Despite a mountain of critical praise elsewhere, Michael Bauer has never been fully on board with Saison. In its opening year, as a virtual pop-up in back of Stable Café that was open two to three nights a week, he was immediately off-put by the part-time concept, and all but ignored the restaurant as it took shape. By the time partners Mark Bright and chef Joshua Skenes had expanded to five nights a week and kicked things up a few notches, he was impressed but still found himself a bit nonplussed, and despite being one of the only Michelin two-star restaurants in the city, it still holds only three out of four Bauer stars. Now he gives the restaurant another full update review in their new digs on Townsend Street, and while he’s able to give Skenes four stars for food, that comes with plenty of qualifications about the overall experience.
He finds that certain elements of the experience, from the lack of valet parking to the exposed refrigerator units and “hard-edged interior” serve to “throw out the window everything we have come to think of as luxury dining.”
Service, once seated, at Saison has always been attentive, well paced, and highly professional in our experience, however Bauer encounters at least one maitre d’ who should have known better than to make him wait when he arrived before the other half of his party. On another occasion, he was made to wait in the lounge after arriving a few minutes after a reservation time. He’s also put off by the “no substitutions” rule posted on the website, given that the menu changes each day and guests can’t know what’s coming — they do, as everywhere, ask about food allergies, though, and he says they were able to accommodate a vegetarian friend.
Ultimately he says that Skenes “has always been somewhat of a rebel … [and this] works better with the menu than it does with the service and ambience.” He admits all the food is “spectacular,” presentations are “breathtaking,” and “no expense has been spared on ingredients, plates, and glassware.” He still loves the signature brassicas and “crudite” course, and the “brilliant” finale of a pine nut souffle that reminded him “just how extraordinary a souffle really is.” All told, he sticks at three stars overall, with the service and atmosphere each getting two stars.