Notes from San Francisco: Atelier Crenn

February 7, 2014


I didn’t know what to expect.  

This is what I knew: Dominique Crenn was a San Francisco chef who is always mentioned when the subject of “women chefs” is raised. She had many stars from local critics in San Francisco, and two from the Michelin people. And she writes menus that are poems.  

This is what I found: a small, spare, elegant but rather modest room filled with the electricity of expectation.  It feels hopeful, the way a theater does, just before the curtain rises.  

And theater is what you get.  I love this kind of dining, where the chef is walking a tightrope, taking risks, pushing you to explore tastes and textures that you’ve never before experienced.  There were dishes I loved and some I hated, but in the four hours I spent at the table, I was never bored. It was like taking a wonderful journey, exploring new territory, and I walked out the door utterly exhilarated.

Here are a few of my favorite moments of this particular trip. (Apologies for the pictures; I was having too much fun…)

The meal begins with a tiny bonbon of a drink. An adorable edible Kir, a little flavor bomb that explodes into your mouth in a whoosh of liquid.  Apple, chocolate – and a total surprise. 

And then the parade of tiny dishes begins…..



Under the midnight glow I can taste the sweetness of the sea: a tiny uni custard topped with caviar (in a ceramic sea urchin shell)


Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories.

Snap, crackle and pop! Maybe my favorite dish of the evening, this reimagined cereal combines crunchy grains, cool herbal leaves, lovely trout roe.  Textures and temperatures do somersaults in your mouth. Fantastic!


These creatures who move with a slow, vague wavering of claws

No wait, this was my favorite course: Hands down the best seafood chowder I've ever tasted. Hard to believe that so many flavors and textures are hiding in that little bowl of soup.


Elegantly sitting on branches.

You can hardly see them, but at each end of this branch is a tiny carrot that has been much manipulated until it is reduced to the ghostly essence of itself.  A fascinating little tidbit.


Dotting the fragrant flora; Ms. Crenn's whimsical little salad.


Walking deep in the woods, as the snow might have something to spare.

A delightful tangle of mushrooms, and utterly irresistible.


Feeling of black sand under my toes.

Wagyu beef as it should be served: one extremely satisfying bite. Okay, maybe two.


Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves.

The wild beauty being the most delicious bit of bird.

And finally, an edible encyclopedia of honey, all comb and crunch. 


Afterward there were lollipops, chocolates and as a finale, a little fluff of mint cotton candy, that leaves you with a laugh. 

Fantastic pairings of wine, sake and beer as well. My particular favorite: that fantastic old white Rioja!



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1 Comment

  • Jim Clark says:

    Thanks for the great pics, Ruth. I’ve eaten there only twice and they’ve always fascinated me with their imaginative dishes. I recently saw her video about making the carrot jerky and that had me predictably salivating. And now that I’ve seen these dishes, six or seven of which are new to me, I’m going a little bonkers just anticipating their flavors. One of these days I’m going to have to get my budding foodie group over to SF for this restaurant. They’ve heard me rave about it enough! Thanks again.