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Benu / Crenn / Coi / Saison [San Francisco]

uhockey Jul 14, 2011 04:11 PM

Hello all,

Will be visitng San Francisco on a job interview in early September and am narrowing my restaurant list. Have been to Manresa and TFL in the past, planning a couple days up in Napa to visit Cyrus and Meadowood this time.

Of the four above, which would be the least "wow" of the group - or perhaps, do any of the above offer more/less the same experience which would make them easier to omit?

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

-----
Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

Saison
2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

Benu
22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

  1. bbulkow Feb 22, 2014 11:24 AM

    So finally I got to Crenn. Uhockey's new site is pretty laggy, but he has a great review.

    Let me just say, anyone who would say something like "they left out the yummy" either ate on a bad day, or is simply not interested in this kind of high end tasting menu experience.

    RIght now, in early 2014, we may be seeing AC at one of its highest points. Recently renovated kitchen, still small, still has the focus of the chef, extraordinary creative juices flowing.

    The number of courses was around 18 - weekends are all tasting menu now. The experience was long. We walked in at 8:15 on the dot, walked out around 12:30. They only had a few guests after us, maybe two tables, no one started after 9pm. The kitchen was closing up and one had the bustle of an unwelcome guest, with the somewhat unpleasant sound of industrial dish washing. Toward the end we were a bit exhausted.

    This meal was the most creative, risk-taking, extraordinary meal I've had. It certainly tops TFL of 10 years ago, which was very good but had settled into their groove of familiar dishes. Manresa has better single dishes, but the full arc isn't there. Saison 2.0 was also not as sprawling and ambitious. Baume? Dishes did not come together. Coi, Benu - still on the list, sorry.

    The menu is very heavy with seafood. There was only one bit of "meat", a poached waygu, which was the one dish that didn't come together for me.

    Somewhere in the middle there was a bite of granita, so this was closer to two tasting menus, the front half and the back half. To go, blow by blow, through all the dishes, would take better notes than I have available now, and would frankly be as exhausting as actually having been there.

    I will point out the wine pairings were perhaps the best I've had. Previous high bar was Le Bernardin, this was actually higher. The level at which each wine unlocked hidden tastes in each dish - given the extraordinary complexity of the dishes - was impressive, especially the wonderful dry sherry somewhere in the middle.

    I was slightly trepedacious after reading this thread, but for anyone who enjoys the long format tasting menu experience, this is a must right now, before the chef gets into a rut or sells out or whatever happens to chefs.

    1. d
      demitasse04 Jun 25, 2012 04:06 PM

      I'd rather go to Auberge du Soleil over Meadowood. Saison over Benu

      1 Reply
      1. re: demitasse04
        uhockey Jun 26, 2012 09:34 AM

        ...thanks for that input, I guess.

        http://endoedibles.com

      2. uhockey Sep 27, 2011 05:58 AM

        Crenn Chowhound link here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/806780#6845112

        http://endoedibles.com

        1. uhockey Sep 18, 2011 04:12 PM

          To those wondering how the trip turned out, there is a seperate thread here on Chowhound.

          I ended up skipping Coi and doing Benu/Crenn/Saison.

          The Saison review is up here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8067...

          -----
          Saison
          2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

          1. scottca075 Aug 6, 2011 07:02 PM

            I guess you have made the reservations, but here is my two cents.

            Least wow Atelier Crenn. Trying too hard and trying at the wrong things. Thank goodness Sushi Rock doesn't close until midnight on Saturdays or I would have gone to bed hungry.

            Saison is our current fave of this group, followed by COI, but we like Quince's tasting menu a lot as well, doesn't have the buzz but the meal is great.

            -----
            Coi
            373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

            Sushi Rock
            614 Pine St, San Francisco, CA 94108

            Saison
            2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

            Atelier Crenn
            3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

            17 Replies
            1. re: scottca075
              uhockey Aug 7, 2011 05:28 AM

              My reservations for dinners stack up as follows:

              Saison Chef's Table
              Coi
              Commis
              Meadowood
              Benu
              Open Slot dependent on interview agenda.

              I dropped Crenn based on a couple of things I've heard, the fact that Chef Skeens reached out to me via E-mail, and because it is only open 4 days a week which makes it difficult to slot.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              -----
              Commis
              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

              Saison
              2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

              Benu
              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              1. re: uhockey
                scottca075 Aug 7, 2011 09:16 AM

                Spendy agenda.... for your open slot why not go down market to a place like Tadich Grill, that has been an SF institution since the Gold Rush days, or Sam's Grill that wasn't far behind, opening in 1867 or go way down and hit some the Mission district Mexican places. Afterall, if you get the job, you'll have to learn to eat like a local. :)

                -----
                Tadich Grill
                240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                1. re: scottca075
                  uhockey Aug 7, 2011 12:45 PM

                  Those are lunch places.

                  ...and even in Ohio, "eating like a local" means a whole lot of cooking, so if that is the case my plans to visit the Farmer's Market and Berkeley Bowl again are right on target. :-)

                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  -----
                  Berkeley Bowl
                  2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                  1. re: uhockey
                    scottca075 Aug 9, 2011 11:28 AM

                    Oh hell no one cooks in CA :) Take out from Whole Foods is as close as it gets!

                    While I will say most of my meals at Tadich have been lunch, both it and Sam's Grill & Seafood are open until 9 or 9:30.

                    And El Farolito is great because everyone knows any food you eat standing up has no calories.

                2. re: uhockey
                  m
                  mdg Aug 7, 2011 11:22 AM

                  Oh good - so glad that you're getting to Coi! I'm looking forward to hearing about your dining adventures on this trip.

                  1. re: uhockey
                    p
                    PekoePeony Aug 7, 2011 11:44 AM

                    Glad as well to hear you're going to Coi. We were at Saison a couple weeks ago, and while it had a nice mix of innovation with "very Bay Area" wonderful fresh ingredients, it wasn't as delicious as Coi which we visited a couple months earlier. Hope you have a good experience at Benu -- my DH & I are very reluctant to try it after a disappointing experience at French Laundry when he was at the helm there.

                    -----
                    The French Laundry
                    6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                    Saison
                    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                    Benu
                    22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                    1. re: PekoePeony
                      uhockey Aug 7, 2011 12:46 PM

                      Lee and team blew my mind at TFL. If Benu is 75% as good I'll be more than happy.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                      -----
                      Benu
                      22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                    2. re: uhockey
                      bbulkow Aug 8, 2011 12:49 AM

                      nice list. Nice that Skenes reached out. If you're ever hungry around 10pm, you should catch a cab over to Plum. As much fun as Saison was, I'll be back at Plum over and over.

                      -----
                      Saison
                      2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                      1. re: bbulkow
                        uhockey Aug 8, 2011 05:02 AM

                        I'm actually staying in Oakland, but figured if doing Coi then Plum could wait. How does their brunch compare to the lunch/dinner menu?

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                        1. re: uhockey
                          Robert Lauriston Aug 8, 2011 09:23 AM

                          Plum has four menus: in descending order of how well they show off what the kitchen can do, dinner, weekday lunch, late night, and brunch.

                          http://www.urbanspoon.com/u/menu/1542973

                          Dinner's the long one, brunch is obvious. Of the current batch, I'm not sure which is lunch and which is late night.

                          1. re: uhockey
                            a
                            abstractpoet Aug 8, 2011 09:29 AM

                            I think it's the best brunch in the Bay Area. My favorite, anyway.

                            1. re: uhockey
                              Paul H Aug 8, 2011 02:11 PM

                              Coi is far superior to Plum. And while Atelier Crenn is fun, Coi is much better for someone in search of culinary perfection.

                              I'm looking forward to your report on Benu. It's all very elegant (in a spare way) and precise, but the refined French techniques applied to Asian ingredients didn't wow me. I went twice in the first month and haven't been back, even though it is fairly easy to get a reservation (another telling sign).

                              -----
                              Benu
                              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                              Atelier Crenn
                              3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                              1. re: uhockey
                                bbulkow Aug 9, 2011 12:29 AM

                                Here's what I like about Plum.

                                There's a game people like to play. There's a fantasy that goes like this:

                                " Hey, we're doing great food here (at COI). But the people we really want to cook for can't make it when we're open. And can't sit through a huge tasting. And they can't afford what we're charging at our big place. What about if we do the same quality, small scale. Sure, it won't have all the massive complexity, but what if we do what is essentially the same quality food, we stay open late, have a nice little bar, the good $30 bottles with almost everything available by the glass. We should get a decent rep during dinner and get a solid income from 7 to 9, and a good place to relax on the late side. The dishes will have to really change frequently, because we're cooking for our peers. Oh, and we'll have the best burger there is, grinding up oxtails and such."

                                You know those fantasies? They never happen. The partner in crime who starts out so enthusiastic turns out to be a prima donna or a bear to work with. There's pressure to stick to the high-end shtick. Maybe there's personnel issues in the mother ship. There's the risk.

                                Patterson made it happen with Plum, although he's not cooking there now. I've dropped by a couple of times at around 10:30, on the way back from a rehearsal. It's not all crowded with hipsters or anything, you can just slide in and get a bowl of mind-blowing soup or a burger. I've been in and out in 30 minutes. Sure, it's not COI quality - it's not trying to be COI. I didn't suggest not doing a full-on COI dinner - that's a fine thing. And Robert's right, the dinner menu is stronger. But what differentiates Plum, in my mind, is that late night. I can't speak for brunch. There's also the location, that part of oakland, that I'm sentimental about. The food options after 10 are dire - if you're lucky the bacon wrapped hot dogs are goin' down in front of the uptown, or you head over to New Medal for BBQ Pork Noodles with Extra Veg, or the one of the skanky burger places, or you gird up for a drive.

                                But I think there's some magic there, sliding into the bar on the late side.

                                And, frankly, I think there's something to be said for doing both. It's a different place, not a COI Jr.

                                -----
                                Coi
                                373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                1. re: bbulkow
                                  uhockey Aug 9, 2011 05:17 AM

                                  Damn well stated - it could end up my Wednesday (last dinner) selection in order to stay around Oakland and get to be earlier since my plane leaves at 6:00am the following day.

                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                  1. re: bbulkow
                                    Robert Lauriston Aug 9, 2011 08:34 AM

                                    After 10 there's also Ethiopian, Korean, and Mexican, but Plum's in a class by itself for late night in Oakland.

                                    1. re: bbulkow
                                      m
                                      mhuang Aug 9, 2011 11:58 AM

                                      Well, bbulkow, you've sold me on a future late evening visit to Plum. Any recommendations or can't miss dishes?

                                      1. re: mhuang
                                        Robert Lauriston Aug 9, 2011 12:04 PM

                                        Anything served in a bowl. Lots of dishes discussed here:

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/737525

                                        Plum's menu changes all the time. One late night, I had one of my favorite burgers ever, went back a week later and it had totally changed, was good but not what I went there for.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7769...

                            2. n
                              nocharge Jul 25, 2011 07:00 PM

                              Just noticed that Saison is on the list of restaurants where you can get 30 percent off for $10 when you make your reservation through OpenTable. Seems like a pretty good deal. Far better than their 1000 points promotions.
                              http://www.opentable.com/percent-off-...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: nocharge
                                p
                                PorkyBelly Jul 26, 2011 12:35 PM

                                Has anybody been able to reserve a 30% off table at Saison? I've tried dates as far out as October with no luck. Seems like there's no way to search for available tables.

                                -----
                                Saison
                                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                1. re: PorkyBelly
                                  e
                                  elgordorocks Aug 1, 2011 06:22 PM

                                  I just got one through Savored. I'm going tomorrow night...

                              2. uhockey Jul 20, 2011 06:35 PM

                                Due to a scheduling change I'm rethinking my trip up to Cyrus on this trip; to be fair, if the interview goes well I'll have plenty of opportunities in the future.

                                In the opinion of you local hounds is there someplace equally noteworthy - ideally leaning towards fine dining and with a tasting menu option - that is open on Sunday or Monday that would prove an adequate replacement?

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: uhockey
                                  k
                                  KS1 Jul 24, 2011 01:41 PM

                                  I am sort of reluctant to mention it, but Commis over in Oakland -- http://www.commisrestaurant.com/ -- caters to an industry crowd on Sundays. You can get the tasting menu option, at least at the counter seats, which runs to about five courses. If you go, I definitely recommend the counter seats in front of the open kitchen. Think sushi-bar with the chefs about that far away from you on the other side of the counter. It is a Michelin one-star.

                                  The reason I hesitate, however, is that, while I love the food, I am not sure that it meets what I perceive as your definition of "Wow!" Chef Syhabout is an alumnus of Manresa, staged at Fat Duck and El Bulli, and was one of Chef David Kinch's assistants when Kinch appeared on Iron Chef America (if that matters). He has the chops, and it shows in his food.

                                  That said, Chef Syhabout is very understated, and his restaurant is very similar. It is on an unassuming block in Oakland. The restaurant is chic-ly simple, also in a very understated and stark sort of way.

                                  If you are looking for a vast team of servers engaged in the "ballet" of service, that is not Commis, although the staff is very professional, courteous, and knowledgeable. If you are looking for a 20-course menu where no single ingredient is repeated, that is not Commis. Instead, Commis is great food, prepared exquisitely, served in a low key way by a low-key chef. Indeed, Chef Syhabout is so seemingly shy that it is quite possible to dine at the counter (and be 3 feet from him the entire time he is working in the kitchen) and have him never say a word.

                                  That said, I like Commis a lot. I hope others post with either their reviews and/or their pictures so that you can get a better sense of the experience. Again, while I think Commis is great, I am simply unsure if it's what you are looking for with your limited time here.

                                  -----
                                  Manresa Restaurant
                                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                  Commis
                                  3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                  1. re: KS1
                                    uhockey Jul 24, 2011 02:36 PM

                                    Interestingly it is the "other" restaurant on my radar besides those above. I like the fact that they are open on Sunday, as well - but I hesitate because a 5-course menu without choices (and from what I've been told an inability to add courses, as well) seems a bit limited to me.

                                    That said, I'm actually staying just outside Oakland so the area is a good fit. I'm waiting to hear back from another local diner before finalizing plans but Commis is definitely on the radar.

                                    Thanks!

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                    -----
                                    Commis
                                    3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                    1. re: uhockey
                                      s
                                      shouzen Jul 26, 2011 10:23 AM

                                      I highly recommend the counter at Commis. James' food is very refined. Unfortunately, Carlos Salgado is no longer the pastry chef, but I'm sure they're doing OK in that department.

                                      -----
                                      Commis
                                      3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                      1. re: shouzen
                                        z
                                        zin1953 Jul 26, 2011 01:38 PM

                                        Agreed! I really enjoy Commis...

                                        -----
                                        Commis
                                        3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                        1. re: shouzen
                                          uhockey Jul 26, 2011 02:40 PM

                                          Going to call tomorrow as they are not open today - one of your local food bloggers/writers is going to join me it seems.

                                          Does the counter cost more than a seat - is the menu any different?

                                          Still looking for a local or two to wander the Mission with some day for lunch. Friends in Berkeley have poor tastes it seems. :-)

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          1. re: uhockey
                                            s
                                            shouzen Jul 26, 2011 04:00 PM

                                            AFAIK, they have standardized the menu so that it is the same throughout the restaurant - the only difference with the counter is, well, the counter.

                                            They do seem to change their minds frequently though, so maybe it's different again...

                                            1. re: uhockey
                                              z
                                              zin1953 Jul 26, 2011 08:16 PM

                                              All of the times I have been to Commis, the counter and the seats have had the same menu, same pricing. That said, I still ask if the counter is available . . .

                                              -----
                                              Commis
                                              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                              1. re: zin1953
                                                uhockey Jul 27, 2011 03:31 AM

                                                Calling this afternoon.

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                1. re: uhockey
                                                  uhockey Jul 27, 2011 02:47 PM

                                                  Just to report back:

                                                  Same price as main restaurant, same menu. Credit Card required to hold all reservations.

                                                  Booked and will report back.

                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                  1. re: uhockey
                                                    drewskiSF Jul 27, 2011 05:41 PM

                                                    at one point they had a 3 course regular & 6 course tasting menu and you were required to do the tasting menu at the chef's counter. now they've consolidated to one menu for the whole place.

                                    2. thew Jul 20, 2011 01:35 PM

                                      I have a long review of Benu from this spring in here:

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/781462

                                      -----
                                      Benu
                                      22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                      1. s
                                        shouzen Jul 19, 2011 09:50 PM

                                        This seems like the most pertinent recent thread on Saison, so I suppose I'll post my recent experience here. The short summary: it was fantastic - best meal I've had in 2011. Service was very friendly and competent, food had 1-2 low points, but for the most part outstanding.

                                        Full pictures can be found here: http://goo.gl/efv7d
                                        Lengthy course descriptions below:

                                        Amuse 1A - Hearth-smoked reserve caviar
                                        Amuse 1B - Flatbread
                                        Creme fraiche, sieved egg yolk, shad roe, gold leaf, foraged herbs
                                        Caviar was served with some traditional and not-so-traditional accoutrements, integrated as toppings on a small wafer. Very enjoyable and remarkably complex, thanks to the assortment of herbs atop the flatbread - each bite highlighted a slightly different flavour that interacted uniquely with the caviar (itself a delight to eat, the smoky/briny combination bringing me back to memories of Etxebarri's grilled oyster).

                                        Amuse 2 - Miyagi oyster
                                        Cucumber, lemon verbena espuma, olive oil
                                        Amuse 3 - Radishes
                                        Nasturtium honey and flowers
                                        Amuse 4 - Parsnip, carrot, egg, oxalis
                                        Next came a trio of dishes. The oyster was bright and fresh, its sweetness balanced and complemented by the foam. The cucumber mignonette was also a nice touch. Two words best describe the combination: simple, well-executed.

                                        Radish was my second bite, more acidic than the last. Sweetness balanced by pepperiness in the two nasturtium elements. Again, elegantly prepared, though not quite reaching the heights of the oyster.

                                        Finally, a layered shot. Parsnip puree underneath carrot puree, underneath a slow-poached egg and a cloud of oxalis. All this topped by a delicious parsnip crisp. Nicely balanced flavours, with the slightly tangy notes from the oxalis enhancing the natural sweetness of the root vegetables. I took issue with the texture of the purees, likening the considerable thickness of the liquids to baby food, but my opinion was not universally shared.

                                        Rice cracker, river vegetable, shrimp floss
                                        "Flight of fish"
                                        Amberjack, lobster, horse mackerel, tuna belly, barrelfish, yelloweye snapper, sea bream
                                        The flight of fish was presented with a light rice cracker sprinkled with powdered river vegetable and shrimp floss - a luxe version of shrimp crackers, if you will. It was delicious, salty and umami and completely devoid of any grease.

                                        A dipping sauce (soy sauce mixed with bonito vinegar) was provided for the fish, but I found it unnecessary. The fish themselves had evidently been brushed or quick-cured in a mixture of olive oil and soy sauce, which was more than sufficient for flavouring - an interesting spin on the traditional Edo-mae sushi "tsuke" technique, although I'm not sure whether the kitchen intended to pay homage. The fish were good but not special, except for the three on the right. I found these to be outstanding in taste and texture - naturally magnificent, but made truly superlative by the glazing.

                                        Brassicas
                                        Toasted grains, bonito, egg, sea lettuce
                                        Words fail me - I can only muster a clinical description of the ingredients I recall. There were perfectly cooked pieces of cauliflower, broccoli rabe and cabbage - gifts from the hearth. A poached quail egg, pregnant with liquid gold. A rich bonito bouillon gave off the most tremendous aroma, playing off the toasted grains at the bottom of the bowl. Finally, a shard of fried sea lettuce concealed the composition from greedy eyes. A true world-class dish for all our senses.

                                        Summer vegetable aspic, crispy eggplant, avocado
                                        Yellow tomato granite, sweet corn pudding, fava beans, basil seeds
                                        Brassicas were followed by a course that turned everything on its head, and not in a bad way. A cool, refreshing summer vegetable aspic stood in stark contrast to the previous dish. Again, a complex interplay of layers, textures and flavours. Slightly less successful, but we are splitting very fine hairs here - personal choice between a Stradivarius and a Guarneri.

                                        Prawn salt
                                        Dungeness crab fondue, Santa Barbara uni, nasturtium leaf
                                        Meyer lemon cream, basil tarragon broth
                                        Poached spot prawn
                                        Despite my waxing over the previous two courses, this proved to be my favourite dish of the evening - a simply poached spot prawn, cooked in seawater. It was served with a salt of crushed prawn shells. On the side, some Dungeness crab and Santa Barbara uni in a rich broth tinged with basil and tarragon - hearty and so appropriate for the chilly weather that night. My prawn was perfect in every way - impossibly sweet and creamy. Again, it leaves me at a loss for words.

                                        "Pasternack's rabbit"
                                        English peas, foraged greens
                                        The dish's name is a reference to the farmer that raised the creature presented in a multitude of ways on our plate. I will note the excellent forcemeat of rabbit hind quarter and foie gras, wrapped in cabbage (left side of plate). Also particularly enjoyable were the piece of rabbit confit, the decadent rabbit jus, and a tiny sliver of the rabbit's kidney (this last item was especially good, served rare as it was - I wish I had thrice as much on my plate).

                                        Beef, onions, vinegar
                                        Meat, unadorned - prime rib cap (center) and inner loin (left), apparently from a cow raised by a neurosurgeon-turned-farmer. Delicious, but rather too much this late in the meal. The beef was served with Walla Walla onions in a few forms (I recall softened segments and a puree). A piece of brioche perched incongruously at one end of the plate. There was some vinegar drizzled over the onions, which I found very overpowering - after a few tastes, I found myself pushing the other components away from the pool of acidity.

                                        Heartbreads
                                        Honey lemon, berbere, yogurt
                                        When Chef Skenes introduced the dish, he described these particular sweetbreads as "being from closer to the chest than normal sweetbreads". This led to a discussion at our table as to the nature of this piece of offal - I pointed out that sweetbreads could be from the thymus ("throat") or pancreas ("heart"), but I was unsure as to whether these were actually from the pancreas, or a special part of the thymus. In retrospect, I'm fairly certain that these are indeed the prized pancreatic sweetbreads, based on shape and the unique texture (I have not enjoyed heart sweetbreads in some years).

                                        Digressions aside, these heartbreads were delectable with the complex sweetness of the honey, the slight gingery heat from the Berber spice, and the cooling tang of the yogurt. Again, a simple dish that did not need to rely on smoke and mirrors - it hid no flaws, and I savoured every bite.

                                        Lou Bergier Pichin, honeycomb, almonds
                                        Lou Bergier Pichin is an Italian aged raw cow's milk cheese - it's French-sounding name reveals its origins in the Piedmont region of the country, bordering France. It has an interesting story, and was the subject of a recent column by Janet Fletcher. Tonight, it was baked in brioche and served with honeycomb and almonds. I loved it - the light brioche encasing the semi-firm cheese, rendered slightly runny because of the heat. Its salt was countered by the sweetness of the honey, and the elements of almond (presented whole, and also as a sheet underneath the brioche) balanced the two strong flavours nicely. Size-wise, this was not an inconsiderable course, and in fact proved too much for one of my dining companions, but I managed to finish it with gusto - perhaps a testament to how much I enjoyed the combination.

                                        "Preserved lemon 1:19"
                                        Meyer lemon custard, lemon gelee, lemon sorbet, chrysanthemum flowers
                                        Really, really excellent. The numbers "1:19" refer to January 19th, the date the lemons were preserved - six months is apparently enough to transform the humble lemon into a thing of wonder. Every component was perfectly in harmony - as a whole, it was never too sweet or too sour, drawing in some faint salty and bitter notes as well. The sorbet, gelee, custard, and lemon segments showcased a spectrum of tastes, textures and temperatures. Topped with the chrysanthemum flowers (which I love because they take me back to my childhood), this made for a true standout dessert.

                                        Milk chocolate in various forms
                                        Rice sorbet, soy salt, shiso foam, sesame

                                        Popcorn ice cream
                                        Hōjicha
                                        Dinner ended with a taste of popcorn ice cream and some hōjicha. It was an unexpected and delightful combination - the roasted tea brought out nice caramel tones in the ice cream, and the hot/cold contrast as I went back and forth between the two was quite stimulating. A very good finish.

                                        Mignardises - Candied raspberries

                                        -----
                                        Saison
                                        2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: shouzen
                                          uhockey Jul 20, 2011 05:54 AM

                                          Great notes - cheers.

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          1. re: shouzen
                                            Robert Lauriston Jul 20, 2011 09:17 AM

                                            I've heard "heartbreads" used for pancreas aka heart sweetbreads vs. the more commonly served thymus aka throat sweetbreads.

                                            If the chef's going to say a few words about them, you'd think one could be "pancreas," but I guess that might seem a bit unrefined in the context.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              wolfe Jul 20, 2011 11:00 AM

                                              Not in the context of a diner who is a diabetes specialist.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                uhockey Jul 20, 2011 11:03 AM

                                                The interesting thing is that while I don't know cow anatomy all that well, in a human the thymus is closer to the heart than is the pancreas (mostly.)

                                                IMO the thymus tends to be tastier - less gamey and more subtle.

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                1. re: uhockey
                                                  s
                                                  shouzen Jul 20, 2011 12:19 PM

                                                  Good to know that we won't have to fight over pieces if we ever dine together. I prefer the pancreas because of its gaminess and texture

                                                  1. re: shouzen
                                                    uhockey Jul 20, 2011 01:08 PM

                                                    I don't dislike either - and I suppose that if prepared well both can shine - but the BEST OF THE BEST versions I've had have all been thymus.

                                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                              2. re: shouzen
                                                bbulkow Aug 6, 2011 12:20 PM

                                                This was almost exactly the menu I ate 8/6, with the change that the later meat dish (beef in this case, duck in other reports) was omitted in its entirety. This was a good move - we were already somewhat on our last legs.

                                                Amuse 1B was presented as "eggs three ways", which is clever enough because it is 2 chicken eggs and a fish egg. I can argue the dish didn't come together - the char on the flatbread overwhelmed the very delicate egg taste. The flatbread was not perfectly cooked on my plate, and it crumbled while lifting (it was perfect for my 3 companions).

                                                The succulence of the spot prawn can't be understated. In our serving, it was simply a prawn on a plate. GF said "how do we eat this", and we were told crack it with the fingers, eat the tail meat, and suck on the head. We were provided fingerbowls. There was an emphasis on finger eating for a couple of dishes.

                                                The "heartbreads" were thymus, I asked.

                                              3. uhockey Jul 18, 2011 04:06 AM

                                                Thanks to all who responded to the thread - and for the recommendations on driving - and wines. I shall plan accordingly.

                                                For what it is worth, apparently Chef Skenes got word of this thread and e-mailed me (unprompted) last night to tell me that they do indeed allow seatings for one at the chef's table. My original comment that they did not was from the dreaded "word of mouth" and I'd planned to call this week to be sure, but with customer service (and attention to detail) like that there is no way I'm passing up Saison.

                                                Unless plans change due to the addition of a second interview the plan will be Saison, Benu, and Crenn. I'll surely report back on all of the above.

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                -----
                                                Saison
                                                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                Benu
                                                22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: uhockey
                                                  t
                                                  tomotsu Jul 18, 2011 05:21 AM

                                                  I loved your Paris reports (planning a trip there in October) and looking forward to your thoughts on the above.

                                                  Sounds like you have your plan, but for what it's worth my meal at benu was good but low on the wow-factor. It did not compare to my meal at French Laundry from Corey Lee. Saison is a very good choice as a representative of modern California / San Francisco cuisine and I think what we excel at here. If you had another meal I'd suggest checking out Commonwealth, also in the Mission, for another place playing with some innovative flavors and techniques. Maybe next time.

                                                  Cyrus is my favorite restaurant in the bay area so enjoy.

                                                  -----
                                                  The French Laundry
                                                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                  Saison
                                                  2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                  1. re: uhockey
                                                    mpken Jul 18, 2011 11:23 PM

                                                    It will be interesting to see your take. We just dined at the same three over the weekend and felt Saison was the most enjoyable. I was most concerned with the value proposition at Saison based on reading some other posts about not having enough to eat. We were very satisfied at the end of our meal. Watching Chef Skenes and his staff's quiet precision in the kitchen should be very entertaining. Being able to watch the food preparation helped us connect the taste with the technique. Another added benefit of the Chef's table is that it will be nice and quiet with some music softly playing in the background. As we experienced once too often at other places, as the alcohol intake increases, so does the volume in the room.

                                                    Benu was also very good, but there were too many Asian influences for my taste. There were great East meets West dishes, but also some that didn't impress (like the noodles that reminded me of Spoon House in SoCal). The food was good, but at that price it should have more WOW.

                                                    Crenn was interesting, but some dishes didn't make sense or taste as good as they looked or were composed. For example with the Broken Avocado. If they are going to go to the trouble of shattering a frozen avocado(guessing they're using liquid nitrogen), why serve the avocado pieces on a room temperature plate with room temperature avocado pieces. The prices are not at the same level as Saison and Benu, so the expectations were a bit lower. The work and effort is evident in the presentation, yet they still have some growing to do.

                                                    It was great that all three chefs were accessible while we were there. Chef Crenn greated us at the maître d' station in addition to coming by during the meal. Being in the kitchen at Saison should lend to some quality conversation with Chef Skenes. Chef Lee was approachable, friendly and came off as a humble and quiet guy.

                                                    You should also have a good time at Meadowood.

                                                    I love your NY Pizza post covering 1 day and 4 places.

                                                    1. re: mpken
                                                      uhockey Jul 19, 2011 05:00 AM

                                                      5 places. :-)

                                                      And thanks for the feedback!

                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                  2. z
                                                    zin1953 Jul 17, 2011 10:40 AM

                                                    >>> planning a couple days up in Napa to visit Cyrus and Meadowood this time. <<<

                                                    I think someone should point out that Cyrus is NOT in Napa . . . it's in Sonoma County

                                                    Cyrus
                                                    29 North St.
                                                    Healdsburg CA
                                                    T 707.433.3311

                                                    As far as the other four are concerned:
                                                    Crenn
                                                    Saison
                                                    Benu
                                                    COI

                                                    Cheers,
                                                    Jason

                                                    -----
                                                    Coi
                                                    373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                    Saison
                                                    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                    Benu
                                                    22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                    28 Replies
                                                    1. re: zin1953
                                                      uhockey Jul 17, 2011 12:01 PM

                                                      ...semantics, but thanks. :-)

                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                      1. re: uhockey
                                                        z
                                                        zin1953 Jul 17, 2011 02:47 PM

                                                        Uh, yeah -- in the same way that the difference between the University of Miami and Miami University is just semantics . . .well aside from being in different states, and 1,160 miles apart from one another, it's the same place!

                                                        1. re: zin1953
                                                          uhockey Jul 17, 2011 03:01 PM

                                                          lol. Fine. though Napa and Cyrus are in the same state and a lot closer.

                                                          From now on, just to please you (others didn't seem to mind the overlooked fact) I'll refer to it generically as "the bay area" as Michelin does.

                                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                          1. re: uhockey
                                                            z
                                                            zin1953 Jul 17, 2011 06:53 PM

                                                            Trust me: if you're in the wine trade (or if you live there), Napa and Sonoma and VERY different places, they make VERY different wines, and as Robert has pointed out, they are VERY different in style . . .

                                                            Cheers,
                                                            Jason

                                                          2. re: zin1953
                                                            wolfe Jul 17, 2011 03:14 PM

                                                            Oh you mean Miami of Ohio, cradle of coaches.

                                                          3. re: uhockey
                                                            Robert Lauriston Jul 17, 2011 03:14 PM

                                                            Sonoma County is quite different in style than Napa Valley and there are mountains in between. Visitors who confuse the two often come up with itineraries that would keep them in the car all day. St. Helena and Healdsburg don't look far apart on the map, but if there's traffic it can take over an hour.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                              uhockey Jul 17, 2011 03:31 PM

                                                              Good gracious - I mistyped - I realize Meadowood and Cyrus are not next door to The French Laundry or one another.

                                                              I live in Ohio - traveling an hour for good food isn't that bad. ;-)

                                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                              -----
                                                              The French Laundry
                                                              6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                              1. re: uhockey
                                                                bbulkow Jul 17, 2011 10:54 PM

                                                                The problem is the mountain range between sonoma and napa has very few roads period. The few that exist are windy, slow, and unpleasant unless in a relaxed frame of mind. Going around the mountains involves a much larger distance and bad traffic. I'm not saying you won't do it, I'm just saying it is worse than it sounds. It's an hour of high-attention very twisty mountain roads, the likes of which I haven't seen in ohio. Just leave some extra time is all.

                                                                1. re: bbulkow
                                                                  Ruth Lafler Jul 18, 2011 12:18 PM

                                                                  According to google maps, going around the mountains from Napa to Sonoma is only four miles longer and most of it is freeway. Depending on the day of the week and time of day, traffic isn't that big of an issue.

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                    Robert Lauriston Jul 18, 2011 01:17 PM

                                                                    Napa's south of the Napa Valley wine country. It's more or less Yountville to Calistoga where traffic backs up on weekends, and the mountain route between Oakville and Glen Ellen that is more challenging than Google Maps might lead a tourist to believe.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                      steve h. Jul 18, 2011 02:50 PM

                                                                      I've spent a lot of time driving those mountain roads. I like them.

                                                                      1. re: steve h.
                                                                        Robert Lauriston Jul 18, 2011 02:55 PM

                                                                        Yeah, me too, but tourists who don't have a clear idea of the topography sometimes plan to drive them after dark without realizing what they're getting into.

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                          steve h. Jul 18, 2011 02:57 PM

                                                                          Good point. Driving the mountains in the dark, especially after wine/grappa/cognac, is not the best idea.

                                                                          1. re: steve h.
                                                                            z
                                                                            zin1953 Jul 18, 2011 03:28 PM

                                                                            Been there, done that -- back in the 1970s after a harvest party up on Moon Mountain Rd (Sonoma-side of the Mayacamas Mountains), and I had to make it back to Napa . . . oh, the horror!

                                                                            1. re: zin1953
                                                                              uhockey Jul 25, 2011 04:54 PM

                                                                              So - just from a "realistic" standpoint - what is a realistic drive time from say Ferry Plaza to Cyrus?

                                                                              What about from Napa to Cyrus?

                                                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                              1. re: uhockey
                                                                                honkman Jul 25, 2011 05:35 PM

                                                                                We have made the drive from Napa to Cyrus in about 50-55 minutes.

                                                                                1. re: honkman
                                                                                  uhockey Jul 25, 2011 07:06 PM

                                                                                  Thanks - pretty much what I was thinking.

                                                                                  Decisions Decisions.

                                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                  1. re: uhockey
                                                                                    z
                                                                                    zin1953 Jul 25, 2011 09:10 PM

                                                                                    Keep in mind that -- as with all things -- travel time depends on traffic / time of day / how fast you drive / how good you are at recognizing CHP cars . . .

                                                                                    From the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Cyrus in Healdsburg is 70 miles . . . I'd realistically figure an hour and a half to an hour and three-quarters.

                                                                                    Depending upon your route, downtown Napa to Cyrus ranges from 49 to 56 miles, but virtually none of it is freeway . . . it's mostly a two-lane road, four if you're lucky. So, while you can do it in 50-55 minutes, that presumes no traffic and a knowledge of the road -- figure more like 1:15 or so to play it safe.

                                                                                    1. re: zin1953
                                                                                      uhockey Jul 26, 2011 03:49 AM

                                                                                      You all are most helpful.

                                                                                      I'll plan for 2 hours regardless of where I'm coming from and if I get there early I'll wander the streets. :-)

                                                                                      Regarding the cops - yeah - no comment on last trip to Napa and the story of me getting a warning from a cop (60 in 50) and subsequently not having cash for the toll booth and as such getting dinged with a $55 ticket when I had all the debit and credit a guy could need. sigh.

                                                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                      1. re: uhockey
                                                                                        s
                                                                                        shouzen Jul 26, 2011 10:25 AM

                                                                                        If you get to Healdsburg early, you can have cocktails at the Spoonbar at h2hotel. I believe Scott Beattie (the bartender who developed Cyrus' cocktail program) is now based there.

                                                                                      2. re: zin1953
                                                                                        uhockey Jul 27, 2011 03:55 PM

                                                                                        Which is a "prettier" drive - from Ferry Plaza area across the Golden Gate, or from the East Bay through Napa?

                                                                                        Which has more unique food stops along the way?

                                                                                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                        1. re: uhockey
                                                                                          Robert Lauriston Jul 27, 2011 04:09 PM

                                                                                          East Bay to Napa is mostly suburban sprawl / freeway industrial / strip malls, lots of great interesting food stops.

                                                                                          Golden Gate is prettier and much of it is through the countryside, but there's much less of foodie interest.

                                                                                          Which day of the week at roughly what time?

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                            uhockey Jul 27, 2011 04:15 PM

                                                                                            Saturday mid-afternoon.

                                                                                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                            1. re: uhockey
                                                                                              Robert Lauriston Jul 27, 2011 04:24 PM

                                                                                              Usually no big traffic issue either way, then.

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                steve h. Jul 27, 2011 04:27 PM

                                                                                                Is 101 still under renovation?

                                                                                                1. re: steve h.
                                                                                                  drewskiSF Jul 27, 2011 05:43 PM

                                                                                                  yes, up by Rohnert Park

                                                                                          2. re: uhockey
                                                                                            steve h. Jul 27, 2011 04:22 PM

                                                                                            A seriously good drive is over the Golden Gate, up HWY 1 to the Tomales Bay area. I use Inverness (Walt's Cottage) as my pivot foot. Travels over the mountains to Sonoma and then Napa are mighty interesting. Not the most efficient use of time and fuel but maybe the "prettiest." I do this a lot. Plenty of good food/wine/unique stops along the way for a driver.

                                                                                      3. re: honkman
                                                                                        Melanie Wong Jul 25, 2011 08:39 PM

                                                                                        Downtown Napa to Cyrus in Healdsburg is 50 miles or more depending on which route your choose, and much of the drive can be on roads posted for less than 50 mph. I'd allow more time especially if you're stuck behind someone who is unfamiliar with the area and/or rubbernecking.

                                                              2. Windy Jul 16, 2011 08:52 PM

                                                                I've only been to Crenn (loved it--full write up from April posted) and Coi (mostly very unimpressed, weird service, no desire to return).

                                                                But I have to say that six tasting menus in a row sounds like a nightmare to me, even if it didn't cost a small fortune. There is a sameness about these restaurants and their preciousness compared to the breadth of what else you can eat in the Bay Area.

                                                                After I've spent a weekend in Napa, I find I want nothing more than a plain salad or a taco or a steak--something that isn't prepared with tweezers and served with fanfare, and ramps and salt on my ice cream, and requires seriousness to consume.

                                                                You may have a far more sophisticated palate than I do, and a greater tolerance for freeze-dried pea soup. But I know I would enjoy these meals spread out a little, with time to recover in between. There's so much local talent and innovation going on right now; and mostly not at the very highest end.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Windy
                                                                  uhockey Jul 16, 2011 10:10 PM

                                                                  See the Paris series I posted. 26 Stars in 9 days. I'll be alright, but I thank you for your concern. Lunches will be more downscale and if I find myself relocating to the Bay Area I assure you "downscale" will be more commonplace.....though even then I'm not going to be eating Steak or beef based tacos.

                                                                  And, for the record, I live on salad and lean protein when I'm not traveling - so I guess 90% of the time there truly is nothing more I want.

                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                  1. re: uhockey
                                                                    l
                                                                    Leely2 Jul 16, 2011 11:22 PM

                                                                    Okay, I've not been to Benu or Saison (I live here, so no vacation-indulgence excuses for me to overspend/overeat, unfortunately), but I've read your Paris reports. I was curious because I had been to Le Chateaubriand and Le Cinq a couple of years ago and loved them both, although of course they are entirely different experiences. Had skipped CAJ because the friends I was meeting were not sold on it.

                                                                    I've eaten at Coi only once and had a great experience. It was New Year's Eve, though, so maybe anomalous. I enjoyed both the food and the service, which for us was spot on. Just returned from a second visit to Crenn tonight. Delightful and delicious but I have only ordered a la carte here. Crenn is not particularly formal--don't expect that level of service. Maybe go on a weeknight for a more relaxed atmosphere.

                                                                    Having read your Paris fine-dine-athon, I think you need to hit Benu, Crenn, Coi and Saison and let those of us who cannot manage to eat similarly in just one week know what it's like for comparison. It's the only charitable--and fair--thing to do.

                                                                    Have a great trip. Looking forward to detailed descriptions next fall.

                                                                    -----
                                                                    Saison
                                                                    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                    Benu
                                                                    22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                                    1. re: Leely2
                                                                      uhockey Jul 17, 2011 02:43 AM

                                                                      I can only do three of the four, but the ones I go to will get their own lengthy descriptions. :-) Feedback is what makes chowhound tick and if I ask a question and get a response I'll always (eventually) make sure I thank those who directed me with my thoughts and thanks.

                                                                      It seems at this point that Saison is not interested in doing the chef's table for one, so unless I can find a co-diner or two it will probably be the one left out. Clearly if anyone was interested they could contact me off-board to discuss.

                                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                2. n
                                                                  nocharge Jul 16, 2011 07:14 PM

                                                                  Of the four, I'd say Coi is the most important one to try if you are interested in innovative cooking. (If you just want a really good meal, you might just as well go to La Folie.) Not everyone likes it, and I find the space a little drab, but I find it quite an achievement for a restaurant to be so unique and innovative and still be the only place in town with two Michelin stars.

                                                                  If you liked Lee's cooking at TFL, you'd probably be interested in seeing what he is doing on his own, and it's really good, so Benu should be on your list, too.

                                                                  That leaves Saison and Crenn. Crenn definitely has more "wow" when it comes to presentation, but I found the food to be far more delicious in a straightforward manner at Saison. I found the service at Saison to be surprisingly clueless and the ambience to be nice and warm, but not exactly "wow."

                                                                  Crenn's got the worst reviews of the four. The three local ones that I've read (SF Chronicle, SF Magazine, SF Weekly) were unanimously lukewarm.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: nocharge
                                                                    uhockey Jul 16, 2011 08:09 PM

                                                                    Been to La Folie and very much enjoyed it. Of course I want a good meal - but the wow is important too.

                                                                    I guess my hesitancy with Coi is the mixed reviews, but that seems to be the case for all of the above.

                                                                    Good to hear all the opinions though as I've still got time to decide.

                                                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                    -----
                                                                    La Folie
                                                                    2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                                  2. honkman Jul 16, 2011 06:47 PM

                                                                    We have only visited Coi and Benu of these places - Coi was one the highlights for us this year with a very unique tasting menu, different to many other places and very well thought out. We have visited other places of chefs who worked at Coi before and even though each of them has their own style you can still "see" the influence of Coi with its focus on the taste of key ingredients of a dish. One of the best restaurants of SF and very unique.

                                                                    Our extended tasting menu at French Laundry was one of our recent highlights and so we were really looking forward to visit Benu but it turned out to be our biggest disappointment so far this year. Some dishes of the tasting menu were very good, some decent but also many just disappointing with a chef which was more living by his reputation through TFL than by the actual dishes of Benu. The service was unfortunately beyond bad and some of the worst we ever had and it is very, very rare that we feel that we have to contact a GM afterwards to discuss it. If a new, unknown chef without the reputation of Chef Lee would have opened the same restaurant he wouldn't have gotten such good reviews. It seems that many feel with the TFL connection the food and service has to be on the same level which is unfortunately not the case.

                                                                    It was an interesting experience to visit both restaurants at two consecutive days - what a difference.

                                                                    1. m
                                                                      mdg Jul 16, 2011 04:45 PM

                                                                      I want to stick up for COI here. I haven't been to the other three, but COI was the most wow-worthy meal we've had in a long time. Given my recollection of your experiences here last time, I don't think you will be disappointed.

                                                                      Michael

                                                                      -----
                                                                      Coi
                                                                      373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: mdg
                                                                        z
                                                                        zin1953 Jul 17, 2011 10:35 AM

                                                                        Let's say my experience re: COI was VERY different than yours . . . PASS.

                                                                        -----
                                                                        Coi
                                                                        373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                                        1. re: mdg
                                                                          mariacarmen Jul 29, 2011 05:13 PM

                                                                          I'm with mdg, and I also haven't been to the other 3, but besides Commis in the East Bay, Coi is my favorite restaurant around, and gave me the best wow i've had in 10 years. Even adding Commis into the mix, Coi excelled on all points - yummy, interesting, beautiful (food and space), service, quality for my money.

                                                                          -----
                                                                          Commis
                                                                          3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                                                        2. k
                                                                          KS1 Jul 16, 2011 02:56 PM

                                                                          OK. I must respectfully disagree. To give you a sense of my tastes so you can evaluate the rest of this post, I too am a huge fan of Manresa. I was more of a fan of TFL in the early days, but the last time my wife and I visited in 2009, I felt that it had become a little "Disney"-fied, if that makes sense. I am more of a fan of Per Se.

                                                                          I respect what Chef Crenn is trying to do at Atelier Crenn, and I am rooting for her to succeed. Based on our visit last March, however, I just do not believe it belongs on the same list as the rest. I agree with the reviews that refer to her food as “art.” Unfortunately, I feel like in the process of creating dishes that are beautiful to look at, Chef Crenn forgot to bring the “yummy.”

                                                                          Of the rest of the restaurants, Saison at the chef’s table is my current favorite, competing with my love of Manresa. I would say that Chef’s table Saison has a similar feel to Manresa, and it is hard to say who is executing better. Even if you have tried Manresa, however, Saison is sufficiently different that it would be my top suggestion for your visit.

                                                                          I would follow next with Benu. I think that Benu has the potential to be on List, but at this point, they are still developing their point of view. As my wife says, if Saison and Manresa are naturally beautiful people, Benu is that person who is beautiful because of a team of stylists working for hours. Saison and Manresa have a sense of effortless elegance. Benu is in the same class, but you can feel the effort.

                                                                          Finally, I would follow with Coi , which my wife loves. I feel like Coi is doing what Atelier Crenn is trying to do, but Coi actually achieves it. If you are interested in that variation of cuisine vanguardia, I would suggest Coi over Atelier Crenn.

                                                                          -----
                                                                          Manresa Restaurant
                                                                          320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                                                          Saison
                                                                          2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                          Benu
                                                                          22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                                          Atelier Crenn
                                                                          3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                                                          15 Replies
                                                                          1. re: KS1
                                                                            j
                                                                            johnq Jul 16, 2011 04:34 PM

                                                                            Agree completely with KS1. Atelier Crenn is a fascinating place, and I'm glad it's here and I hope it survives. But for me the experience was more aesthetic and intellectual than food-related. I had the full tasting menu about a month ago, and a couple of dishes stood out (pork, plus the desserts). Mostly, however, it reminded me of a really interesting art exhibit the subject of which happened to be food. For me, the presentation and concept overwhelmed the actual taste, possibly because I ended up thinking a lot about the presentation and whether it was truly interesting or just over-the-top pretentious (not clear that eating off actual logs enhances the food experience, even when accompanied by dry ice fog).

                                                                            Again, I'm glad Atelier Crenn has opened in San Francisco. Right now, however, I'm finding it memorable, but the food itself isn't enjoyable enough to put it on my personal list of top restaurants in San Francisco.

                                                                            Personally, my current favorites are Saisson, Benu and Canteen. They're different experiences, and I'm not sure it makes sense to try and rank them. All three have excellent food and all three almost always knock it out of the park deliciousness-wise. Which is what I'm personally most interested in.

                                                                            On the other hand, re-reading the OP, if you're looking for wow-factor, Crenn is probably the place to go. I can pretty much guarantee a highly memorable experience. On that scale, I'd put Benu second and Saisson third. Again, this is based on overall memorableness of the experience, rather than strictly based on the food.

                                                                            -----
                                                                            Benu
                                                                            22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                                            Atelier Crenn
                                                                            3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                                                            1. re: KS1
                                                                              uhockey Jul 16, 2011 05:56 PM

                                                                              Very well written - though I've done Per Se and TFL both for the extended tasting and preferred TFL w/ Lee to Per Se w/ Beno.

                                                                              Manresa left me conflicted - the food was very impressive while the service was so forgetable and disinterested that I might as well have been at a chain. No doubt Kinch is doing magic down there, though.

                                                                              Going to look into Saison's kitchen table - not sure if they allow it for a solo, but if so I'll probably end up at Saison, Crenn, and Benu.

                                                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                              -----
                                                                              Manresa Restaurant
                                                                              320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                                                              Saison
                                                                              2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                              Benu
                                                                              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                                              1. re: uhockey
                                                                                bbulkow Aug 6, 2011 12:07 PM

                                                                                My comparison between Saison and Manresa ---

                                                                                I think Manresa's food is significantly better than Saison, simply because Manresa had more WOW surprising moments. Saison had quite a few, but in the last visit, Manresa was likely 2x better in that regard. Still, saison's doing great stuff with multiple preps, drying, smoking of veggiest that takes Into The Garden to a new level.

                                                                                Saison's wine pairings were better. Two that blew me away were the red with the rabbit. I didn't like the rabbit dish without the wine, because the fat was so forward without background taste. With the tannins in the wine, the fat was cut, and the very delicate tastes of rabbit and fois gras mingled. There was a "ici la bas" white blend from outside santa barbara that was spectacular.

                                                                                The service at Saison was ... different. Manresa does formality better. Manresa always does servers == guests, and their plate synchronization is better. However, saison is a little looser and more personal. We're talking about the fine points, though. I can see the reaction that the formality at Manresa is offputting - like they're going through the motions. I've also had the problem at Manresa where I literally could not understand the server's words through their accent.

                                                                                Regarding the chef's table at saison --- which is the point of the preceeding posts --- this is a set of 4 seats *IN* the kitchen. Not *bordering*, but really in. There's another set of "bar" seats facing the fire, which is cool, but really being *in* the kitchen seems a treat - although I think I'd be distracted and want to talk in nothing but hushed tones. For our party, I preferred to be out of the kitchen. As a solo diner, nabbing one of the chef's table seats would seem sublime.

                                                                                I think the price for Saison is about on the mark. It's high, but the quality is within range of the other great tasting menu restaurants. I only hope for one thing: that they keep it fresh and real, and keep changing up their menu. The menu we had was exactly one reviewed here a few weeks ago, or I read on a blog somewhere. I hate that, and manresa always gives me about 1/2 war horses, 1/2 new and fresh. I appreciate that.

                                                                                Oh - the music. Saison was rather pumping with '80's. My mother complained (!) and asked to change the channel. The server mentioned it was the Rhapsody Hall & Oates channel, chef's favorite, and they would not be changing it. I did enjoy that the other diners were nearly uniformly my age, where manresa and many other tasting menu places skew far older.

                                                                                -----
                                                                                Manresa Restaurant
                                                                                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                                                                Saison
                                                                                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                  uhockey Aug 6, 2011 02:32 PM

                                                                                  Excellent notes - thanks!

                                                                                  Saison's Chef's Table will be my first meal of the trip and as such will have every opportunity to wow.

                                                                                  Also - don't get me wrong - the food at Manresa (save for the mustard granita) was amazing, but the service was just so disinterested and disconnected and unfriendly (especially compared to The French Laundry, La Folie, The Dining Room and other equally lauded Bay Area restaurants) that it made me cold.

                                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                  -----
                                                                                  Manresa Restaurant
                                                                                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                                                                  The French Laundry
                                                                                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                                                  La Folie
                                                                                  2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                                                  Saison
                                                                                  2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                    b
                                                                                    BacoMan Feb 24, 2014 02:17 AM

                                                                                    "Oh - the music. Saison was rather pumping with '80's. My mother complained (!) and asked to change the channel. The server mentioned it was the Rhapsody Hall & Oates channel, chef's favorite, and they would not be changing it. I did enjoy that the to"

                                                                                    Well, good to know I will never be dining at Saison.

                                                                                    1. re: BacoMan
                                                                                      uhockey Feb 24, 2014 06:10 PM

                                                                                      Your loss, unfortunately. It is the best restaurant in the United States today in my opinion and has only gotten better since this aged review.

                                                                                      1. re: uhockey
                                                                                        b
                                                                                        BacoMan Feb 24, 2014 07:02 PM

                                                                                        Yeah, I'm willing to admit it's my loss. Kind of hard to believe it;s the best restaurant in America...does it even have 3 Michelin stars?

                                                                                        Unfortunately, I am quite sensitive to music. To sit through three hours of that horrific stuff on their list would be one of the most awful nights of my life.

                                                                                        Maybe one day they'll change the music selection, or perhaps I'll convince myself to go for a shorter time period to their bar area, which some others have mentioned.

                                                                                        You never know how the future will go.

                                                                                        1. re: BacoMan
                                                                                          o
                                                                                          oysterspearls Feb 24, 2014 07:27 PM

                                                                                          Simply my two cents. Because even the Michelin Man is subjective.

                                                                                          1. re: BacoMan
                                                                                            n
                                                                                            nocharge Feb 24, 2014 07:49 PM

                                                                                            I think the music is mainly directed towards the kitchen area where the chef works. If you are in the bar/lounge area, you are a little further away from the open kitchen than the people in the dining room.

                                                                                            The strangest use of music I've encountered was in the very early days of Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in the St. Francis. They were blasting music in the dining room and not because of some eccentric chef since people in the kitchen wouldn't be able to hear it. Hearing Michael Jackson being played quite loud in an upscale steakhouse with a not-very-casual ambience felt weird to say the least. I never understood that one. At least with Saison, you could attribute the music to being one of the chef's quirks, his chef's attire being another example of those.

                                                                                            As for Michelin Stars, I don't think it's the kind of place that fits the traditional stereotype of three-star places, the likes of TFL or Le Bernadin, but at least they have two, and the food is definitely three-star material.

                                                                                            1. re: nocharge
                                                                                              d
                                                                                              dunstable Feb 25, 2014 09:06 AM

                                                                                              When I dined at Schwa, they were blasting speed metal in the dining room, at a borderline obnoxious volume. I happen to like speed metal, and I was well aware of the restaurant's eccentricities before I scored the table, but it was still a little shocking -- surely the only Michelin star headbanger venue in the world.

                                                                                              As it happened, Gael Greene was at the table next to mine, and she didn't appear to mind it, or at least she gamely tolerated it.

                                                                                              1. re: dunstable
                                                                                                honkman Feb 25, 2014 12:20 PM

                                                                                                No stage diving into the kitchen ?

                                                                                                1. re: dunstable
                                                                                                  uhockey Feb 25, 2014 05:31 PM

                                                                                                  Wu-Tang followed by Slayer during my meal.

                                                                                                  1. re: uhockey
                                                                                                    b
                                                                                                    BacoMan Feb 25, 2014 08:33 PM

                                                                                                    Now that is much more to my liking! I hope I get to dine there one day!

                                                                                              2. re: BacoMan
                                                                                                uhockey Feb 24, 2014 09:02 PM

                                                                                                Give it time on the third star. Michelin is behind the times if they keep giving places like TFL 3* and ignoring what Skenes is doing.

                                                                                                ...and as someone who grew up in the 80's but admittedly has a predilection for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Grunge ear 90's I found the music whimsical and humorous - and a lot of fun. Phil Collins 'That's All' while eating aged game meats - I can gladly digest that.

                                                                                              3. re: uhockey
                                                                                                k
                                                                                                kyee87 Feb 24, 2014 09:17 PM

                                                                                                Saison is absolutely at the top of the game and of all places, it should be 3 Michelin Stars for sure.

                                                                                      2. bbulkow Jul 14, 2011 05:24 PM

                                                                                        My list right now is:
                                                                                        Crenn
                                                                                        Saison
                                                                                        Benu
                                                                                        COI

                                                                                        But mostly Crenn is at the top with the other three behind.

                                                                                        -----
                                                                                        Coi
                                                                                        373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                                                        Saison
                                                                                        2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                        Benu
                                                                                        22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                          CarrieWas218 Jul 14, 2011 05:48 PM

                                                                                          I completely concur with BBulkow. That is exactly the order I would have put the list in...

                                                                                          1. re: CarrieWas218
                                                                                            uhockey Jul 15, 2011 06:23 AM

                                                                                            Thanks to you both - anyone with experience at the Saison Chef's table?

                                                                                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                            -----
                                                                                            Saison
                                                                                            2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                            1. re: uhockey
                                                                                              bbulkow Jul 17, 2011 10:16 AM

                                                                                              I will add one tick: my list is based on desire, not enjoyment of meal. Your respondents further on are giving you better reaction on the actual restaurants. So much of my eating has been south-bay focused (and in the last 12 months, my tasting menus have focused on manresa), I haven't been to any of them. At least I admit it!

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