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Review

Mary Lagier

Saison

$$$$
Written by
Mary Lagier

Certain levels of luxury are completely inaccessible. Only royals can get married in Westminster Abbey, only tech billionaires have access to the secret bowling alley on top of Mount Everest, and even though it’s not that hard to figure out where the Pope gets his slippers, actually buying a pair would be pretty weird. But there are more attainable things that can get you close to that level of luxury. Dinner at Saison is one of them.

Saison has been around in one form or another since 2009, and for the majority of that time, any mention of going here has been followed by excitement and some jealousy from everyone within a 10-block radius. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of meal that you really need a reason for, like an engagement, unlocking the kill screen at the end of Pac-Man, or whatever milestone in your life you’d want to mark with something you may never do again.

The roughly 10-course meal here is a three-hour marathon of small, precisely plated dishes that you’d only expect to see as hors d’oeuvres at the grand opening of an oil baron’s fallout shelter. And if that doesn’t make you feel close enough to dining in the court of in Louis XIV, the price will. Dinner here costs $300, with an optional $250 wine pairing, 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.

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.

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. This bread dish is the best thing here, and in our vision of the future, it would be a public mandate that everyone would get to come in and eat this on their birthday. Each bite is like eating three full loaves of crusty, perfect bread in one hit and it’s nothing short of absolutely incredible.

There are a few dishes that are slightly less impressive, like the snapper that could come from any high-end sushi place around the city, or the roasted cauliflower that would be the highlight of your week if you got it at your favorite weeknight spot. But even if each course doesn’t make you want to honor the cooks with noble titles, they will all be very good and you get the feeling that every single detail was carefully considered when putting them together.

The wine pairings at Saison nearly double the cost of your meal, but there’s also nowhere else in the city where you’ll get to try some of these bottles by the glass. The 10 pours (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 $250 though, there’s also a 90-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. It’s one you’ll never forget - one that you might gather people around a campfire to talk about one day. Maybe Bill Gates or the Pope will pull up a log and join.

Food Rundown

The menu here constantly changes, but this is a sample of some things you might eat.

Tea

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.

Tai Snapper

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.

Barbecued Squab

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.

Whole Radish

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.

Warm Broth

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.

Hachiya Persimmon

Holy sh*t, 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.

Smoked Sundae

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 Tea

Buckwheat that’s roasted over the fire before being steeped. This is truly wonderful tea.

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