, but this sorbet had us thinking about swapping teams.
This is smoked ice cream and it tastes like a campfire in the very best way. All s’mores should aspire to become this when they grow up.
Buckwheat that’s roasted over the fire before being steeped. This is truly wonderful tea.