Saison's Joshua Skenes' Love Of Seaweed

Saison's Joshua Skenes plays with marine vegetables

Few American chefs pay the kind of attention to seaweed that Joshua Skenes does at Saison.

Depending on the season–yes, seaweed gathering has a season–a local diver brings Skenes many different varieties from the Mendocino Coast, including sea grapes, sea lettuce and mermaid's hair.

The mermaid's hair, aka polysiphonia, is dried, puffed and placed on his crudité plate.

When we visited the restaurant last week, Skenes showed us swaths of kelp pebbled over with herring roe; he brines the leaves and then braises or fries them into delicate chips.

Not all of the seaweed is eaten: The chef currently wraps fillets of blue-wing sea robin in fat leaves of Mendocino bull kelp to cure the fish. He serves the sea robin almost raw, its skin "kissed" with hot embers to tenderize it and impart a sense of smoke.

And at the bar, where diners can order a lower-priced "salon" tasting menu ($88 and up), Saison serves sake infused with Japanese freshwater river algae, whose delicate depth of flavor Skenes loves.

Saison, 178 Townsend St. (at Third St.); 415-828-7990 or