Josh Sens’s latest review is online, for Saison, and it’s rather more than a review. He goes in for the chef’s counter tasting with his wife, at the much-chattered-about price of $498 per person, and feels it’s necessary to compare the expense with various other experiences one might have for a similar price. (A weekend in Tahoe is mentioned, a night with dinner and opera.) He declares that the “starchy age” of Nob Hill restaurants like Fleur de Lys and Gary Danko is over, and that even in this “scruffy” part of the Mission one can be “exhilarated by the cooking” and have both a stellar meal and “front row seats to a culinary show.”
The review comes eight months after San Francisco magazine declared Skenes the best chef in town, but it also comes at an important moment for the restaurant, as Skenes attempts to achieve a third Michelin star, and hopefully to move to nicer digs at some point.
Sens is charmed by Skenes’s stoicism, the lightness and petiteness of his courses, and the calm quiet of the kitchen during service. “It’s as if a team of ninjas had stormed a farmhouse and set up a cooking school.” Also, he finds, to his pleasant surprise, that the other diners ponying up cash for this counter are people who are simply serious about food, and not just one-percenters:
I assumed that [the people next to us] were dweeby, Zynga-era zillionaires. But as the wine loosened our tongues, we got to chatting. One was a farmer from Vancouver. The other was a waiter at a casual Napa restaurant who said he scraped together three months’ worth of savings for the meal. What I had assumed could only be a bastion for the 1 percent of the 1 percent is something different—maybe not a rainbow coalition but also not a fully closed-off club.
He concludes that the meal is well worth it, and that if you’re into fine food and refined dining, “San Francisco has no better option than Joshua Skenes’s Saison.” He gives the place four stars — something we may be waiting years for Michael Bauer to do — and finishes by saying, “The post-prandial bliss would linger for some time, as would the simple pleasure and peace of mind that comes with the memory—and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it is true—of money well spent.”