Joshua Skenes is a role model for young chefs facing a rough restaurant economy. He launched Saison in mid-2009 as a pop-up, starting with a weekly Sunday supper and soon expanding to three nights a week in a relatively bare but cool space in back of the Stable Café in the Mission. The experiment earned Skenes a Chron Rising Star honor, a similar nod from StarChefs, and Gourmet called it “the consummate San Francisco fine dining experience,” both for the holiness with which Skenes treats his ingredients, and for the dynamically casual yet refined atmosphere of the place.
Now, after a brief remodel and retooling, Saison reopens tonight as a full-time restaurant (Tuesday through Saturday) with most of the trappings of a high-end dining experience, minus the tablecloths and the closed kitchen door.
The most notable new addition is an open hearth on the terrace, where Skenes plans to have a separate roasting line serving a la carte whole fish, poultry, and other meats using the embers from the wood fire. “It’s like the latest in caveman cooking,” Skenes says. “The technique is slow, and the result is a really beautiful, juicy piece of meat with an incredible smoky flavor.” A large communal table overlooks the hearth, while on the other side of a partial wall there will be multiple other outdoor tables for eating roasted meats.
Inside the dining room are all new banquettes, tables, and chairs, lending the space a more grown-up feel than before. There, a frequently changing eight-course tasting menu will be on offer most nights.
A four-person chef’s counter in the kitchen will provide the ultimate Saison experience, with as many courses as a diner can handle (Skenes is happy go up to 20), customizable options (feel free to call ahead and request that rare fish you’ve been dying to try), and a price scale that will start around $200 a head and go up from there. Earlier plans for a chef’s table were nixed because of space issues.
Sometime in the next year, Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright plan on opening a wine bar in the Stable Café up front (the café is only open in the morning), but the timing on that remains up in the air. In any event, the new, full-time Saison should win Skenes a spot on the Top 100 next year, since we now know Bauer has a prejudice against pop-ups.
See our full slideshow below. (The hearth, which will be lovely when it’s complete, is still a work in progress so we’re not showing it here.)
Saison - 2124 Folsom Street, near 17th - 415.828.7990
Related: What to Eat at Saison, Reopening Tuesday [Grub Street]
What You Missed at the StarChefs Rising Stars Revue [Grub Street]
Five Restaurants That Should Be in the Top 100 But Aren’t [Grub Street]