atelier crenn.....hold onto your taste buds...and your wallet
There is this show on Netflix called "Chef's Table". It highlights some of the well known and up and coming chefs from around the world. Me and the SO like to watch it and see of all the places we probably aren't going to eat at. Though, they are more into the fancy, frou-frou food than I am, unless it tastes really good, then I'm all on board. We caught an episode with Chef Dominique Crenn, an SF local who has become world renowned for making a strong name in a male dominated field. The SO was fascinated and we liked the way her home kitchen looked. It made the SO want to eat at her place Atelier Crenn sometime. Well, that was all I needed and turned that idea into a reality and surprised them with a birthday dinner there recently. We could say we ate her food and dined at one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
I will say up front, I was mildly intrigued to try the place, but I was totally here for the SO. This is their thing, a chef's menu experience that combines a myriad of cooking techniques along with presentation and flair. I just hoped it would taste good, or more specifically, I wouldn't totally hate it.
Not one to shy away from things, we went all in with the grand tasting. That means 16 courses! Plus, they threw in a few extras, one we asked for a couple as surprises along with some champagne and the SO got all the wine pairings. All together it means settle in kids, we are going to be here awhile.
The "menu" comes as a poem and each line relates to what you are getting. Yes, it is all I can do to not roll my eyes while the SO is relishing every moment. (The picture with the title of this post is the poem--enjoy it! I'm gonna try to match the lines with the photos, though can't be sure I got them all correct.) I'm not sure I could tell how each line fit each dish and honestly, I'm not even gonna try. It was hard enough trying to take notes about what we were actually getting. You'll notice how my descriptions will trail off the deeper I get in this post. I was exhausted from all the note taking!
All around us the innumerable servers seem to swirl about the room as if in some floor show dinner dance. A bustling hub of activity for a small place. I'm chalking it all up to being part of the experience. Is that enough of a build up? Wondering where the food is? Well, hang on, cause small bite/plates are coming at you.
Cute! It is a ball of white chocolate filled with apple cider and topped with a cassis gel. I will call this a light refresher to cleanse your palate and get ready for what is to come. It was like an old school squirt candy. Not really sweet, more like a sudden burst and woosh, it was over. The cider was about all I tasted. In theory this is a riff on a kir breton, a classic cocktail, but with the cassis getting lost and the addition of chocolate it is more distant homage than food recreation. Definitely interesting, I'll just leave it at that.
A hefty dollop of dashi foam atop some black roe and underneath is a carrot puree. I will say "burst of ocean" was pretty accurate as this was SUPER salty. And it wasn't the roe, it was that foam on top that sent me scrambling for some water. Yowza! Of course the roe didn't bring it down any. What really helped was the sweet like carrot puree underneath. Once you swirled all three together they melded well but it was still hard for me to get past all the saltiness. Plus, I'm not the biggest fan of fish eggs. I actually couldn't finish this, even in its small portion. But the SO was more than happy to spoon away. Me, I just asked the waiter to leave the water pitcher.
That would be a little smoked squash, some grapefruit and avocado. Great, first roe now avocado, it is like a parade of stuff I don't eat. But I've got my dressy big boy pants on and came with an open mind and mouth to just go with it since I'm here for the SO. While you could probably make two bites out of this, I decided to just have it all at once. The smoky and citrus were nice and it did overshadow the avocado, so yeah for that. But it was a little soft note only and I missed the "meaty" part. It did look pretty on the plate and the colors were like the flag of Ireland. Didn't taste like Guinness, though there's an idea for you.
It is a roe tart in miniature. Lord help me, more fish eggs, salmon this time. Can't argue this stuff doesn't look pretty. This one was another in the salty line and it was the roe this time. I think it was some king of yogurt foamy thing and some kind of squash underneath in a buckwheat shell? The server was talking quickly and it was hard to keep up with. Basically it is a tiny fish egg pie. I just smile, sigh, take a single bite and guzzle some water. Ugh, I just can't. Fortunately the SO is continuing to be amazed. Good for them.
That is a mussel with curried yogurt and persimmon gel. Oh, great! Another seafood fishy thingy! I like mussels, though usually in garlic butter, not curry yogurt per se. This again to me was salty and I won't say I was a fan of the curry bit, or the oil. But hey, at least it wasn't an oyster and I could finish it in one bite. The mussel was escabeche, "cooked" using acid like a citrus, but it wasn't chewy, so that was good. The glass or Reisling I'm having is nice too. I hope I can make it stretch a few more dishes.
Yeah, I know, looks like a tongue on some rice. It is butter poached sea urchin on some sticky seaweed rice. I see a theme! It is the salt of the ocean, or maybe that is just what my tongue is tasting. So, this wasn't all that bad, but it was another SMALL PORTION I couldn't finish. Between the fishy seaweed and salty urchin I feel like the water is just being sucked right out of me. I'm sure the server thinks I've got a hollow leg with all the water I'm putting away. What I really want it just a straw to put in the water pitcher and so I can drink from there. But I just smile and push the bowl over to the SO to finish off.
I think all the salt is making me loose focus as the stanzas are a bit confusing and the server didn't help much. Here we have thinly sliced abalone and egg yolk jam surrounded by smoked oyster cream and I think there is some roasted garlic puree there somewhere. Well, I didn't really taste the oyster, I'm taking that as a positive. A little garlic yes, a little smoke yes and the abalone, well, I've never really thought that had much flavor myself. Kind of like a mushroom in texture, just without the earthy flavor. Usually I like to think I'm a fan of seafood, though this endless parade of the more obscure edible sea creatures is challenging my tongue. As is all the soft, foamy, liquidy stuff. How many more dishes are there?
Tiny fried potato strings with seaweed salt and gold leaf on a clear glass ball. Reminded me a lot of those potato sticks that used to come in a can. And looks like they still do. This was the ultimate in tiny bits, but props, they were crispy. These were also the "chips" that went with....
...the fish. A ginger smoked trout with yogurt sauce. Yikes, this was right on the edge of sushi to me. And very close to salmon, a true double shudder whammy to get through. I ate half of it and yes, it had the smoke. Might have gotten through all of it with some tartar sauce instead of yogurt. Call me a philistine, whatever, I also like my fish cooked. I appreciate the the whole curvy plate like the fish is swimming in the waves and maybe the yogurt is the foam of the waves or something. Or maybe I'm just hallucinating from drinking too much water.
It is at this point that Chef Crenn makes an appearance in the dining room and starts going table to table. I can see the SO getting nervous and giving me that "please be nice look." When she comes by I just smile and pleasure to meet you and let the SO do all the fawning. She's very nice and very thin--I would say how does she do that, but, you know, small plates. Turns out, chef would make another round of the tables and, well, I'll get to that one.
By this time we've been here about 90! minutes and are seemingly half way through the meal. It was at this point that we got a not on the menu item.
That's right, a fresh baked brioche bread loaf with two kinds of butter. The one on the right is your classic mixed with fresh herbs. Normally I would say, it's butter, it was great! This one tasted a little too much like grass, even looks like it was rolled in it. The one on the left was butter made from steak fat and OMG! It was the best thing ever! When spread on the bread, it tasted like meat. It was amazing. As was the bread itself. I could of eaten this whole loaf myself. Soft, buttery and oh so yummy. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy had the meal ended here, but the bread seemed to signal a shift in the dishes as we moved from salty and seafood to more land based foods.
It also feels like a good spot to end this post and save the rest for my next one. Plus, it is always good to end on a high note and so far, that bread and beef fat butter are my new food heaven. I'm also trying not to think about the fact there are like 10 more courses coming, and while you always hear, "better not fill up on bread," I'm taking an exception to that since I have no idea what is coming next.