Daveena and I went to Atelier Crenn for dinner last night and—to cut to the chase—it was the best high-end dinner I’ve had in San Francisco this year.
In our Oakland versus San Francisco debate (which might only be in my head) my city has suffered in our dining series—Benu was pretty good, Sons & Daughters was an epic fail, Bar Agricole charged us $15 for a cheese plate featuring Trader Joe’s quality Parmesan with the stink of plastic wrap still hanging over it. Our trips to Plum, Commis and cocktail crawl through Grand Lake succeeded at a level our SF expeditions had not. The cheese plate in particular launched an existential crisis: why pay SF rent if our most awesome dinners required a BART ticket?
There are two menu options—a full tasting menu for $125 or a four course prix fixe selection for $75. We went for four courses and split the pairing; I ordered the “broken” avocado, “walk in the forest” mushroom dish, “the sea” entrée, and chocolate cherry log dessert; the meal included a piece of French milk bread as a starter, followed by an amuse bouche, a palate refresher in between the second and third courses, and mignardises.
Every dish I ordered was a standout—perfectly executed at the level one should expect when you’re dining at (and paying for) a restaurant of this level. The chef created playful scenes on the plate, but technique never won out over taste. Several of the plates used meringue (a meringue tongue running down the mushroom plate, a beet-shaped meringue in the amuse bouche) and nitrogen freezing (like the “broken avocado”) to meld unexpected tastes and textures. I grabbed a bite of Daveena’s first course, the new potato “memoire d’enfance” (memory of childhood) and thought that was spectacular as well. If I had to pick a favorite, it was “The Sea”—each piece of seafood on the plate was purely, simply and exquisitely itself—this included arctic char, mussels, oysters and “sand” made of--what was that, Daveena? Of the chef’s additions to the meal, only the milk bread wasn’t great—I didn’t like the texture. It tasted like an unflaky powdered milk biscuit.
The dining room was funny—it reminded me of my mother’s “wizard period” in the 80’s when her craft circle was working on cloaked wizards surrounded by woodland creatures constructed of twigs and hot glue. The room is a shoe box with low couches, soft organic colors and twiggy wall art. A bamboo-like covering over the center lighting fixture that looked like what you’d do if you were on an HDTV show with $1000 and 24 hours to renovate a house. So not as high end as the food, but maybe that’ll improve over time. However, if that’s why we got out of there for $110, I accept the wizard period throwback. The chef, who looks like a kind of French punk pixie, was walking around the room and stopped to say hello.
A+. Spectacular without pretense. Can’t wait to go back for the full chef’s menu.
355 11th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Sons & Daughters
708 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108
3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123