12 days: on the fifth day of christmas: skenes… (2015)

~ I have eaten at Saison (San Francisco) nearly twenty times, and at The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena) nearly fifty times.  With only one exception*, I have eaten at these two restaurants more than all others around the world. I have also photographed in both of their kitchens many times, and have, over the years become intimately […]



I have eaten at Saison (San Francisco) nearly twenty times, and at The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena) nearly fifty times.  With only one exception*, I have eaten at these two restaurants more than all others around the world. I have also photographed in both of their kitchens many times, and have, over the years become intimately familiar with the ethos, service, and food of these two restaurants.

So it was with immense pleasure and delight that I found the highly talented chefs of both of these restaurants together in the same kitchen on the fifth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas this year.  What was surely one of the most anticipated dinners of this series, and the second time this year that six Michelin stars have cooked together at the Twelve Days of Christmas, chefs Joshua Skenes and Christopher Kostow produced a meal that was every bit as consistent and good as I have come to expect from their restaurants.
Canapé: "Liquid Toast"


Skenes and Kostow sprinted out of the gate with three incredible canapés that are among the most delicious things I’ve had at their restaurants.

Skenes served his famous “Liquid Toast” – a tranche of crusty bread soaked in a rich, viscous sauce of grilled bread, dusted with river vegetable powder, topped with giant Fort Bragg sea urchins, and then glazed in a mixture of egg yolk and Saison’s house-made fermented sauce.  He also served strips of Battle Creek trout topped with its own roe and crispy skin.

Kostow served eel, wrapped in thin slivers of veal tongue and grape leaves.  The little packet was grilled in the Josper (wood-fired oven) over Cabernet Sauvignon barrel staves.  I’ve had this before, but never this good.  The packet was tightly constructed, making it easy to pick up and eat.  And, the grape leaf wrapping on the outside was nice and crisp.


2nd Course: Saison Reserve Caviar


We were not short on luxury ingredients at this dinner.

Skenes served Saison Reserve Caviar, which is cured with Saison’s smoked salt, over melted leeks in a buttery broth with grilled Parker House rolls.

There was spiny lobster with thinly shaved chestnuts in a light broth perfumed with spice bush, a dish by Christopher Kostow.  Kostow also served Brillat Savarin cheese – a whole cake of it – layered with white truffles and butter made from the cheese.  This was sliced into wedges and served with warm bread and spoonfuls of honey from a behemoth, six-pound honeycomb that a local beekeeper brought in.




Kostow presented whole chickens baked in bread flecked with nigella seeds.  The chicken was carved and plated with a sauces made from the bread and nasturtium, as well as melted onions.  Over years of eating at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Kostow has proven to be a wizard with birds.  This version of bread-baked chicken was no exception.  The meat was exceedingly tender and moist, and the bread, which was served with the bird, was crispy and flavorful with chicken fat.

At Saison, Skenes serves a broth course using the bones of whatever meat he has used on the menu.  In keeping with that tradition, here, Skenes made a broth from the bones of Kostow’s baked birds and served it as a chaser to the chicken course.

The only dish that was unfamiliar to me at this dinner was a “barbecued” slice of celeriac, tented under a crispy sheet of celeriac skin, that Skenes served. Representative of the hearth cooking for which Skenes has been celebrated, this meaty slice of root vegetable was grilled over the embers and served with a housemade hot sauce.  It seemed to be a crowd favorite.


7th Course: Milk Ice Cream


Skenes ended dinner with two of my favorite desserts from Saison.

A simple milk ice cream he speckled with crunchy, smoked cocoa nibs and coated with a drizzle of caramel sauce that had been smoked in the fireplace.  I’ve been known to go to Saison late at night just to have this dessert at the restaurant’s bar.

Dug-out orange peels were filled with a sherbet of citrus, the texture of which was more akin to marshmallow fluff than ice cream.  It’s like a spoonable creamsicle, a light and refreshing way to end dinner.




Below, you’ll find the menu from the fifth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas featuring Joshua Skenes.   To see all of the photos from this dinner, CLICK HERE.


Liquid Toast
Fort Bragg Sea Urchin.

With its roe and skin.


Veal tongue, grape leaves.

(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

First Course 
Spiny Lobster
Chestnut, spicebush.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Second Course
Saison Reserve Caviar
Leek, grilled Parker House rolls.

Third Course 
BBQ Celeriac
Hot sauce, herbs.

Fourth Course 
Bird in Bread
Chicken baked in bread with nigella seeds.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Fifth Course 
Broth of the Grilled Bird Bones

Sixth Course 
White truffle, honeycomb.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Seventh Course 
Milk Ice Cream
Smoked cocoa nibs, caramel cooked in the fireplace.

Eighth Course 
Citrus Sherbet


Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

Gewürztraminer, 2012

The Hilt
“Vanguard,” Pinot Noir, 2012

Tempranillo, 2013

Vine Hill Ranch Estate
Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012


8th Course: Citrus Sherbet


Below are links to my posts and photos from all of the Twelve Days of Christmas dinners I have attended over the past four years at the Restaurant at Meadowood.  Each chef is listed with the restaurant with which they were cooking at the time they participated in the event (some have moved on to other projects and restaurants).


Scott Anderson (Elements; Princeton, New Jersey)
John & Karen Shields (Formerly of Townhouse; Chilhowie, Virginia)
Phillip Foss (EL Ideas; Chicago, Illinois)
Stuart Brioza & Nicole Krasinski (State Bird Provisions; San Francisco, California)
Jason Franey (Canlis Restaurant; Seattle, Washinton)
Matthias Merges (Yusho; Chicago, Illinois)
Mori Onodera (Formerly of Mori Sushi; Los Angeles, California)
James Syhabout (Commis; Oakland, California)
Nick Anderer (Maialino; New York, New York)
David Toutain (Agapé Substance; Paris, France)
Josh Habiger & Erik Anderson (The Catbird Seat; Nashville Tennessee)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Portland, Oregon & New York, New York)
Rodolfo Guzman (Boragó; Santiago, Chile)
Carlo Mirarchi (Blanca and Roberta’s; Brooklyn, New York)
Tim Cushman (O Ya; Boston, Massachusetts)
Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner; Raleigh, North Carolina)
David Chang (Momofuku; New York, New York)
Matthew Accarrino (SPQR; San Francisco, California)
Mark Ladner & Brooks Headley (Del Posto; New York, New York)
Rasmus Kofoed (Geranium; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Nicolaus Balla & Cortney Burns (Bar Tartine; San Francisco, California)
David Kinch (Manresa; Los Gatos, California)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Matthew Orlando (Amass; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Frank Castranovo & Frank Falcinelli (Frankies 457, Prime Meats; New York, New York)
Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf; Dranouter, Belgium)
Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillère; La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)
Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn; Lummi Island, Washington)
Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene’s; Portland, Oregon)
Virgilio Martinez (Central; Lima, Peru)
Grant Achatz (Alinea; Chicago, Illinois)
Corey Lee (Benu; San Francisco, California)
Esben Holmboe Bang (Maaemo; Oslo, Norway)
Ignacio Mattos (Estela; New York, New York)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, NoMad; New York, New York)
Nenad Mlinarevic (Focus; Vitznau, Switzerland)
Christian Puglisi (relæ; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil; Mexico City, Mexico)
Joshua Skenes (Saison; San Francisco, California)
Matthew Wilkinson (Pope Joan; Melbourne, Australia)
Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan ([One]; Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
Isaac McHale (The Clove Club; London, The United Kingdom)
Kyle Connaughton (Single Thread; Healdsburg, California)
Atsushi Tanaka (A.T. Restaurant; Paris, France)
Justin Yu (Oxheart; Houston, Texas)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)



With the exception of Bluestem in my hometown of Kansas City, where I have eaten so many times, I’ve lost count.

Photos: Kostow’s eel wrapped in grape leaves being grilled over hot, Cabernet Sauvignon barrel staves; liquid toast being glazed; Saison Reserve Caviar; David Guilloty with chickens baked in bread; Skenes’s milk ice cream with cocoa nibs and smoked caramel; the wine pairings at this dinner; and Skenes’s citrus sherbet dessert.

Categories 12 days 2015 michelin restaurant restaurant review travel

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