Every now and then, we all deserve to indulge ourselves in a “splurge” dinner experience. Last year we said that we would come back to Atelier Crenn to try out 2-Star Michelin Chef Dominique Crenn’s Poetic Culinaria, as we had a preview of her creative cuisine in partnership with Commonwealth’s Jason Fox at a SF Chef Dinner Party Project event.
It took us longer than we anticipated, but having finally made it to Atelier Crenn, we came out understanding why she is one of the few (and only female) dual-starred Michelin chefs in the country. The serene cream and earth-tone 40-seat restaurant decor matches the food that comes out of the kitchen. Every plate was beautiful, and if it were possible, tasted even better than it looked. Each dish is composed of many different ingredients that sometimes have you scratching your head on how it all could work, but all the flavors worked in conjunction together and could not do with one less.
As we were seated, they asked if we wanted to start with an aperitivo such as a glass of champagne or a Kir Royale, but since we were thinking of getting a bottle of Champagne anyway, we decided to ask for the wine list. They also asked if we would like to see the dinner menu at that time to “perhaps” help with the wine selection. The menu offers two selections: a five and a 12-course chef’s tasting menu where each line of the poem described the course. We were here to indulge, so the only question was whether to get the wine pairing or go with our own selection along with the 12-course menu.
We had forgotten that the dinner menu itself would be no help in determining a proper wine since it is offered as a poem written by Chef Crenn:
Master Sommelier Ian Burrows came to the table and was very helpful in assuring us that our decision of selecting our own bottles, rather than the pairing would be perfectly fine. We had selected a bottle of Champagne and a 2004 Barbaresco to pair with our meal. There really is nothing nicer to start off a meal than to have some bubbly poured:
The Champagne from Cramant made with 100% Chardonnay grapes hit all of the right notes on our palate:
The Kir Breton bite paired perfectly with the champagne. The white chocolate shell held cassis liquid that burst in the mouth when consumed:
They brought out smoked buckwheat crackers that were meant to be eaten with the next course or two. The crackers were so crispy that is was impossible to keep the table clean of crumbs (they later used a crumb lifter to clean up after us):
This next course was as aromatically appealing as it was visually beautiful. A pleasant scent of truffle aroma instantly wafted up as soon as the dish was brought to the table. Bits of black truffle swam in an Iberico ham broth containing an island of tender raw squid noodles topped with briny caviar. We were instantly smitten with Chef Crenn’s creative food since we felt that this dish (and others that followed) really tasted like the stanza of our poetic journey. In this case, she described this dish as “Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land”:
Slices of smoked Shima Aji sashimi topped with deseeded Thai chili slices were accompanied by a baby turnip, tempura-fried with its greens. Lemongrass and coconut flavors completed this Japanese and Thai influenced dish:
The perfectly grilled scallop was served with its roe as a panna cotta custard. Served in a shell, the “licorice” broth (made with fennel) and yuzu citrus bubbles made it look as if the scallop was rising from an ocean tide:
Chef Crenn’s take on a French Onion Soup was truly refined. Served with a buttery brioche and a generous slice of black truffle, it was another very aromatic dish:
The broth was poured table-side over the soft Comte cheese dumpling and the black truffle. The soup was earthy and delicious:
Atelier Crenn’s Pastry Chef Juan Contreras is a genius. Similar to the Kir Breton bon-bons served first, this “Woody and Stone” palate cleanser offered a black “rock” containing rhubarb juice. Once the stone was consumed, then the rhubarb “paper” was eaten (click on different parts of the picture to check out the Lytro living picture refocusing capability):
Our drinking was moving at just the right pace since the stone palate cleanser was the time to switch from the champagne to the 2004 Barbaresco from Castello Di Neive, an excellent vintage that is drinking very well:
Various grains and seeds were toasted and mixed with a spicy yuzukoshō (a condiment made with chili, yuzu peel and salt). The grains were also speckled with Steelhead trout roe:
A cold dashi broth was poured over the grains tableside, where the server joked with us that this was like eating an “adult cereal”:
Poetically labeled as “a new start,” this last dish was the signal for the meal to move to the next phase …