It's been a year of transition for Saison, which left its deep Mission digs of three years, behind the Stable Cafe, in early December and relocated to a new space in SoMa. In adding a new bar, cocktail program, and lounge seating, partners Mark Bright and chef Joshua Skenes have been trying to strike a balance between maintaining the quality of food and service in the main dining room and allowing for a new, more casual experience of the restaurant for people who don't want to commit to a three-hour, $300+ meal.
They now seem to have struck that balance with an a la carte sampling of dishes from the 20-course main menu, served in slightly larger portions and priced between $22 and $88–the latter being for a signature dish of caviar with fresh uni. And the lounge, now called "the salon," provides a pleasant setting for a new audience eager to sample chef Joshua Skenes food, and experience the place, in an abbreviated form. The six-seat bar faces away from the main dining room, and three banquets able to seat two to three people each line one side of the salon, meaning that reservations are encouraged for this limited seating area.
The nine-drink cocktail list includes several spirit-driven drinks with uniquely infused liquors, like a whiskey cocktail infused with popcorn, and seaweed-infused sake. Along with several lower-alcohol aperitifs, the drinks make for good before- and after-dinner additions, with Bright's carefully paired wine selections being better choices to go with the food.
The salon menu currently features nine dishes, seven savory and two sweet, which will change frequently as product availability and the main dining room menu change throughout the seasons. Always likely to be featured, though, are Skenes signature dishes like the Brassicas, which he now calls the "8.0" version of a dish he began making in the early, pop-up days of the restaurant, with mustard, broccoli and cauliflower leaves with puffed rice in a savory broth; and the aforementioned caviar dish with grilled chicken gelee, roasted yam, and uni.
Our favorite dish of the evening was also a spin on something Skenes first made several years ago: a dish of the tenderest local abalone served with a "stew" of rice, sweet abalone liver, and a bright green puree of coastal greens. It's a dish that's perfectly evocative of the Northern California coast, and one that showcases both Skenes' style and skill with seafood.
Also excellent was a delicate dish of squab breast and duck liver and cherries with a farce of squab wrapped in a cabbage leaf, as were pastry chef Shawn Gawle's desserts, especially a perfect white sesame souffle topped with a melting scoop of black sesame ice cream.
All told, the bar and lounge would make for a great beginning or end to a date, or a light weeknight meal, with some top-notch cocktails and way-above-average service as a bonus.
Saison is open Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 6 pm. Reserve here.