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Saison and Coi for a Vegetarian (Almost)

I am going to San Fransisco in March with my girlfriend for our 3 year Anniversary and have reservations for Saison and Coi. I made these very early to be sure to get them. I am quite the foodie (snob) but my girlfriend is not. She eats extremely healthy and is getting better about trying new food but is almost entirely a vegetarian (she might try meat one or twice a week with me).

I started to reconsider taking her to these two restaurants after I realized how much of both menus are seafood.

My question is; should I just completely change our dinner plans. I am not against spending the money assuming she would enjoy the majority of the meals. Is there any other restaurant anyone likes that both of us would enjoy?

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  1. Both restaurants can accommodate just let them know (in advance, since you can) that one of the guests is a Vegetarian and you should have no problem. Best if you do Tasting menus.

    6 Replies
    1. re: chefj

      I think there's a difference, though, between a restaurant that will "accommodate" vegetarians and one that will put out a vegetarian menu that's as interesting and inspired as the regular menu. When I'm paying that kind of $$$$ I want the latter, so can someone speak to that?

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Whether their vegetarian offerings are good may be a bit of a moving target given that the restaurants in question change their menu ever so often depending on what is in season. Moreover, it may also be a general issue of whether it's worth the money to drag someone who is not a foodie to a place like Coi or Saison regardless of dietary restrictions. Even foodies who eat everything will have varying opinions about these restaurants (and Crenn as well, of course).

        1. re: nocharge

          Many of these places change their menus every night, and there's always a chance that the menu the night you go will not be to your taste. However, I was talking about the attitude of the restaurant towards providing a vegetarian menu, not the specific offerings on the specific night. As described in the comments above, the attitude at Saison is not at all "accommodating."

        2. re: Ruth Lafler

          I know from doing that most of the Restaurants at the level of these two will do more than "accommodate". especially with notice. There is a point of pride to put out something exceptional when a challenge is given.

          1. re: chefj

            I agree. That's why it's important to make the distinction between those that see it as an exciting challenge and those that see it as an imposition.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Right, so what I am saying is most Chefs at this level would not want to lose face/or reputation by putting out a mediocre Dishes.
              In addition by calling ahead the Chef has the opportunity to decide whether it is a challenge he/she would want to take.

      2. At least for Saison, I would not bother having the restaurant tailor the menu for a vegetarian (if that's even possible). The star of the show at Saison is often the seafood, or seafood-centric dishes.

        It would be a waste of one of the few seatings and you would not be able to fully experience Saison in its full glory.

        1. Here is an article that includes both Coi and Saison about how restaurants deal with dietary restrictions that go far beyond vegetarianism.

          1. If you are looking for a high end place that is good for an almost vegetarian I would suggest skipping Saison for Atelier Creen. Saison was able to accommodate vegetarians with advanced notice but I found the dishes to far less inspired than the seafood dishes. On the other hand Creen really enjoys creating complete purely vegetarian dishes.

            Coi was also decent with it's vegetarian dishes with advance notice.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tjinsf

              Yup, Crenn would be my choice.

            2. I think Coi's greatest strength is often their vegetarian or vegetable-oriented dishes. I wouldn't hesitate about keeping that reservation, but do be sure to let them know about the vegetarian menu in advance.


              1 Reply
              1. We made reservations for Saison over a month in advance for a special celebration and noted that 1 person in our party was a vegetarian. I would love to comment on the food, but can't since we never got a chance to eat there.

                The DAY BEFORE our Saturday reservations, Saison left a message saying we "should just cancel" the reservation since the chef would not accomodate the vegetarian. We were left scrambling for last minute reservations. I found this behavior completely unprofessional. We later looked at Yelp and noticed that it had happened to others as well. They should just put a "no substitutions" policy up on their website.

                Skenes and Saison have a great PR push with the opening of the new location, but I will never go there or recommend it to anyone.

                I agree with others re: Atelier Crenn. Amazing food and wonderful chef.

                12 Replies
                1. re: rubysoma

                  Saison's web site says, "We offer one menu nightly, guided by what’s of the best quality possible. Please understand that there are no substitutions."

                  If you don't want to eat everything they plan to serve you, I say don't go there. Why pay for rare and expensive ingredients you won't eat?


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    When I make a reservation and include that there is a dietary restriction, the restaurant has ever right to tell me they can't accommodate it but by accepting that reservation they are accepting both my business and my restrictions. If they knew that they might not be able to accommodate a vegetarian, they should state on the website that and that reservation may have to be cancelled at the last minute.

                    So if someone has an allergy to one of their daily ingredients they shouldn't go there at all?

                    I've had a similar experience at Saison, luckily the person was flexible with their diet but it's one of the reason I never recommend it to people with serious dietary issues. Quince, Benu, Coi and Creen have all been very accommodating to dietary issues.

                    1. re: tjinsf

                      Saison's Web site says no substitutions. That's been their official policy for a long time. I've seen reports of them making exceptions and complaints that they wouldn't, so would not recommend it except for omnivores.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        The point is that if they weren't willing to accommodate clearly stated dietary restrictions -- which is their right -- they should have declined to take the reservation in the first place, rather than cancel it at the last minute and leave the customer stranded.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Of course, but it's also asking for trouble to plan on a restaurant making an exception to their stated policies.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Yeah, well, you know how you hate heavy, "Frenchy" multi-course tasting menus? I hate restaurants that won't make reasonable accommodations. I just loathe that "auteur" arrogance, and Saison strikes me as the epitome of the "you should feel privileged to spend exorbitant amounts of money to eat what we tell you to" attitude.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Saison's a terrible place for a picky eater, but I found it surprisingly unpretentious. It's expensive because they use insanely expensive ingredients you will not find elsewhere.

                              Why pay $300 for a meal that includes a $14 slice of blue wing sea robin shipped overnight from Japan and $40 worth of the highest grade of caviar available if you're going to have them substitute vegetables?


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                While I don't disagree with everything you've said Robert, I kind of have to side with Ruth at least on one issue.

                                If Saison could not accommodate a vegetarian tasting, then they should have said so when the reservations were made.

                                Now, having said that, Saison takes *daily* and *seasonality* to uber-heights when constructing their menu, so maybe at the time of the reservations they truly believed, in good faith, that come the day of reckoning there would be something that they could cobble together for the vegetarian tasting.

                                While that doesn't excuse Saison in this situation, it certainly may explain alot. They were trying to be accommodating, but when circumstances didn't allow it to be so, they cancelled (or cancelled for the OP).

                                Maybe Saison should've been prudent and said something along the lines of:

                                "We will try and accommodate but because our menu is seasonally based and changes almost daily, we can't guarantee your request and if we can't, we'll let you know 24 hours ahead of time. If that's not ok, we certainly understand if you decide to go somewhere else."

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Of course restaurants should not promise something when making a reservation and then not do it.

                                  Nevertheless, that's a common source of problems. People have been complaining about Saison not making substitutions since the beginning.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                              When I was looking at Saison I checked here as well as their website (which has changed since then) and "no substitutions" was not on their website. I also double checked after their phone call to see if I had made a terrible mistake.

                              Even as of yesterday, some chowhounders were under the impression that Saison may/would accomodate requests if given advance notice. nocharge linked to an sfgate article where Skenes says the kitchen takes it "case by case."

                              Anyways, I'm happy that they have now put "no substitutions" on their website. Hopefully no one will have to experience what we had to experience.

                              I still believe it was totally unprofessional that they called on Friday to cancel our Saturday reservations, leaving us in a lurch. Ruth is right and they should never have taken our reservations in the first place.

                              1. re: rubysoma

                                The Chron story that quoted Skenes saying they did substitutions on a case-by-case basis is from 2010.

                                1. re: rubysoma

                                  "no substitutions" has been on their website forever, though not really highlighted.

                                  on their old website the "no substitutions" was stated on their FAQ page, not the reservations page where it is currently.

                                  here's an archive from last year. 2nd FAQ

                    2. La Folie and Fleur de Lys have vegetarian tasting menus.

                      1. Also Quince has some good vegetarian dishes. I had a veggie tasting menu there but I don't think they regularly do that.

                        1. If you are also interested in just awesome veggie food and not necessarily the most fancy / tasting menu style, here are my favorites as a faux-vegetarian/vegan every few months. Many are in Oakland/Berkeley:

                          Golden Lotus Vietnamese downtown Oakland
                          Gather in Berkeley has great vegetarian items
                          Encuentro Jack London Square
                          Souley Vegan also JLS
                          Shangri-La Vegan (only one dish per night + soup, you just decide whether you want small medium or large portion)

                          Check these out for really awesome but slightly more casual and neighborhood feels!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: hungree

                            Gather's great. They're making some of the best vegetarian food I've ever had.


                            I have to give Millennium another try one of these days. I haven't been since they dropped the Dean Ornish ultra-low-fat thing. I met one of their servers who told me the food's now more like Encuentro's.