San Francisco, USA
July 12, 2019
Atelier Crenn is the 19th restaurant on the quest. It was 35th on the list in 2019. It is also a Michelin 3-star restaurant
When on a major quest, sometimes a side quest is in order. One such restaurant side quest of mine is to go to every Michelin 3-star restaurant in the Bay Area. Up until last year, that list included seven restaurants: Manresa, Saison, Benu, Quince, Coi, The Restaurant at Meadowood, and The French Laundry.
I had gone to Saison, Benu, Quince, and Coi in one fell swoop during an ambitious week that completed all of the 3-star restaurants in San Francisco proper but still left three restaurants outside of the city.
Manresa, down in Los Gatos, and The Restaurant at Meadowood, up in St Helena, were visited on subsequent trips to the Bay Area. That just left The French Laundry. That is, until the 2019 list came out—both for Michelin and the World’s 50 Best. Atelier Crenn made it onto both. SingleThread was awarded its 3rd Michelin star but didn’t make the top 50. This side quest just became three times harder.
With another trip planned to the Bay Area (and Napa Valley, in particular), I was going to do my best to book all three. Reservations for The French Laundry and Atelier Crenn opened up on the same day. I snagged a reservation for The French Laundry but Atelier Crenn’s online booking showed the particular weekend I would be in town as unavailable. That’s unfortunate. Might as well add myself to the waiting list, just in case.
A month later, reservations for SingleThread opened up and another evening of anticipatorily delicious food was booked.
I was disappointed to miss out on Atelier Crenn but I consoled myself with the knowledge that another trip to the Bay Area was likely and I’ll get my opportunity to go then.
With less than a week before the trip to Napa Valley, I received an email letting me know that a spot may have opened up at Atelier Crenn. I instantly rushed to the site only to be told that there wasn’t anything. Maybe if I just try again? Sure enough, it worked. There was availability! I’ll be able to complete the side quest!
Kitt and I took an evening stroll from our hotel to the restaurant situated discretely in the Cow Hollow neighbourhood. The restaurant is easy to miss with its low-key signage just inside the doorway.
We were immediately taken to our seat, despite being a few minutes early for our reservation. I discovered why this weekend wasn’t initially available when I tried to book it months ago: Dominique Crenn does collaborations with chefs around the world. This time, it was with Antoni Luis Aduriz of the restaurant Mugaritz, based in Spain and currently 7th on the World’s 50 Best list.
My expectations have now been set quite high.
The evening meal kicked off with a refreshing amuse-bouche: a twist on a Kir Breton, a French cocktail.
The pre-bread courses consisted of a geoduck, sea urchin & stone fruit “tart”; oyster; a dumpling in the shape of a pillow; and an amusing presentation of caviar on an ice tongue hand-fed to us. This was followed by a tomato dish and zurrukutuna—a Spanish dish with salt cod and bread.
The bread was an amazing brioche loaf. Well-made brioche bread I could eat by the truck-load and this was no exception.
Between the bread and the desserts were an abalone, cabbage & smoked crème dish that was delicious, followed by a squid & onion dish that was surprisingly muted. Finally, a sea bream in textures that was, unsurprisingly, texturally interesting but didn’t blow either of us away flavour-wise.
For dessert, there was a citrus and vanilla cream ball that harkened back to the style of the Kir Breton that kicked off the meal. This was followed by a lemon sucadde that was intense and chewy. Lastly, a literal handful of treats were presented. The hand was made of chocolate but was not itself edible.
Crenn offers up two different versions of wine pairings. The standard pairing and a more expensive one that included rarer wines. I’ve always gone with the standard wine pairings but considering the high expectations, I figured I’d add to them by going with the more expensive pairing.
I wasn’t disappointed; the wine was fantastic. I had the best white wine I’ve ever had: a 2012 M. Chapoutier ‘Le Méal’ Ermitage Blanc. It was so good, I managed to track it down at a local liquor store for $250 a bottle.
The wine pairing alone was $500 and I’m struggling to say it was worth it. Yes, I enjoyed every wine that was served and some of it was probably the best wine I’ve had to date. But to say that I spent that much just on wine seemed overly indulgent.
Reviewing now the dishes that were prepared by Crenn and those by Aduriz, there was a definite contrast between the two. Crenn’s dishes were flavourful and delicious. Aduriz’s dishes were more umami and subtle.
All of our favourite dishes of the evening were from Crenn. I’d love to go back and experience the full menu she has to offer.