Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
It's the thirteenth course of my meal at Saison, and my brain can't quite reconcile that I'm listening to Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen" while nibbling on a crackly chicharron made from the skin of sea cucumber. The song hurls me back to my Dorito-munching, VH1-watching teenage self—a kid whose only contact with chicharrones was bagged pork rinds from Southern gas stations, and who couldn't possibly imagine a version being fashioned from a slimy marine creature. The relentlessly eighties playlist messes with my head the whole evening. My table sits ten feet from the gleaming stoves: I watch the cooks in one of San Francisco's most serious kitchens maintain their stony expressions even while Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" bounces overhead.