Northside SF  

October '09

Oenophilic Tendencies
'Tis the 'Saison' to eat and drink

By Jeannine Sano

It is no secret that I listen to sommeliers about what to drink. Given their highly attuned taste sensibilities, sommeliers also know the best places to eat. At the recommendation of Jeff Bareilles, wine director of Manresa Restaurant, I made a reservation for the chef’s counter in the kitchen at Saison. Not only do they offer an extended tasting menu but individualized wine pairings by Saison’s talented and accomplished young sommelier, Mark Bright.

At age 21, Bright became a sommelier at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, and two years later, he was selected as the opening sommelier for Restaurant Michael Mina. Bright has since lent his expertise as consultant to numerous Bay Area restaurants, including Oola, Dosa, Sushi Groove, and Pampas. In addition to his duties as wine director for Saison, Bright has added winemaking to his resume with the introduction of Saison Pinot Noir 2009, available only at the restaurant. Knowing his background, it is not surprising he would come out of the gate with one of the most difficult varietals to handle, and the inaugural vintage of Saison Pinot is quite impressive — approachable and fruit-forward but also haunting in the way that only Pinot Noir can be. (I blame Bright for my obsession with Burgundy. He got me hooked through a bottle of Domaine de l’Arlot Nuit St. Georges at Restaurant Michael Mina in August 2004, and neither I nor my credit cards have ever been the same.)

With the finely articulated amuse of sweet melon and tart tomato cubes bathed in a fragrant tomato water and Riesling gelée, Bright presented a glass of Château de L’Aulée, an elegant sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. With the rich and creamy shima-aji crudo, decorated with herbs and flowers, Bright selected a glass of daiginjo sake. For the roasted squash perfumed with chef Skenes’s personal blend of vadouvan, Bright poured a glass of 2008 Toni Jost dry Riesling from the Mittelrhein region of Germany. The fire-roasted sweetfish with fennel paired perfectly with a Santa Cruz Pinot Noir. At first, I was a little concerned about pairing such flavorful, salty fish with a red wine, even without the prominent dark fruit, but the first sip quelled all doubts, giving way to a satisfied exhale. Shame on me for questioning the master at work.

The evening continued on, with one explosive combination of flavors and textures followed by another, each one ingeniously conceived and expertly executed, with every wine selection complementing and highlighting all of the inspirations on each plate. But for the limitations of my stomach and the fact that the restaurant staff would probably want to get some sleep at some point in the evening, I would have stayed forever to see what else Skenes and Bright had up their sleeves.
Perhaps next time. In the meantime, I now have an alternative to driving all the way down to Manresa in Los Gatos when I am searching for an unforgettable celebratory tasting menu experience.

: 2124 Folsom Street (near 17th), 415-828-7900,, dinner 6–9 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday (chef’s counter has limited seating and requires advance notice)


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