Friday, August 23, 2013

Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, CA) [2]

Atelier Crenn
3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Fri 08/23/2013, 08:10p-01:10a

My first meal at Dominique Crenn's self-titled eatery--not too long after the place opened--was quite the experience to behold, arguably my best meal of 2011. At the end of that dinner, I predicted Michelin stars for the restaurant, and, not surprisingly, that prognostication came to fruition in 2012 when Crenn got the deuce. Given the strength of my last meal, I was curious to pay Atelier another visit, to see how the place had progressed in the intervening years.

Atelier Crenn Menu Atelier Crenn Wine Pairing
Atelier Crenn's menu format has changed slightly since my last visit. There's now a Signature Menu at $95 along with a ~14 course Chef's Grand Tasting Menu at $180 (the one you want to get), plus $150 a head for wine pairings from Sommelier Ian Burrows. Click for a larger version.

Engelen Tarwe / Teufelweizen / Special Belge
Before the meal, we enjoyed all three beers on Crenn's list. First was the Divine Brewing Co. 'Engelen Tarwe' Triple Ale, Sonoma, California [$10], a slightly skunky, spicy, sour-ish ale with a soft undercurrent of fruit. Its sister beer, the Divine Brewing Co. 'Teufelweizen' Bock-Style Ale, Sonoma, California [$10], showed off a ridiculous amount of head (see photo), and was even better, with a smooth, dark, roasty, chocolate-y character to it that I quite liked. Finally, we sampled the De Ryck 'Special Belge', Belgium [$7], a steely, crisp, dry ale with a pleasant yeasty quality and just a touch of hop bitterness.

Kir Breton
1: Kir Breton [Summer has come with its warm breeze]
We commenced with Crenn's signature amuse bouche, a reimagined take on the classic Kir Breton. Apple cider arrived encased in a crème de cassis-topped sphere of white chocolate and cocoa butter, the shell disintegrating near-instantly upon contact with the tongue, unleashing torrents of tart apple flavors that then transitioned to the sugary sweetness of the chocolate. Fun, as well as effective, a great harbinger of things to come.

Oyster leaves were zesty little jolts to the palate, really recalling the essence of its namesake bivalve and thus setting the stage wonderfully for our next course...

Uni, Caviar, Licorice
2: Uni, Caviar, Licorice [Mellow serenades of colors licorice, nature and orange]
Riesling Kabinett 2011, Zilliken 'Rausch', Mosel Valley
...And what a course! Sea urchin torchon was paired with caviar and licorice root, then enveloped in yuzu bubbles. The tang of the citrus was strong on the nose, but transitioned seamlessly to the rich brine of the uni and salty kick of the roe, all while licorice added an almost ethereal spiciness to the dish.

Buckwheat Cracker
In lieu of bread service, we were instead presented charred buckwheat crackers, smoky and crunchy to the bite.

Squid, Iberico, Lardo
3: Squid, Iberico, Lardo [Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land.]
Gruner Veltliner 2011, Hirsch 'Heiligenstein', Kamptal
Noodles of Japanese squid were fantastic, supple to the bite and mild, but beautifully augmented by the one-two punch of lardo and ibérico, an unabashedly salty, savory duo that melded wonderfully with the heady, integrating truffle broth. One of the highlights of the dinner for me, and a perfect pairing to the accompanying Grüner Veltliner, which itself showed off some delightfully earthy, truffle-y notes as well. Awesome.

Shima Aji, Coconut, Cilantro
4: Shima Aji, Coconut, Cilantro [A gentle smell, oceanic, of yummy feeling]
Sake, Wakatake 'Demon Slayer', Shizuoko
Cured shima aji was another winner, and quite possibly the best rendition of the ingredient I've ever experienced. The fish alone was uncompromisingly clean, delicate, with a subtle brine that went perfectly with the bright cilantro and coconut flavors present--think a distinctly Southeast Asian tinge accented by just a smidge of pepper-y heat. What took this over the top, though, were the tempura'd veggies, which imparted a fantastic savoriness and crunch to the dish that just brought everything together gorgeously. Lovely pairing here too with the Onigoroshi, a smooth, viscous junmai daiginjo with delicious floral-fruity notes on the nose and a creeping bit of alcoholic burn on the back end.

Shellfish, Sweetbreads, Phytoplankton Shellfish, Sweetbreads, Phytoplankton
5: Shellfish, Sweetbreads, Phytoplankton [Sitting on top of the dune, feeling of beach sand under my toes]
Chardonnay 2010, Failla 'Estate', Sonoma Coast
This bisque-like potage was another homage to the flavors of Brittany, a part of France that the Chef visited often as a child. It was a mélange of razor clam, Manila clam, pork belly, sweetbreads, and bone marrow dumplings, all accompanied by sea grapes, plankton gel, and a tomato water air. I found it a masterful presentation of the clams' multifaceted brine, paired in genius fashion with the heady, earthy nuances from the offal, while the seaweed offered up a tempering crunch. Hearty and cozy, a great complement to the rich, buttery, grassy Chard that came with.

Charred Onion Soup, Comte, Truffle Charred Onion Soup, Comte, Truffle
6: Charred Onion Soup, Comte, Truffle [The half moon, silky and smoky]
Oloroso VORS 1/14, El Maestro Sierra, Jerez
Next up was Crenn's take on the ubiquitous French onion soup. It was classic in essence, with the sweetness of the onion marmalade working hand-in-hand with the Comté dumpling and the slightly smoky notes present, all while an apple cider vinaigrette provided an overarching tartness to the dish that really tied everything together. I was especially fond of the bright, herb-y nuances in the dish, and the paired brioche made for a fitting accoutrement, too.

Rhubarb & Ash
7: Rhubarb & Ash [Woody and stone]
Here was another whimsical course, sort of a palate cleanser after the intensity of the preceding dishes. We had here a liquid fennel and citrus consommé encased in a stone-like shell, a sweet, tangy explosion of flavors imbued with just a hint of medicinal twang. Sitting below the "rocks" were thin chips that recalled candied ginger.

Grains & Seeds, Sturgeon, Dashi
8: Grains & Seeds, Sturgeon, Dashi [Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories]
Gewurztraminer, Arista 'Ferrington', Anderson Valley, California
Humble ingredients were the star of the show here--flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, quinoa--but they were presented in simply amazing fashion. They were either toasted, roasted, smoked, or fried, and accompanied by trout roe, white sturgeon roe cream, and yuzukosho, all set in a dashi broth. There was just such an incredible depth and profoundness to the seeds, their earthy, nutty savors perfectly balanced by the blasts of salinity from the sturgeon and trout, while herbaceous whispers added a modicum of lightness to the mix. The flavors here were wonderful, but taken with the fantastic textural interplay and hot-cold contrasts in the dish, we have here my favorite course of the night, and quite possibly the best thing I've eaten all year.

Fermented Wagyu, Broccoli, Egg Yolk
9: Fermented Wagyu, Broccoli, Egg Yolk [Wrapped in a yellow blanket]
Cabernet Franc 2012, Lieu Dit, Santa Ynez Valley
Crenn's riff on steak tartar didn't quite reach the lofty heights of the preceding course, but was still one of the strongest preparations of the dish I've had. Wagyu was commingled with sesame and broccoli fermented in sake lees, then rolled in an egg yolk sheet and garnished with a scallion salad. Taken alone, the beef showed off a superb spiciness and earthy depth, with a lovely touch of pepper on the finish. What really made this for me, however, was the scallion, which imparted just a wonderful, offsetting astringency to things that served as the exclamation point. I found this very nice with the paired wine--a bright, perfume-y, utterly vivacious Cab Franc--as well.

Mushroom, Pine, Pumpernickel
10: Mushroom, Pine, Pumpernickel [Walking deep in the woods, as the earth might have something to spare]
Pinot Noir 2007, JK Carriere, Willamette Valley
Arguably the most popular dish at Atelier Crenn, we had here an amalgam of roasted, pickled, and dehydrated mushrooms, Douglas pine meringue, wood sorrel oil, sage, and hazelnut praline, all dusted with pumpernickel-brioche crumbs. It was a complex, multi-angled exploration of earthy, woody flavors, played against the countervailing sweet and bitter thrusts present, with the pine serving as the overarching, integrating force in the dish.

They Have Wood
I noticed that the table beside us was given a superior presentation of the preceding dish, replete with logs in place of the generic plates. That's too bad.

Duck, Chocolate, Corn
11: Duck, Chocolate, Corn [Birth which gives its morning mystery.]
Brachetto 2012, Sottimano 'Maté', Piedmont
Next was perhaps the most high-concept plate of the evening. We had what I believe was a duck liver pâté underneath a "nest" of corn silk, with puffed rice, pear, apple, vanilla, and finished with porcini-dusted chocolate "twigs," all with a cup of canard consommé on the side. It was a real celebration of duck, with the earthy essence of the bird pairing surprisingly well with its various accoutrements, the sugariness of the chocolate working particularly well as a foil. A bit cerebral, and perfectly washed down by the incredible depth of that consommé.

Squab, Summer Squash, Red Currant
12: Squab, Summer Squash, Red Currant [Where birds sing and are causing ripples in the nearby water]
Mourvedre Blend 2006, Gros Noré, Bandol
Our final savory course of the evening gave us a smoked-seared squab with squash, mustard, rose, hibiscus, and currant. The bird was as delicious as it looked, with a mouth-watering salt and savor to it that was duly brightened by the crunchy bits of squash here, all while the rose-hibiscus-currant combo imparted a wonderful floral-fruity component to the dish. Excellent counterpoint from the mustard, too.

13: "Salad" [Dotting the fragrant flora]
Traditionally, a salad serves as an intermezzo before dessert in a formal French meal, so we were presented a sort of a deconstructed version here, combining various herbs and flowers in a vinaigrette-Banyuls-olive oil dressing. The bite was sweet, tangy, with a strong celery component, though it didn't quite click for me.

Atelier Crenn Cheese Selection
Cheese Plate Chickpea Cracker & Wild Flower Honey
We opted for a cheese course, which turned out to be a surprisingly pricey proposition at $12.50 per slice. The fromages themselves were spot on, though. We had: Petit Pardou, a four-month-aged Pyrenean varietal; the mild Catalonian goat's milk favorite Garrotxa; the peppery Montenebro, my favorite of the bunch; a delightfully mushroom-y Tomme de Crayeuse; a tangy sheep's milk cheese that I didn't catch the name of; a classically sharp Bleu d'Auvergne; and finally an herby Basque cheese which I don't recall the name of either. Accompaniments were a wild flower honey and chickpea crackers, and we also enjoyed glasses of the Marsala Superiore - DeBartoli 'La Vigna Miccia' [$18] to go along.

Guava Consommé
Our first pre-dessert was almost verging on Alinea-esque, comprising a test tube of guava consommé, chia, shiso, and finger lime, along with a tab of lemongrass-infused sugarcane. Think fun and fruity, with bursts of tartness from the finger lime vesicles to go along with the sheer sweetness of the cane.

Eucalyptus Pops
Next were Crenn's trademark eucalyptus ice cream pops, this time incorporating menthol. They were even more bracing, more refreshing than before, with an herby sweetness at first giving way to a cool, minty astringency toward the finish.

Grape, Hazelnut
14: Grape, Hazelnut [Summer has come and is full of sweet surprises]
Jurançon, Möelleux 2011, Clos Uroulat, Gascony
Set in a custom made bisected wine bottle was our main dessert, courtesy of Chef Patissier Juan Contreras. It contained hazelnut ice cream encased in grape skin, Port foam, fresh grape, and baguette with sultanas, all drizzled with saba syrup that was cleverly hidden in a faux cork. The dish served as an exploration of the many faces of grape, and when taken with the hazelnut, made for a tasting experience that was sort of like a cross between a PB&J and a Ferrero Rocher, with a palpable vinous quality to it. I would've liked a bit less bittersweetness here though, so that more of the fruity aspects of the grape could've shown through.

Finally, mignardises arrived in a rather striking serving vessel (replete with moss garden), and consisted of Maldon sea salt caramels, passion fruit marshmallows, strawberry-pink peppercorn pâtes de fruits, almond-pistachio nougats, coffee-milk chocolate ganache "berries" (my favorite), and sesame-chocolate crisps.

Once again, Atelier Crenn is poised to be one of the very top meals of the year, no doubt serving up some of my best bites of 2013. It's obvious that Crenn has grown even more as a chef, with her food coming across as less explicitly "artsy," but just and complex and high-concept. Even better, the cooking's bolder, more confident, while flavors tend toward more intense, more strident, and more focused in general. There really are some great things going in the kitchen here these days, so that next macaron doesn't seem that far out of reach now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why call out the fact that another table got a different/better presentation? Your feelings get hurt? You thought you were a bigger deal than you are? Calm down, man. Makes you seem childish.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 9:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost left the exact same comment as anonymous #1.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

Nice post on this man! Glad you went there as I almost went there when I was in SF this past June.

Just to mention, it's funny that the uni course used the same presentation method as the time when I was at Alinea. I guess chefs do think alike at times? :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

Annoymous...yeah both of you.....

So what if Kevin makes it a point that he didn't get wood (Literally :).....I guess we are all entitled to say, "hey, why's their dish different from ours?"...It's just an obvious thing to point out...given the caliber of these restaurant, wouldn't you assume everyone should get the same experience?

Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

You apparently have never been to The French Laundry. Everytime I have dined there, we have received dishes other tables didn't and vice versa as a gift from the kitchen. Some tables didn't receive any additional courses. This is actually pretty common.

I love the fact that Kevin received a sterile presentation of the dish. A little humble pie in the face can be very beneficial for the overgrown ego.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 1:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow guys, it's not a big deal - he wasn't whining about it, just noted it.

anyway, great review on Atelier Crenn - the menu seems to have progressed nicely but she has some strong mainstays. my meal there in November was very cohesive in terms of theme and concept, and i think that's really where Atelier Crenn excels. the food tastes good, of course, but i think her cuisine is more about narrative, and along those lines, temperature and texture (my first few courses in Autumn all featured sorbets) and there was a heavy emphasis on grains and root vegetables.

anyway, i wanted to comment on something Sam C. said about chefs thinking alike at times. for sure, and we're not just talking about a L'Arpege-inspired egg or a vegetable dish homage to Michel Bras's "gargouillou." or good flavor combos like japanese jackfish sashimi (kanpachi, shimaaji) with coconut, which we've seen before at Providence.

the squid/lardo duo was seen at John Shields' Town House in VA and later at Chris Kostow's Restaurant at the Meadowood. it's kind of like the uni/toast, which was seen at Jean Georges and Providence, then to everywhere, really - from Paiche to even Father's Office, restaurants in Portland, Vegas, etc. (Providence's rendition was the most successful imo in texture and flavor, using a nori foccacia). there's many other examples as well.

what i've been seeing a lot of is smoked avocado with a cephalopod (squid, octupus, etc.). i just had it at both Manresa and Saison in the past month, and i saw it recently on the menu at Restaurant at the Meadowood. my guess is that'll be the new uni toast.

anon #3

Thursday, September 12, 2013 2:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Brett said...

Taking pictures of and commenting on what others diners received at an establishment of this high quality is outright classless.

Seriously? All because your dish didn't come on an old wood log?

Friday, September 13, 2013 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weird to see the venom here. You wouldn't feel a bit tweaked if you see another table getting something like mignardises, while you get nothing? That has happened to me before.

A restaurant of this caliber should not have odd service variations. Pete Wells used a decoy for his review of Daniel in NYC for this same issue.

You think the michelin stars, etc would be the same if they served everything on some plain white plates?

get real, haters.

I do agree however that he should not have posted the photo.

Friday, September 13, 2013 1:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The French Laundry serves different dishes and extra courses to various diners all the time. Especially to regulars.

During my last visit, the table behind us received an additional course that had scented "smoke" encased in a glass globe. We didn't receive this course.

Did I get butt hurt? No. Did I take pictures? No.

Friday, September 13, 2013 4:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Al said...

Pretty interesting reaction from some of the readers. You guys are creating too much of a narrative regarding a stranger, and personal issues are seeping out in the form of unjustified schadenfreude.

Saturday, September 14, 2013 2:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

Aren't we taught as children that it is rude to stare at other people's plates in restaurants?

Maybe I was just raised with stricter standards than others.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013 9:48:00 AM  

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