Saison

Dinner – Saturday, March 16, 2019

I had not visited Saison in some time, but news that Laurent Gras had assumed the mantle of head chef was sufficient motivation. I was familiar with his food from L2O, back when we lived in Chicago (dangerously, a mere two blocks away from the restaurant). L2O fully deserved its 3* status during his tenure there, so I was quite excited to see how Gras would translate his cuisine into the Saison framework.

Infusion of herbs, Meyer lemon water

Pacific fluke
Ogo, lemon balm, cured yuzu salt, winter citrus

A fantastic raw preparation of fish topped with ogo, then drizzled with a seaweed broth infused with citrus. Texturally interesting, perfectly salted, and very deftly balanced. The kitchen came out of the gates swinging – this was my dish of the night.

Santa Barbara diver scallop
Orange, clam, brown butter

Significantly heavier than the previous course, but very pleasant. The orange oil and orange segments worked surprisingly well to balance the buttery, clam-infused sauce.

Cauliflower from the wood oven, Perigord truffles, chive

Tartare of lobster and aged lamb rack
Dill oil, jalapeno, seaweed-dusted rice cracker

I was skeptical, but somehow this course worked. The lobster was not overpowered – instead, the combination with the lamb highlighted its natural sweetness. The mild burn imparted by the jalapeno, together with the peppery micro greens, really helped tie the two proteins together. Quite an inspiring dish – bravo.

Lobster custard, lobster broth, truffle
The tartare was swiftly followed by this warm custard. Heady truffle aromas paired with crustacean sweetness in the broth. Exquisite.

Pacific black cod cured in fermented chestnut and miso
Celery root purée, crispy skin, roasted chestnut broth

Mendocino uni, grilled bread
I noticed a difference in the bread as soon as I picked it up. A query to the server confirmed my suspicion – at some point, they switched from Tartine to a house-made dough (though apparently with the tutelage of Chad Robertson). Still an excellent bite, although I’ve never understand why people confer “signature dish” status on it.

Radishes
Chrysanthemum, braised radish tops, vinegar gelée

A close second for favourite course of the evening (granted, I have a real weakness for radishes). The bitterness of the braised greens, the acidity of the gelée, the crunch of the raw roots –  superb. A nice little surprise was a small cube of daikon, dried over the hearth – it had an amazing chewy texture.

Dry-aged Millbrook Farms venison tenderloin
Huckleberry, pink peppercorn, embered avocado, spiced cracker

I don’t typically call out missteps, but this was, to my tastes, quite a blunder. The venison’s flavour was smothered by the peppercorn sauce, the avocado was too firm and flavourless, and the whole dish was just… confused.

Omi A5 wagyu, maitake
Bone marrow sauce, sudachi, greens

Chicken dumpling, warm ginger broth

Pear, yuzu, honey
Aged mandarin glazed in cognac and Madagascar vanilla

Fresh slices of pear and its sorbet were further sweetened by honey and offset by a touch of yuzu. To the side, the cognac- and vanilla-infused mandarin sat atop a bed of yogurt snow. All this was paired with a lovely Jurançon that they dug up for me – rarely have I experienced better synergy than these fruits with this wine. Each component amplified the flavour of the others, creating a truly magical course.

Smoked cow’s milk ice cream, embered salted caramel

It took a while to mentally digest this meal. The restaurant feels very much like it’s in transition. While many of the dishes were executed very well, the menu did not exceed the sum of its parts. I’m unsure that trying to meld the disparate styles of Gras and Skenes is going to be in the best interest of the restaurant. Now that the latter has stepped back from Saison, they should consider going all-in on a change of style to better match the new chef in charge. Angler is the spiritual successor to the Saison of old. It pains me to say this about a restaurant that once served one of my all-time best meals, but at this price point and with the modest portions, I’d have to think hard about my next return trip.

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