Spring Menu

USA- The French Laundry- ✪✪✪

French Laundry Exterior

French Laundry Exterior

NAPA, CA, USA

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $420 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Thomas Keller's West Coast headquarters has a vertically-integrated farm that supplies fresh produce, and when I visited in mid-May 2015 they were operating out of a temporary kitchen. The kitchen was set up in what used to be a gorgeous, well-manicured garden that I hope some day returns.

First Bites: Salmon Ice Cream, 8/10

First Bites: Salmon Ice Cream, 8/10

A fun old standby that I have seen before at Per Se, the softness of the Scottish salmon plays off nicely against the crunchy cone. 8/10. The herbs give a bright, fresh taste. 

First Bites Part 2: Gougère Cheese Balls, 8/10

First Bites Part 2: Gougère Cheese Balls, 8/10

Another replay from Per Se, these are pretty much the best cheesy poofs in the world. 8/10.

Course 1: "Oysters + Pearls," 9/10

Course 1: "Oysters + Pearls," 9/10

I'm starting to notice a pattern here- this completely outstanding dish that I continue to love every part of was also a holdover from Per Se. I guess there aren't too many folks who will be disappointed by the repetition of trying both restaurants in the same 6-week period. Two perfect oysters in a cream broth are matched up with a generous dab of Osetra-grade caviar, which evokes sensations of the sea and a multitude of earth-toned flavors. A decadent, delightful dish. 9/10.

Course 2: Fennel Salad, 9/10

Course 2: Fennel Salad, 9/10

The fennel salad came with preserved green strawberries and rhubarb- one of my favorite combinations in the world- and the combo works out perfectly. The greens are incredibly fresh, and smelled like that first moment you walk into a greengrocers who is stocking a fresh delivery. 9/10.

Course 3: Smoked Sturgeon, 9/10

Course 3: Smoked Sturgeon, 9/10

A bit on the heavy, buttery side, this small flank of sturgeon reeks of smoke that comes through well because the fish is so fresh and mild. 9/10.

Though I won't often make a big deal of sides, Thomas Keller has a great success here with his East- and West-coast butters, star of sea salts, and phenomenal fresh-baked breads. I enjoyed way more of these than I think you're supposed to in one sitting. 9/10.

 

French Laundry (11 of 25)-2.jpg
Course 4; Duck + Cherries, 9/10

Course 4; Duck + Cherries, 9/10

Another out-of-the-park home run as far as pairings go- duck and cherries are another absolutely classic match that are executed close to perfectly by the French Laundry. The interplay of corn, cherry, and duck is totally stellar. 9/10.

Course 5: Wagyu Beef, 8/10

Course 5: Wagyu Beef, 8/10

This made for an almost-perfect keystone dish. The A5 Wagyu is as rich and marble-y as one could ask for, but the chefs decided to coat it in an offensively thick layer of salt. I had to scrape most of it off with my fork, because before doing so it virtually bit my tongue. After removing the salt, it is close to perfect. 8/10

Course 6: Cheese + Mulberries, 8/10

Course 6: Cheese + Mulberries, 8/10

A simple, fresh cheese played off fantastically against the mulberries, which I'll admit I've never had before. 8/10.

Course 7: Strawberry Tart, 9/10

Course 7: Strawberry Tart, 9/10

The assembly and presentation was what really made this dish sing- A strawberry tart with saffron and pineapple blossom guava stems. There were also tiny cubes of strawberry gelatin throughout, and the small stems made for an amazing texture. The thyme also conveyed a tea-like taste that I enjoyed. 9/10.

Course 9: Buttermilk Ice Cream, 9/10

Course 9: Buttermilk Ice Cream, 9/10

This buttermilk ice cream came with a small tres leches cake. There is a black pepper/jam kick that pairs with the buttermilk in a truly unique way. 9/10.

Course 10: Pretzels + Chocolate, 8/10

Course 10: Pretzels + Chocolate, 8/10

Yet another throwback to Per Se, a rod of chocolate with a creamy center is married up to some salted pretzel bits. A reliable crowd-pleaser. 8/10.

Course 11: Handmade Chocolates, 8/10

Course 11: Handmade Chocolates, 8/10

As the meal concluded, we were offered a selection of hand-made chocolates from a wonderful presentation case that showcased each chocolate, organized by color. The case was what made this for me- someone hand-built a display for these chocolates! 8/10.

Course 12: "Coffee + Donuts," 9/10

Course 12: "Coffee + Donuts," 9/10

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Yet another classic Keller dish, the "coffee" is actually coffee-flavored ice cream with macarons. Perfectly tasty. 9/10.

USA- Grace- ✪✪✪

Grace Interior

Grace Interior

CHICAGO, IL, USA

SERVICE: 9.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $235 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

A newcomer to the three-star ranking, Curtis Duffy's Grace restaurant is an up-and-coming, adventurous restaurant that takes an innovative approach to fine cuisine. There is a real focus on service, presentation, and detailed work at every step of the meal- the waiters appear practically choreographed in their movements- that makes the evening incredibly special. 

First Bites: Fava Bean Cracker + 4 Small Bites, 9/10

First Bites: Fava Bean Cracker + 4 Small Bites, 9/10

We start out with a super creative presentation- four small bites on a fava bean cracker, all served on an enormous log. Preserved Meyer lemon and lemon balm were sprinkled throughout, and each bite had a different character- salty, sweet, citrus, etc. 9/10.

Course 1: Trout + Caviar, 9/10

Course 1: Trout + Caviar, 9/10

Another exceptionally clever presentation- poached trout with Osetra-grade caviar from Germany, served in a yogurt cup with foil lid. The lid has saffron and uzu puree on the underside that we were encouraged to scrape off, and there was a pool of smoke inside as well. The smoke seeps into the salmon for a classic taste, and there are tiny Hon Shimeji mushrooms that are firm, crisp, and tiny. 9/10.

Course 3: Crab + Roe on "Ice," 9/10

Course 3: Crab + Roe on "Ice," 9/10

If you're starting to get the feeling that super-creative presentations are Grace's thing, then you're in the same boat I was in. Danish trout roe and crab with togarashi spice are carefully placed on a sharp, blade-like "ice" layer of cooked sugar. The sweet, candied sugar brings out the crisp flavors of the crab and vegetables, and the unique spice is a perfect match-up. The roe pops in your mouth- refreshing like a summer salad. 9/10.

Course 4: Oysters + Salad, 7/10

Course 4: Oysters + Salad, 7/10

Long Island oysters with herbs and seaweed, white grapefruit, and chewy maitake mushrooms were presented next. The flavor in the oysters themselves I would label as "movie popcorn," and this was a busy dish with tons of flavors and textures. Perhaps even a little too much going on. 7/10.

Course 5: Rabbit + Cannellini, 8/10

Course 5: Rabbit + Cannellini, 8/10

We got to experience the grilled rabbit, prepared in confit style, with cannellini beans. The rabbit was very well cooked, but a touch dry. 8/10.

Course 6: Braised Pork, 8/10

Course 6: Braised Pork, 8/10

An interesting take on a classic dish- this pork was braised and matched up with a port wine reduction and a chicharron of fried pork. The crispy, crunchy rinds pair perfectly with the pork, which falls apart under the fork. The main protein is rich, and stands up to the other ingredients- like cauliflower- well. 8/10

Course 7: Wagyu Beef, 9/10

Course 7: Wagyu Beef, 9/10

Served as a "deconstructed spring roll," this herb-driven dish came with a broth of Tom Yum and caramelized peanuts. True to A5 Wagyu form, this beef was well-marbled and exceptionally rich. The presentation was colorful and playful, with crunchy veggie chips to try to offset some of the richness of the dish. I really enjoyed this one- a great capstone course. 9/10.

Course 8: Ice Cream, 8/10

Course 8: Ice Cream, 8/10

At the beginning of the meal, we got asked whether we prefer chocolate or vanilla- and this was the payoff. Bite-sized ice cream cones of almost-butter-rich ice cream were a great follow-up to the Wagyu. 8/10.

Course 9: Frozen Pear, 9/10

Course 9: Frozen Pear, 9/10

Frozen Pear, Post-Opening

Frozen Pear, Post-Opening

Another unbelievably creative execution- a hollow sphere made of frozen pear juice, with blond brownie holding everything together at the base. The soft, almost gummy brownie is a great match for the pear. 9/10.

Course 10: Panna Cotta, 8/10

Course 10: Panna Cotta, 8/10

A beautiful dish of panna cotta and green strawberries. 8/10.

Final Bites: Cocoa Butter Sphere, 6/10

Final Bites: Cocoa Butter Sphere, 6/10

The final dish left a small sour note on my palate- a cocoa butter sphere had an extremely strong lemon tea inside that didn't agree with me- tasted somehow rusty and oxidized. 6/10. 

USA- 11 Madison Park- ✪✪✪

Certainly the restaurant whose staff was working the hardest among my New York visit restaurants, 11 Madison Park stood out as the group who were hustling the hardest to provide an outstanding three-star experience. 

11 Madison Park Main Dining Room

11 Madison Park Main Dining Room

NEW YORK, NY, USA

SERVICE: 10.0/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $218 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 9.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10 

If you want to see what truly world-class dining service looks like, you need go no further. 11 Madison Park gave me an amazing team of people- Jane, Aurora, Ellen, and Megan- who worked together professionally and flawlessly to create an unforgettable experience. 11 Madison Park achieved my highest score so far, 9.5/10.

First Bites: Black + White Cookie, 8/10

First Bites: Black + White Cookie, 8/10

The first entrant is a small gift-box when I was seated at my table. A cookie with black and white colors, apple-flavored and sweet. It was crunchy, simple, and pretty. 8/10.

Course 1: Woods Hole Oysters, 9/10

Course 1: Woods Hole Oysters, 9/10

Two oysters- the one on the left prepared with "apple snow," the one on the right warm with chestnut. The rocks under the right-hand side were warm to the touch, and ice sat under the left. Very cool presentation, and excellent fresh oysters. 9/10.

Course 2A: Sturgeon

Course 2A: Sturgeon

Course 2B: Caviar

Course 2B: Caviar

Course 2: All together

Course 2: All together

This is where things really began to take off- an awesome, creative presentation that arrived in a smoke-filled cover. Included was a small can of Malossol caviar, some thin baked breads, cream cheese, and pickled beets. A smorgasbord to begin with. The sturgeon was fantastic (and, incredibly smoky, as you might guess) and the caviar was excellent. 8/10.

Course 3: Turnips + Juniper, 8/10

Course 3: Turnips + Juniper, 8/10

Course 3 Post-Broth

Course 3 Post-Broth

A simple presentation of turnips in a turnip and juniper broth- the dish had a delicious vinegar zing to it and some really awesome colors. The broth reminded me of whisky and the bowl was the perfect selection to pair up with the dish. 8/10.

Duck Fat + Sea Salt Butters, 9/10

Duck Fat + Sea Salt Butters, 9/10

Another cool presentation of two butters contrasted against each other, 11 Madison Park had plain (on the left) against the same butter rendered in duck fat (on the right). The duck-fat butter was smoky and delightful, and the sea salt is from a husband-and-wife team on the Narragansett- pure, rich, and the perfect match to either of the creamy butters. 9/10.

Course 4: Cabbage + Foie Gras, 9/10

Course 4: Cabbage + Foie Gras, 9/10

A perfectly bizarre, natural pairing of colors and flavors- the bitter of the cabbage complimented the sweet richness of the Hudson Valley foie gras. The cabbage is cooked and marinated with the foie, and presented on a plain ceramic dish to showcase the colors perfectly. 9/10.

Course 5: Kitchen Tour + Pastrami + Celery Soda, 10/10

Course 5: Kitchen Tour + Pastrami + Celery Soda, 10/10

This was one of the coolest things that has happened in my adventure so far. I was invited for a kitchen tour mid-meal, and as I arrived back in the kitchen I was greeted with a set table that included a hand-made pastrami sandwich, and a bottle of celery soda modeled on Cel-Ray, a favorite of delis in New York.

Course 6: Lobster Newburg, 10/10

Course 6: Lobster Newburg, 10/10

Course 6, with fire

Course 6, with fire

Another dish big on showmanship- Lobster Newburg, prepared tableside with mushrooms. While preparing my meal, I was told the entire story of how Lobster Newburg came to be at Delmonico in New York. The story was fascinating, the preparation was a delight, and the dish itself was fantastic. 10/10.

Course 6, Post-Fire Show

Course 6, Post-Fire Show

Course 7: Celery Root + Black Truffle, 9/10

Course 7: Celery Root + Black Truffle, 9/10

Next came a celery root cooked inside a pigs bladder. Entertainingly but a bit strangely, one of the chefs brought the pigs bladder by my table as the root was cooking inside. I thought this show-and-tell was yet another example of the confident, over-the-top service style here, and I learned something about how these dishes are prepared. 9/10.

Course 8: Duck, 10/10

Course 8: Duck, 10/10

The duck- once again, carved tableside- has been aged in a bristling layer of spices for almost two weeks before being served. The effect was truly incredible- the spices soak deep into the flesh and give the duck a far most complex flavor than any I have ever tasted. 10/10.

Course 9A: Squash, 9/10

Course 9A: Squash, 9/10

Course 9B: Salad, 9/10

Course 9B: Salad, 9/10

An excellent wind-down from the heavy main courses beforehand, the Carnival Squash is roasted with cheese, and prepared with a small, fresh salad. A bit filling for so far along in the meal, but a welcome break from the mains and an original take on the cheese course. 9/10.

 

Course 10: Botrytis + Sorbet, 9/10

Course 10: Botrytis + Sorbet, 9/10

This next dish was curious... White wine purposely infected with Botrytis, a fungus that is normally a threat to agriculture that in this case is sought after for its pleasant taste. Also known as noble rot, it gives wines an even-sweeter taste. I certainly found that to be true of this dish, and thought that the bitter almond sorbet was an excellent pair. 9/10.

Course 11: Maple Ice Cream, 9/10

Course 11: Maple Ice Cream, 9/10

A fun, sweet prsentation of Maple ice cream, bourbon-barrel aged and with dry ice. 9/10.

Final Bites: Chocolate-Covered Pretzel, 9/10

Final Bites: Chocolate-Covered Pretzel, 9/10

Last but certainly not least, a chocolate-covered pretzel served alongside a sweet version of the greeting cookie. Charming, and rounded the night out nicely. 9/10.

 

I also want to mention that in addition to providing truly incredible service the entire night, the staff got word of my round-the-world adventure and put together a parting gift that included snacks and even a neck pillow. I can't tell you how touched I was by the hard work these people put into making my night special, and I will remember it forever.

USA- Jean-Georges- ✪✪✪

NEW YORK, NY, USA

SERVICE: 7.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $140 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

As the United Airlines half-marathon ran in the background, I enjoyed lunch at the famous Jean-Georges restaurant in the Trump Tower. One of Jean-Georges Vongerichtgen's anchor properties in the United States, Jean-Georges has a serene, open feel that seems a bit out of place next to the classless, gaudy polished bronze lobby of the Trump building. Vongerichten himself has been an understudy to many of the most successful names in fine dining- Paul Bocuse, Paul Haeberlin at L'Auberge de L'Ill, among others. 

First Bites: Scottish Salmon Carpaccio, 9/10

First Bites: Scottish Salmon Carpaccio, 9/10

The first bite of the afternoon was super creative and paired well. A tiny tower of Scottish salmon with a roasted Cremini mushroom. The mushroom was firm and not overly salted, and the Salmon was perfectly fresh, tangy, and stuffed with delicious herbs. 9/10.

Course 1: Caesar Salad, 9/10

Course 1: Caesar Salad, 9/10

Topped with a healthy ration of black truffle, the caesar salad was a cool and original take on the dish that left me impressed. The dressing was exceptionally rich, and the long leaves required a knife to cut. They practically snapped with freshness, and the dish worked really well overall. 9/10,

Course 2: Parsnip Soup, 10/10

Course 2: Parsnip Soup, 10/10

The parsnip soup was an extremely interesting combo- the foam on the right is coconut milk, and the froth on the left is lime and elderflower with a shaving of herbs overtop. The sweet of the lime and coconut did wonders for the starchy parsnips. 10/10.

Course 3: Suckling Pig, 6/10

Course 3: Suckling Pig, 6/10

The biggest disappointment of the meal, by far- an enormous, rather dry slab of pork in a very autumnal squash-based pudding with some distracting shoots sprinkled about. The central story of the dish didn't make any sense the way it was prepared, but the aesthetics were quite lovely. 6/10.

Course 4: Citrus, 9/10

Course 4: Citrus, 9/10

The citrus dessert was a real high point- seared chunk of grapefruit on top of shaved grapefruit ice, and a slice of lemon cheesecake with fruit toppings. An absolute delight, 9/10.

Last Bites: Petit Fours, 7/10

Last Bites: Petit Fours, 7/10

The petit fours were delightful, but nothing terribly special. A Pâte de fruit, a handful of chocolates, and a macaron. Pretty standard fare. 7/10.

USA- Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare- ✪✪✪

NEW YORK, NY, USA

SERVICE: 4.0/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $275 (pre-challenge)

VALUE/MONEY: 5.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 5.0/10

I'll start this review with three of the English language's most lethally condescending words:

In Their Defense...

The Chef's Table is an extremely unique physical space. I'd like you to imagine what fine dining on a submarine might look like, and your first draft of that idea is actually just perfect. Imagine how people might move, how they might bump and sidle around each other, how they might squeeze themselves into seats and bulkheads. Now, in your imagination, also cram in a bulky Molteni stove and about 1,500 pounds of copper cookware, and you're closer.

You enter a cramped portal where a dosey-do must occur between you and the host in order to remove your jacket. Special note- try to go in the summer, or wear your least awkward coat. After removing said coat, you'll glance up to notice that no matter how many patrons, chefs, and staff members occupy the space, they are all now making direct, intimate eye contact with you. From the moment you walk in to the 6x6x6-seat "Chef's Table" area, you have the feeling that you've now entered the flight deck. Or, like I said, a submarine.

César Ramirez, a wunderkind chef who has gotten the culinary world's attention as much for his restaurant's business model as his dishes, worked his way up from a cult dining establishment to a full three Michelin stars in only a few years. He's gotten rave reviews from the Times and many others. I'll admit to having higher expectations here than most of the other restaurants I have visited.

Of special note to bloggers, writers, or others seeking to memorialize their special private dining experience - you may not. Being the obstinate fool that I am, I failed to read down to the seventh paragraph of my email confirmation, which clearly stated:

I should have known this would be trouble...

I should have known this would be trouble...

In Their Defense, I should point out that I'm thrilled with restaurants that take a strong stance on building their guests' experiences. Over the moon, in fact, in a world of social media and (hey, the exact space this blog occupies) exploitive food photography (I shudder to say food porn). I'd like to think that there's a difference, though, between classily asking customers to refrain from photos and angrily hissing to remove my camera and notepad from the table space. An extremely awkward first interaction with the person occupying the center of that 6x6x6 space turned out to be a bad omen for the rest of the meal. He also turned out to be the waiter/runner/expo, and the only wait staff I would speak to all night besides a clueless, silly sommelier with a full page of $2,000 Romanée Conti bottles on offer. Absurd, by the way. 

I'll do my best to summarize some high points. Early courses were smallish dishes of seafood lightly prepared- Japanese big eye tuna with shiso, with a bright, shiny, herbaceous flavor. Japanese anchovies, fried fish with wasabi that had a killer kick, and then the crown jewel of the evening, by a long shot. Cooked sea urchin on a small square of toast, which tasted like pure liquid buttery goodness. The product was fresh, and had been prepared only seconds before I ate it, and it was absolutely perfect. 

The best course was, however, also an embodiment of the worst parts of the experience- that waiter/runner/expo I told you about (you'll remember, because it will be the only person you speak to) saw his role as that of some kind of perverse announcer. He would scurry back and forth in his small stainless steel pen, bringing two dishes at a time from the kitchen to the diners. He would pause with care, and place the dishes in front of his customers. Then, with a flair, he would look up with intensity, and with just the right amount of effete accent, say: "Sea Urchin. Prepared On Toast." Hold that eye contact an extra second, and then he'd vanish back across the pen to the kitchen to make a similarly dramatic pronouncement to the two people sitting less then three feet away, who had very much already heard him. It was really weird to watch this happen many times in a row for each course.

The second half of the meal was notable and fun- lamb with white asparagus that was perfectly salted and minted, shiso sorbet and milk chocolate foam that melts away as you eat for dessert, Meyer lemon and chocolate cookies. But, I never really got over how forced the behaviors were, how unpleasant this stilted environment was. As we shoved our way down the narrow hall, the second seating's guests were roughly jostling inside and throwing off their coats, I felt a wave of relief wash over me with the chilly Spring night air. 

 

USA- Le Bernardin- ✪✪✪

Le Bernardin's head chef Eric Ripert grew up in both France and Andorra, a small country on the border with Spain, where starting at age 17 he began working in fine dining restaurants like La Tour D'Argent. Le Bernardin is one of the most consistently high-ranked restaurants in the world, with a 4-star rating from the New York Times since 1986 and 3 Michelin stars since 2005. Ripert is known for his focus on seafood- he once served as the poissonier for Joel Robuchon.

Le Bernardin Main Entrance

Le Bernardin Main Entrance

NEW YORK, NY, USA

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $87 (LUNCH)

VALUE/MONEY: 9.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

If you're on the hunt for a classic urban open-format French restaurant, then look no further. Le Bernardin's dining room has all the modern-artsy, well-appointed, gilded look once could possible desire. Fantastic lighting and set pieces make this space really sing.

Le Bernardin Interior

Le Bernardin Interior

First Bites: Scottish Salmon + Toast, 8/10

First Bites: Scottish Salmon + Toast, 8/10

As a delightful pre-course amuse, the restaurant offered a hash of poached salmon. The fish was perfectly cooked and tasted both rich and smooth on the palate. The hand-sliced thin toast was a great touch. 8/10.

1st Course: Sea Trout, 9/10

1st Course: Sea Trout, 9/10

For my first lunch course, I selected the ultra rare sea trout with braised ramps and sauce gribiche. The warm trout pairs with the miso perfectly, and the small dash of fried and fresh veggies on top adds a crispy texture. 9/10.

2nd Course: Duck + Sour Cherry, 10/10

2nd Course: Duck + Sour Cherry, 10/10

Besides being generous in portion, the duck with sour cherry is possibly the coolest pairing I've yet experienced, especially on a lunch menu. This second course kind of knocked my socks off- the duck was cooked to absolute perfection, and the sweet cherries played off the fatty duck exquisitely. The snow pea chunks added a nice mouthfeel. 10/10.

3rd Course: Pear + Vanilla Bourbon, 8/10

3rd Course: Pear + Vanilla Bourbon, 8/10

Third and final course- a slice of roasted Bosc pear with a pear and olive oil emulsion-filled bonbon. An inspired collection of flavors, and a nice simple conclusion to the meal. 8/10.

USA- Saison- ✪✪✪

On February 20th, I sat down to a meal at Joshua Skenes' Saison restaurant, a place that is singular in its execution of a transparent kitchen, novel preparation and aging approaches, and strong on style the whole way through. A huge upside is the unbelievable, personal service from true culinary dorks like myself (and I mean that in the nicest way possible,) most specifically Max the Sommelier and Megan and Christine the waiters. Request them if you can- they're super intelligent, know the content, were super sharp the whole evening. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA

SERVICE: 9.5/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $423 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

Saison Entrance

Saison Entrance

The entrance makes a huge impression- stacks of almond tree wood that ends up in the ember smoker a few feet away in the kitchen. A nice dramatic effect that communicates something about your experience before you even sit. Saison is big about giving closure- ingredients, themes, and flavors from the beginning of your experience come back to wish you farewell at the end, and the symmetry to the evening wasn't lost on me.

1st Course: Meyer Lemon Tea + Garden Herbs, 8/10

1st Course: Meyer Lemon Tea + Garden Herbs, 8/10

Saison has their own farm that supplies many of the herbs and vegetables Saison uses. They serve a small bundle of those herbs with a simple but likable Meyer lemon tea in a thin-walled apparently handmade ceramic cup. This first course presentation is very cool, but one practical downside to the thin cup body with no handle is that the container is piping hot to the touch. Thus, it's quite time-consuming to drink- took me about 15 minutes. 8/10

2nd Course: Garden Peppers + Whipped Buttermilk, 9/10

2nd Course: Garden Peppers + Whipped Buttermilk, 9/10

The second course rode in an equally impressive hand-cut glass plate- complete with cover that stood in as a rest for the wooden spoon- and played up the light hitting the bright green vegetables. The peppers had a nice little spicy kick, and the buttermilk cream smoothes out the rough edges and adds a fantastic texture. Clever presentation, great dish. 9/10.

3rd Course: Osetra Caviar + Garden Herb Gelee

3rd Course: Osetra Caviar + Garden Herb Gelee

The third course of Osetra-grade caviar is served on a gelee of vegetables (once again, from their vertically-integrated garden) with a clear liquid pork fat poured over top. While the smooth gelee serves as a nice foundation and contrasts the mouthfeel of the caviar texture nicely, the pork fat flavor runs a little roughshod over the delicate sea flavors of the caviar. 7/10.

4th Course: Black Cod + Mushroom + Pine, 8/10

4th Course: Black Cod + Mushroom + Pine, 8/10

The fourth course was some Black Cod from Half Moon Bay cooked in a fire with chanterelle and yellowfoot mushrooms. The broth was made of the cod bones. This dish struck me as clever because the mushrooms and cooked cod had similarly squeaky-crunchy texture that went together well. The broth had a lovely campfire smoke taste that finishes the dish with elegance. 8/10.

5th Course: Lobster, 8/10

5th Course: Lobster, 8/10

The fifth course featured lobster meat from the mitts and tail warmed over those almond-wood embers I mentioned a second ago. In the white bowl in the background is a Meyer lemon (catching the theme yet?) and citronet, which was poured over the lobster. The butter is made from the lobster's brains, and a small condensed morsel of dehyydrated and rehydrated seaweed was tucked in the corner of the intricate glass bowl. The lobster's temperature was perfect; pour the cxitronet immediately for maximum effect. 8/10

6th Course: Trout + Roe, 9/10

6th Course: Trout + Roe, 9/10

The sixth dish was Battle Creek Trout cured in uzu and soy, then put in its own eggs with skin to create a potato-chip like shell. The crunchy shell paired beautifully with the uber-soft trout. 9/10.

7th Course: Abalone + Pig Jowls, 8/10

7th Course: Abalone + Pig Jowls, 8/10

Course seven featured abalone, a type of edible sea snail, with rich fatty pork jowls on top. The abalone had a positive, rubbery texture that played off well against very soft jowls. A sauce of liver and capers rested underneath. 8/10

8th Course: Sea Urchin, 10/10

8th Course: Sea Urchin, 10/10

The eighth course can only be described as an out-of-the-park home run. Three different textures battle it out with the focus centered on the unbelievably rich, luxurious sea urchin. I'm tempted into hyperbole and giving this dish an 11/10, but I'll try to restrain myself at a perfect 10/10.

9th Course: Dungeness Crab, 8/10

9th Course: Dungeness Crab, 8/10

Nine challenged me to get over whatever pre-conceived notions I may have had about crab brains- this creamy, pasta-like ragout is made out of "Dungeness Crab- the Whole Thing," or so the menu gamely states. Smooth and creamy like an amazing Mac & Cheese from childhood, with a signature "Saison" smokiness in the custard underneath. 8/10- a fun and creative dish.

10th Course: Seaweed + Garden Herbs, 8/10

10th Course: Seaweed + Garden Herbs, 8/10

The tenth course starts to lighten things up in advance of the main dishes coming soon- Mendocino county seaweed with herbs from the garden washed in Meyer lemon juice (eh? eh? Meyer lemon juice). There's a surprise oyster buried underneath with wonderful dill and leaves of spearmint. A zesty, clever, beautiful dish. 8/10.

11th Course: Brussel Sprouts, 9/10

11th Course: Brussel Sprouts, 9/10

This wholesome, filling vegetable dish is crisped over the almond wood embers, bringing out new and fascinating flavors in the brussel sprouts especially. Sauerkraut on the bottom rounds on the salinity. Delightful, different, impressive. 9/10.

12th Course: Pumpkin, 10/10

12th Course: Pumpkin, 10/10

The 12th dish really shows where Skenes' novel techniques shine. Pumpkin is cooked in two methods- one is hung over the fire for three days using a method called Fire in the Sky (a nice Washington Post article describes the technique and inspiration in more detail), the other is prepared and served more traditionally. I can only say that this was the second dish that totally blew me away- the Fire in the Sky method brings out all kinds of flavors one would never predict in pumpkin- tropical notes like papaya and pineapple, along with a smoky tartness that was a joy to explore. 10/10.

13th Course: Beet, 9/10

13th Course: Beet, 9/10

The thirteenth course featured a beet cooked in the same method as the pumpkin that- I kid you not- tastes exactly like a finely-prepared steak. The beet is a type known as Bull's Blood, which is rich, thick, and chewy. 9/10.

14th Course: Toffee, 9/10

14th Course: Toffee, 9/10

14 included toffee from duck livers, foam, and beer. This dish blurred the line between savory and sweet- it almost had an ice cream-like texture. The toffee flavors in the beer that came paired alongside enhances further. A well thought-out, joyful dish. 9/10.

15th Course: Muscovy Duck, 7/10

15th Course: Muscovy Duck, 7/10

Fifteen was a Muscovy duck with a ragout made of duck innards and a sauce from the cooking juices. The duck was aged in-restaurant for three weeks. I can only describe this dish as unbelievably rich- in this case a touch too rich for me. 7/10.

16th Course: Duck Bullion, 8/10

16th Course: Duck Bullion, 8/10

A bullion made of the roasted bones of the duck from the previous course served as our sixteenth dish. Simple, delicious, and made for a good wind-down from the richness of the previous dish. Might have also been effective to have served this dish and course 15 side-by-side. 8/10

17th Course: Cheese, 8/10

17th Course: Cheese, 8/10

The seventeenth course included a mousseline made from Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, one of the best cheeses available in this country (in my humble opinion). Two beignets were just as good as anything you can get in New Orleans. 8/10.

18th Course: Flame-Roasted Ice Cream, 10/10

18th Course: Flame-Roasted Ice Cream, 10/10

Course 18 was probably my favorite dessert dish of all time- ice cream made from a cow named Vibrance who lives in Lagunitas with salted caramel, cocoa nibs, and roasted over the fire. Perfect texture, sweetness, balance.  A lifetime-memorable dish. 10/10.

19th Course: Buckwheat Tea, 8/10

19th Course: Buckwheat Tea, 8/10

This palate-cleanser tasted just like Honey Nut Cheerios, and has a nice calming aura. Perfect post-ice cream idea. 8/10.

20th Course: Chartreuse, 8/10

20th Course: Chartreuse, 8/10

The Sommelier Max introduced me to this digestif- green chartreuse with a powerful anise flavor- that calmed my stomach before departure. 8/10.

21st Course: Persimmons, 8/10

21st Course: Persimmons, 8/10

The absolute final word was a small broth of persimmons. Simple and cleansing. 8/10.

The Smoker

The Smoker

One last cool note- Max kindly invited me on a kitchen tour where I got to see the almond wood embers firsthand. Each and every evening, a person is tasked with keeping these embers roasting at just the right temperature and evenness to ensure proper preparation. The job requires tons of focus on consistency, and I was impressed that this glowing heart of the kitchen worked so well.