The Next French Laundry?
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Chef Joshua Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright launched Saison as a pop-up restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District a few short years ago; it's since skyrocketed to the top of the city's culinary scene and earned two Michelin stars (as well as the priciest-prix-fixe-in-town honor). Last winter, the restaurant reopened in new quarters in the city's SoMA neighborhood, right next to our SF offices; on our way to work, we peeked in. This is what we found: With 35-foot-high ceilings and just 18 seats, the interiors of the restaurant, located in an 1880s building that once housed the California Electric Light Company, could be cold and foreboding. Instead, the dining spaces feel intimate and inviting (chairs are draped in cashmere throws, in case diners catch a chill); like "a good friend's home," which is what the partners aspired to create. The kitchen and the dining room are one, so diners can observe the chefs fishing lobsters out of a tank, grilling on an open fire, and painstakingly chopping, dicing, slicing, saucing. "We've removed the barriers from the dining experience," the partners say. "Our kitchen is open to all guests, and the seating is one and the same, weaved throughout so we can share the sights, smells, and sounds we love with our guests." The nightly 18- to 20-course tasting menu costs $248 per person (optional wine pairings are an additional $148), making it San Francisco's most expensive restaurant. Diners are not deterred; you must reserve well in advance for a seat at the table. For more information, go to Saison . Photos by Alanna Hale via Grub Street , except where noted. Above: A view of the double-height dining room in the former California Electric Light Company; cashmere throws are draped over the dining chairs. "The experience is designed around the senses," the partners say. "Every material you come in contact with should be a joy to use." The owners worked with a design team that included architects Bassel Samaha and Michael Gibson and interior designer Jiun Ho . Above: The bar area, where custom cocktails such as the Rhubarb Shrub are mixed. Above: Cocktails are served in hand-etched glasses from Japan. Photo by Allie Pape via SF Eater . Above: Fringed cashmere throws and a copper bucket; image via Saison. Above: A tray of cocktail accoutrements. Above: Wooly throws are provided for banquette diners. Above: Live-edge walnut tables ("polished by hand to be smooth to the touch," say the owners) and comfortable Danish modern-inspired seating. Above: The menus are handwritten, an intimate touch. Photo by Allie Pape via SF Eater . Above: A view of the reception desk (it's on wheels so it can be moved as needed). Above: A stack of inspirational reading. Above: The kitchen, which was designed by Tim Harrison of Mill Valley-based Harrison & Koellner (a firm whose portfolio includes work for the French Laundry and Per Se in NYC), opens directly onto the dining area: "There are no boundaries," say the owners. Above: The owners imported a custom Molteni stove from Italy (it's the only one in SF) and a wood-fired Miwe baking oven from Germany. "Our mission is to blend the art of ancient fire cooking with modern techniques," according to Skenes. Above: Spices are meticulously hand labeled. Photo by Allie Pape via SF Eater . Above: Food prep inches from the tables. Photo by Allie Pape via SF Eater . Above: Stacked wood destined for the eight-foot-long open hearth. Looking for more SF recommendations? Check out the 107 posts in our Bay Area City Guide . N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on February 4, 2013 as part of our On the Mountain issue. Location of Saison in San Francisco: