Forbes Best US Restaurant – 52 – Atelier Crenn, San Francisco, CA
Atelier Crenn is a one Michelin star French restaurant from Dominique Crenn (Formerly of Luce) located in San Francisco’s Marina District. (Atelier means workshop in French.) As she puts it, “An expression of taste, scent, and vision.” Seasonal and sustainable cuisine. We have been debating whether to dine here for a while. Our worries were whether this place was more style or substance. Some of the pictures of the dishes here looked too beautiful to eat!
Why did we dine here? – This place has been on our hit list for a while and finally rose to the top.
Summary – Atelier Crenn lived up to its reputatio
n for beautiful and inventive food. We would have to agree that this is a special and unique restaurant that deserves to be on any foodie’s hit list.
Be warn that many dishes were compact bites, which in the end may not fully satisfy heartier eaters.
Insider Tip – Make reservations, allow 3-4 hour
s for the tasting menu.
Cuisine – Modern French
Chef – Dominique Crenn
Location – Marina District, San Francisco
Opened – 2011
Decor, Vibe – Atelier Crenn features fairly restrained modern decor with trim and elegant chairs, beautiful wall screens, old incandescent bulbs, and a back garden room. Try to sit in the front dining room if possible. Modern eclectic jazz was playing.
Atelier Crenn’s Menu changes seasonally with a 9 course Classic menu available. We were served the Moments of Winter, an Introduction on our visit. This meal was described in poetic terms, not actual ingredients or dishes.
Signature Dishes – 12 course Tasting menu, Wine Pairing $90 or $170. The premium wine pairing approximately 80% alcoholic beverages, and the balance, non-alcoholic “Etudes.”
Their menu contains a poem that gives you a preview of each course.
Moments of Winter Tasting Menu
Winter arrives, once and again.
A shallow pool stirs
With those looking for the warmth
Of a faraway place.
Scuttling across the sands,
Scales shine through the deep.
Finally, soft richness.
The warmth of the sands give sanctuary
To those beneath the dark waters.
The game is finished.
Above, a light snow falls.
French 74 cocktail consisted of a whipped foam topping, sake brewed into a “gin”, with white wine below.
Amuse Bouche – Mussels Escovech. A mussel cooked in a emulsion of seawater, saffron roux, fennel front, a vinegary foam solution laid on a rock. A glimpse of the techniques that were forthcoming.
Amuse Bouche – Steel head trout roe on a lightly fried rice cracker with shisho leaf. Crispy and salty in each bite.
Amuse Bouche – Kir Royale play. White chocolate “egg” filled with a shot of Kir Breton, Creme de cassis on the outside. Very delicate, so the waiter suggested we pick up the pedestal and devour the egg in one entire bite. Fun!
Japanese Tiger Prawn grilled a la plancha, poached in seawater. A zesty and sesame flavored bon bon jay sauce and a super fresh piece of seafood. Could have used 10 more. Messy but well worth it.
Oyster Japanese with flashed poached in sake cushi (sp?), flower gelee, Meyer lemon on a rock with foam. Delicate, subtle flavors, and a lite broth.
Dungeness Crab lovage ”snow”, rutabaga and grapefruit and wild rice. Accompanied with a wheat mini bun. Fresh, clean, refreshing flavors.
Japanese pickled Mackerel, beet puree, bonito was excellent but a tiny bite sized chunk.
Jardin or Garden with beautiful fresh beets, carrots, turnips, forest herbs, and quinoa was a sight to behold and full of very fresh produce. Inventive yet retro.
Liquid nitrogen’d frozen tea was served inside a rock. Fun, tasty, fruity.
Home-made brioche with Foie gras log, the nuances of winter, flash frozen and shaved, shaped like a hollow stick, served with vanilla, cocoa nibs, apple bits, balsamic gelee little cubes, and rice cracker. Tasty, cold, rich, lots of interesting taste and textures at one time.
Razor clam with carrot foam, squid ink, seaweed, smoked paprika, red onion gelee, and sweet sturgeon pearls. A nice dish but we wondered why she wanted a spicy kick underneath.
Madai alliums (Thai Snapper) with fried sage, kumquat shells, botarga, cilantro puree, edible flowers, browned butter, and fried capers was a larger portion than the Mackerel. Cooked perfectly.
“Walk in the forest” Textures of wild mushrooms (dehydrated and sauteed), hazelnut, chickpeas is her signature dish, filled with three types of exotic mushrooms with varying textures. They were accompanied by a sweet meringue foam that went well with the mushrooms.
Smoked Pigeon or squab cooked four ways (tender loin, breast, leg, heart), ume, “ash” of coffee, black garlic. The heart was cooked sous vide which made it super tender. The leg was on the rare side, but hit the spot.
Eucalyptus Popsicle contained mild flavors and was served in a large plant on the table.
Japanese siphon tea was made at our table. This is traditionally used with coffee. Infused with lemon grass, rhubarb, blood orange. We’ve never seen this before and found it extremely interesting and fun. The tea proved to be fruity and a bit sweet.
Pear sorbet shaped like a pear and painted with pear, apple, rose, rhubarb and quince. The forest floor consisted of nutty browned butter, sage cake, apple granita and Greek yogurt snow. Everything was edible except for the vanilla bean “stem”. A fantastic and fun dish.
Split log covered with 11 different Mignardises – dark chocolate fruit marshmallows, madeleine’s, fig and raspberry cookies, raspberry nougat, rice covered chocolate and passion fruit ganache, ginger candies, key lime, mango, gold leaf covered 73% cacao chocolate sheets, and a fleur de sel caramel.
Service – Atelier Crenn has gotten some flack for service not equaling their beautiful cuisine. Our experience was that their service was top notch, with people flowing by every minute or two.
Chef Crenn came out twice to check on us, something that adds a personal touch and is done throughout France.
Value – Prices are expensive, but in line with top notch spots like this. Lots of Special occasions are celebrated here, there are few regulars, unless you are well heeled.
Verdict – Atelier Crenn serves up unique, beautiful modern cuisine. Give it a try and experience their unique blend of fun dishes and innovative cooking. We were surprised that there really wasn’t a clinker in our evening’s adventure.