San Francisco and dinner at Saison

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, May 12, 2011

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I started out with a little more of a plan than I had yesterday. My first intended destination was St. Patrick's Church, although I stopped at an art gallery and a store on the way there. The church is a fairly simple Gothic building. I took a quick look around, took a picture and left.

There was a well-kept old building surrounded by gardens next to the church. I wandered by but there were no signs. Someone passing said, "Billionaires Club" and kept walking. Then a tour group came along and stopped in front of the building. I listened for a while and found out it was the Pacific-Union Club, which he claimed is the fifth-oldest club in the U.S.

I then headed for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. They had two temporary shows. The first I saw was by the Chines artist Song Dong. Many of his works were videos most of which were displayed in unusual ways such as being projected onto columns. The largest work in the show was a display of everything his mother had accumulated, over 10,000 items, spread out in a 60' by 70' space. The work is called Waste Not. In China at the time it was considered good to be frugal and hording was encouraged but his mother's hording seemed to spiral out of control after the death of his father. The project was intended not only as a work of art and social commentary but as therapy for his mother, as well.

The other show at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was also mostly video installations, but in this case there were just two of them. After going through that show I headed for the Museum of Craft and Design. It's a small museum. The show there was called Crafting Architecture: Concept, Sketch, Model and consisted of various architectural drawing, models and mock-ups used to communicate ideas.

I then went to SF Camerawork, a gallery that specializes in photography. There were some photographs that I liked but it was getting late so I wandered through fairly quickly.

I then went to the Asian Art Museum, which is open late on Thursdays. They currently have a temporary exhibit on Bali. A gamelan orchestra's San Francisco visit has been coordinated with the exhibit and they also performed at the museum.

I found the Bali exhibit very interesting. I haven't been to Indonesia at all or Bali, in particular, and tend to think of Bali as a tropical vacation spot but the island has a unique background and rich culture. I started going through the exhibit but before I had finished the gamelan orchestra was scheduled to begin so I went upstairs to Samsung Hall where the performances were to be held.

The Asian Art Museum, like many of the neighboring buildings, is a neo-classical building in the Beaux Arts style. Samsung Hall is a roughly 40-foot cube. Each wall has a central door flanked by Ionic columns supporting an arch going nearly to the ceiling over each door, in turn flanked by pilasters. Above the columns and pilasters about half-way up to the ceiling there's an entablature encircling the room except for the arches above the door. The ceiling is coffered. The floor is marble.   It seems strangely out of place for an Asian Art Museum. 

Everything is stone, plaster or glass and the acoustics are very lively. In spite of it being a performance space, it doesn't appear that acoustics were considered in the design process.  When the 25-member gamelan orchestra members all started hammering away it got really loud and the echoes could probably be heard throughout the entire building.  I later found out that the building used to be the Public Library and Samsung Hall used to be the card catalog room.

After the performance I started through the permanent collection. The museum has one of the largest collections of Asian art in North America. I quickly realized that I only had enough time to carefully look at part of the exhibits or barely look at all of the exhibits. I went for barely looking and started quickly walking through the collection. After a quick tour of the permanent collection I went back and finished looking at the Bali exhibit. I then had to rush off to dinner.

My dinner reservation was at Saison. The restaurant is not on Restaurant Magazine's World's Best Restaurant list but it does have a Michelin star and I had seen it mentioned in some reviews of other restaurants I was visiting so I thought I'd give it a try.

Saison is in an old, drafty building.  They have a patio, which wasn't in use when I was there.  The have an open kitchen that includes a chef's table and I could see Chef Joshua Skenes at work.  There's a single bathroom off the patio with a powdered soap dispenser like you used to see in gas station restrooms.

Saison is not very vegetarian-friendly.  The seven-course tasting menu, which is the only option available, had four non-vegetarian courses.  I discussed the problem with the server but didn't get a response and I wasn't sure what was going to appear.

I wound up with three seafood courses.  I also received two extra courses.  One of the non-vegetarian courses was a large prawn.  I was told that the contents of the head had been removed, cooked and put back into the shell and that everything but the end of the tail was edible; I didn't agree.  While I would have preferred a vegetarian option, the other two seafood courses were more to my liking.  The abalone was very good.

I enjoyed the food and especially liked the desserts and the extra asparagus course that was prepared for me.  I didn't like the lack of choices available, which extended beyond the set menu.  I didn't care for the bread I was given or for the butter with seaweed, which was the only butte option and made all of the bread taste fishy.

It was around midnight when I walked back to my hotel.  The approach from Saison was a little less creepy than the walk home last night.

This was the last night I booked at the hotel.  When I got back to my room I tried to extend my stay but found out they were full.  So were all of the other reasonably priced options.  I wound up booking a hotel in Redwood City for the weekend.
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Chas on

"I discussed the problem with the server"

In the mind of the beholder?

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