A Wild Feast: The Summer Dessert Tasting Menu at Saison, San Francisco
Though it's been almost a year since I moved to San Francisco, there are certain moments when it's clear that I'm still a New Yorker at heart. One of those moments came while I was sitting in the incredibly cozy open air bar at Saison, a restaurant in the Mission that can best be described as French cuisine cooked by California locavores. I was speaking with Tim Veatch, the pastry chef, about his vision for the dessert tasting that I was about to enjoy.
"We forage many of our ingredients," he said, and my mind immediately turned to visions of death by misidentified poisonous mushrooms and shrubs. It's just not something I'm accustomed to, unless you consider my devoted romps through bodega ice cream bins at 2 a.m. to be "foraging."
Early in the tasting, any fears of death by poisoning were quickly replaced by sighs of pleasure. Veatch's dishes are made to harmonize with the savory dishes on the menu, though there is a clear theme of using local ingredients to riff off old classics. Take the strawberry dessert. It's a layered dish, boasting olive oil cake, alyssum blossom ice cream, macerated strawberries, and wood sorrel. You pause, wondering what to expect; then take a bite, and recognize the flavors. It's an unexpected, roundabout path through the woods, but it leads you straight to strawberry shortcake.
The restaurant, headed by Joshua Skenes and Mark Bright, is full of replications on this theme. The interior is beautiful, yet also incredibly natural. The desserts integrate the foraged and local ingredients so seamlessly that you might forget they're not your average produce. (How long does it take Chef Veatch to pick the tiny white alyssum blossoms from their stems to make a quart of ice cream? Let's just say it's a long time.) Most importantly, there is a light touch to all the desserts, which is key in any tasting menu. Delicate in both flavor and presentation, this menu leaves you feeling ready to go forage for more.