As I enter March, a month perennially fraught with the anxieties of turning a year older, I find myself clinging to January and February a little tighter, wishing they had lasted a bit longer.
But I did more than my fair share of living in the first two months of this year. I’ll start with January.
Shortly after the new year, I made the long trek to The Greenbrier for the last Bocuse d’Or USA training session with Richard Rosendale, the U.S. candidate for the 2013 Bocuse d’Or competition.
With a few weeks left before the big show in Lyon, Rosendale, his commis Corey Siegel, and coaches Gavin Kaysen and Gabriel Kreuther spent most of the session furiously training in the resort’s historic Bunker. Also, making a special, one-day appearance at judges’ table at The Greenbrier this time was the great Andrew Friedman, author of many cookbooks (including upcoming projects with Paul Liebrandt and Michael White), the blog Toqueland, and the book “Knives at Dawn,” which chronicled Timothy Hollingsworth’s bid for the Bocuse d’Or in 2009. It was wonderful to have his insight and company.
In the two days we were there, Rosendale and Siegel made two trial runs, each five-and-a-half hours long, followed by two more hours of plating, tasting, and evaluations. As a result, this last trip to The Greenbrier was a quiet one. So much attention was devoted to the day-side business that we had little energy for more in the evenings. Instead of spending our off-hours bowling, swimming, or skating (in the winter, The Greenbrier builds an outdoor ice rink), as we had done on previous trips, this time, we opted to enjoy a couple of leisurely dinners and turn in early.
I have eaten at every restaurant at The Greenbrier, and there were two things I wanted most to repeat on this last trip: the mountainous banana split at Draper’s, and the table-side Caesar salad at Jerry West’s Prime 44. So, I had both. The banana split I had on my own, but the team indulged me on the Caesar salad, which we followed with a beautiful, 44-ounce dry-aged, bone-in ribeye. We also returned to The Forum, the resort’s Italian-themed restaurant, for some pasta and cannolis, and their tub-sized tiramisu.
I will miss our trips to The Greenbrier.
Until now, I’ve published very few photos of the closed-door training sessions inside the Bunker at The Greenbrier. And I will defer that right to the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation, which has started to release some of those photos on their Facebook page.
Joshua Skenes needed photos of the new interior of his two Michelin-starred restaurant saison, which he moved from the Mission District to Townsend Street in SoMa late last year. I saw it briefly, when I spent Christmas in the Bay Area. But, at the time, it was unfinished.
The timing was tight. So, on short-notice, I wedged in a quick, three-day trip to San Francisco for the photo shoot.
It is magnificent, the new saison.
This eighteen-seat restaurant, with eighteen additional seats in the lounge, has not the rambling charm of its former space, which I absolutely adored for its almost-accidental feel. The new space is stunning for reasons that may not be obvious at a first glance. Less homey than before, the new saison has a decidedly industrial look, with exposed bricks and beams, a polished concrete floor, and a vaulted ceiling that stretches over thirty-feet high. In an effort to extend the kitchen as far into the dining space as possible (or, to include as much of the dining space into the kitchen as possible), five, large, shiny reach-ins line one wall of the dining room.
But the quality of the craftsmanship and weightiness of the design of the new saison will not escape the discriminating eye, or ear. The kitchen is outfitted with the finest; the cabinetry and drawers are all tailor-made. The sound system is incredible; I relished every minute of photographing in the empty restaurant at night with the music turned up. With all the hard surfaces in the restaurant, you’d think it’d be an echo chamber. Maybe it is. But you’d never know it from the sound system. Like I said, it’s incredible.
The interior is softened by flowering branches, culinary curios, and beautiful wood tables and chairs of exceptional millwork. That millwork can also be admired in the bar top and custom-built stations that cleverly conceal the P.O.S. system and markings (flatware, etc.). And those gorgeous copper-backed mirrors – they’re stunning too.
I first fell in love with Zalto Glas stemware at the three Michelin-starred restaurant Aqua in Wolfsburg, Germany, a few years ago. I loved it so much that I wrote to the director of the restaurant asking for more information about it (Aqua also uses Zwiesel 1872 – the Courmet Collection “Enoteca” and “First”). Admiring the stiff curves and ultra-thin stems of the glasses at saison, I recognized them immediately (actually, I identified them as soon as Mark Bright, the restaurant’s sommelier, described them to me in December). Saison has placed the largest single order of Zalto Glas stemware to date.
There are far too many other details about this no-expenses spared, $2.8 million restaurant (like, how the kitchen peripherals are housed in a sound-proof room above the kitchen, to reduce noise) for me to cover here. Suffice it to say, the devil will have a hard time finding one to conquer at saison.
Unfortunately, saison hadn’t reopened yet. So, although I spent three days photographing there, I didn’t eat there (with the exception of a beautiful pine nut soufflé that pastry chef Shawn Gawle was testing).
But I did eat at Rich Table, where you’ll find a menu of slightly unexpected meetings (like garganelli pasta with octopus, oxtail, and blood orange). My favorite dishes came off of the “snacks” portion of the menu, like a bowl of strangely addictive Castelvetrano olives tossed in a toasted seaweed dressing, mounded with diced Granny Smith apple. We shared fluffy doughnuts dusted with dried porcini powder, and a thick-crusted bread with a hearty crumb that had been infused with Douglas fir. The crust on that bread was my favorite part. We were also served an off-menu item called the “Dirty Hippie,” a creamy mix of buttermilk and wheatgrass topped with tender sprouts and crunchy seeds.
Bar Tartine is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. The bread (which is phenomenal) aside, the food there is flavorful and fresh. I stopped in with some friends for brunch. My two favorite dishes that day were a crunchy salad of sprouts and crucifers, pocketed with creamy knobs of blue cheese, and a fantastic “potato flatbread” topped with a sweet tomato sauce, greens, Turo cheese, and fried shallots. That flatbread is more like a large fritter, with a fried crust and a soft middle (I’ve also had this at dinnertime). If you go, you must order it.
I tried to get some pie at Una Pizzeria Napoletana, but the line was too long. It was the same story at flour + water. So, we walked down the street to Salumeria, an Italian deli and specialty foodshop attached to Central Kitchen (both Salumeria and Central Kitchen are in the ne timeas restaurant group with flour + water). There, we had a couple of sandwiches – the ham sandwich with Gruyere, pickled cabbage, and mustard on a pretzel roll was a winner – and a garlicky little gem salad with anchovies, eggs, and breadcrumbs. The chef at Central Kitchen also sent out a few more plates for us to try, including a warm salad of sunchokes, wild mushrooms, and cheese. On a chilly night, that was lovely.
Joshua Skenes took me for Teochew (or, Chiuchow, depending on where you’re from) noodles at Hy Ki Mi Gia in San Francisco’s “Little Saigon” neighborhood. We slurped down steaming bowls of noodle soup (he got one with thick egg noodles and all sorts of beef, and Gawle and I both got thin egg noodles topped with a duck leg and some wontons), and then walked a few blocks to Saigon Sandwich, where three little Vietnamese ladies on a banh mi assembly line cut and stuffed baguettes with pickled vegetables and a variety of meats, while answering the phone and taking walk-in orders. That day, the San Francisco 49ers were playing the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC championship, and apparently the whole neighborhood showed up to order sandwiches for the game. One man called in an order of twenty-five for a banh mi football party he was hosting. God, I love San Francisco. (Note: if you order the pâté banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, expect a lot of pâté. Next time, I’ll take half pâté with some other meat.)
Late one night, Skenes and I hopped over the bay to eat at the newly opened Duende, a pan-Iberian restaurant and bodega opened by Oakland-based chef Paul Canales, formerly of Oliveto (his father was Basque). Since the restaurant had just opened that week, it would be unfair of me to evaluate it here and now. But I will say that the pebrots farcits – a pequillo pepper stuffed with cumin-spiced lamb, currants, and pine nuts – was pretty great. Keep an eye on Duende.
And finally, coi.
I hadn’t been to Daniel Patterson’s two Michelin-starred restaurant since 2009, and many have urged me to give it another look. I liked this second meal more than my first one. My favorite dishes included a collection of young brassicas in a warm, charred onion broth dotted with new olive oil, and a refreshing dessert of oro blanco, buttermilk-ginger sorbet, and epazote by the pastry chef Matt Tinder (formerly of saison).
I had less than twenty-four hours to unpack from San Francisco and re-pack for Europe.
Next stop: Paris, Lyon, and Copenhagen.
But I’ll save those destinations for my next post. For now, I leave you with a list of restaurants that I visited at The Greenbrier and in California:
Bar Tartine (San Francisco)
coi (San Francisco)
Hy Ky Mi Gia (San Francisco)
Marlowe (San Francisco)
Rich Table (San Francisco)
Saigon Sandwiches (San Francisco)
Salumeria (San Francisco)
Prime 44 (The Greenbrier)
Draper’s (The Greenbrier)
The Forum (The Greenbrier)
Photos: Shawn Gawle’s pine nut soufflé at saison, San Francisco, California; Gabriel Kreuther, Andrew Friedman, Gavin Kaysen, and Monica Bhambhani in the Bunker at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; Richard Rosendale torching his pavé of beef, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; the kitchen at the new saison, San Francisco, California; the new saison, San Francisco, California; sprout salad at Bar Tartine, San Francisco; hot chile oil and “oil sticks” at Hy Ky Mi Gia in San Francisco, California; Monterey Bay abalone at coi in San Francisco, California; and arroz negro at Duende in Oakland, California.