First female chef with 2 Michelin stars. This was a special meal for us as it was my French aunt’s birthday. Also, the symbolism of the food and the love for the chef’s deceased parents echoed in my mind with the passing of my father and the passing of my aunt’s mother. The Netflix special on the chef’s life was equally heart wrenching and emotionally raw. It was a true feeling eating here, and the foundation on which the menu was built, was truly an amalgamation of the different life experiences that built the character of the chef. The suffering that led to the chef’s growth and how this was imparted in the food reminded me of the movie Like Water for Chocolate, where the person eating the food can feel the emotions of the chef that was cooking it.
I had to reverse engineer the item descriptions from the poem she wrote above, and align them with my photos to figure out what dish was what, so bear with me as no written description was provided. With regards to the ‘Orbs of the air, earth, and sea’, we start with her symbolic aperitif of the Brittany region, where she is from, the Kir Breton. It is the Kir liquor creme of cassis on top of the champagne filled orb, like a little Jack in the Box. It is a variation of the Kir Royal, which is champagne and Kir liquor cocktail. But instead, the Kir is condensed into a creme and the champagne is inside the orb that explodes in your mouth. I guess it was a symbol of her memories of Brittany when she was a young child playing in the sea with her family, and from her knee-level perspective, seeing to all the adults drinking Kir Royales, hence the Pavlovian memory of the conditioned stimulus (the sea) and the unconditioned stimulus (Kir Breton). At least that is what the Psychiatrist in me surmises.
Next are the ‘crispy critters from the sea’. Crispy conferring the crunchy pop of the roe and buckwheat soba cracker. I believe the micro green salad had a tomato gelee that was pure essence of tomato. It’s fresh and tart acidity nicely offset the peaty smokiness of the trout roe, which was an homage to the classic rye bread and smoked fish flavor combo archetype.
Since our meal was seafood heavy, we opted for several bottles of white before moving on to some amazing red Burg. The Som suggested a Reisling while I opted for a Corton Charlemagne which, though young, had a nice intensely gold color with the fragrant aromatics of a white burg. The Riesling was not too sweet and almost evergreen, nicely balancing any fishiness from the seafood.
Continuing on, the theme of “fish and chips” in its molecular rendition. Basically, trout (in reference to the ‘winter lake’ in the poem) cooked sous vide with its desiccated skin reattached, some creme fraiche to give you the impression of tartar sauce, and speared chips that were bundled together with some kind of gold leaf, with some pickly-vinegar flavored seasoned salt dusting the bundle. Hence, ‘looking into the golden light’ as referenced in the poem. I enjoy the puzzle aspect, where you try to figure out how these three items you see are related, then you taste it all together in your mouth, and your flavor memory does the rest, and you just get it all of a sudden without anyone telling you, “fish and chips”.
Then the decadence started, with the ‘burst of oceanic feeling ‘ referred to in the poem with my three favorite things in succession, uni, oyster, caviar. Though I typically prefer to eat these items hedonistically in bulk, I appreciated the delicate waltz choreographed with my favorite characters. The Gruner paired nicely with these three as it provided the subtle background (chamber music ensemble) for the waltz to take place, with the sweetness pairing nicely with the uni. The warm palate coating seaweed rice in uni-poached butter under the Hokkaido uni with toasted sesame was sublime. The soft seaweedy rice paired with the soft supple dehiscence of the uni lobes just begged to be eaten slowly with their wet glistening pulsations. Let me re-orient myself as I feel like I am once again commentating a soft porn film.
Then the oyster in its own seawater with either a concentrated olive oil or some sort of seaweed, lime, wheatgrass cocktail. Whereas the previous dishes were clever and pretty, this was the point in the dinner where flavor and textures were front and center. But again, as I said before, like a waltz they were executed with precise choreography, which made it special. You can go to any oyster bar or Japanese market to get boxes of uni, but balancing these two and playing them off each other with the other textures/ingredients made your mouth feel like it was a playground with a bunch of new kids playing tastebud tag with each other.
Then came the smoked caviar with Koji creme fraiche. Simple, but it follows the uni and oysters so nicely. Some pairings are just classic, and the visuals of eating in a gold rimmed Japanese hand-blown frosted glass replica of an abalone shell helps with the ‘oceanic burst’ concept. But the added level of the brown rice fungus Koji, with its fermented smokiness, played so nicely off the smoked caviar. Visually simple, makes you think, ‘ok, creme fraiche and caviar, ho hum’, but then you eat it and think what the hell is going on here. As I was reviewing the internet to refresh my memory of the various ingredients, I actually saw some bad reviews of this place on Yelp, but I can see if you eat this too fast and just look at the plates superficially you are totally going to miss all the subtlety.
As went the Corton, Riesling, and Gruner, the Meursault came just in time right after the oyster and before the caviar. I love white burg and the crushed oyster shell terroir that killed it with the oceanic journey coming to an end.
This is the time when the Nuit St. George 2008 1er cru kicked my ass. This was so damn good, we had to get another bottle, it just metaphorically carried us through the end of our meal on Roman chariots. The nose on this was out of control, so earthy, dirty and stinky, with a nice velvety mouthfeel and amazingly long finish. Everything you want in a wine, the full package.
One last frolic in the ocean before retreating to the forest brought us the Monterey Abalone with seaweed aioli sandwiched between two desiccated seaweed sheets, sitting in oyster cream. It goes without mention that the abalone was super tender, similar to live octopus you may have at a discerning sushi restaurant. This dish really concentrated all the flavors of the sea. Umami bombardment with the aioli and oyster cream, which also consisted of abalone liver gravy. Nice heavy seafood dish before transitioning to the earth.
From the sea, we transition to the earth, referring to ‘the basin from which comes the elfin songs’ with what I thought was persimmon, but was actually rutabaga cooked in a salt crust and finished in butter. I had to do some research here to link this dish to this part of the poem, as different people on their blogs had different dishes for the ‘basin’, but I think what gave it away is that the best soils for field roots are loamy/sandy porous soils seen in basins. The meaty and earthy texture of the rutabaga was divine and came just in time for the kick-ass Burg described above. Below you can see the salt crust containing the rutabaga. It was also a nice visual metaphor to see the root vegetable coming out of the salt crust as if it were being extracted from the earth.
When I think of the ‘elfin’ aspect of the basin, I picture mushrooms, which leads to the next dish, which had Foie gras with pine nuts on top, with what I think was a foraged wild onion shoot and various foraged Morel and Sep mushrooms, with their subtle matsutake-infused dashi. Paired so nice with the mushroom scents in the 2008 Burg.
Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
“Good dark red. Musky, tangy red berries and a whiff truffle on the nose.”
This was a good time to bring the bread, the amazing French brioche we slathered in French butter from Normandy, seasoned with herbs. We were so happy to have a loaf of this gifted to us for our breakfast the next day as a parting gift.
As we continue to evolve from the sea to the basin to the barn, comes the ‘brilliant beast’ in the poem, of the A5 Kobe beef which appeared to be cooked sous vide, then seared, with a desiccated cabbage and spinach leaf atop before the truffle reduction was drizzled on top. The 2008 Nuit Saint George was perfection with this meat. If I remember correctly, when we were at Aragawa, the headquarters of Kobe beef in the actual city of Kobe, the som/co-owner, brother of the chef said that he thinks this cut of beef should only be paired with French Burg, but if not available then California Cab.
Here is a full frontal. Look at that pretty geometrically patterned plate!
Followed by a Crenn photo bomb before we moved into the dessert portion of our dinner.
As referenced to in the poem, ‘the forest floor may have a few surprises to give’ coming into the dead of winter before spring approaches. Here we have the trademark dish of a Walk in the Forest. Amazingly, this is not a warped piece of bark, but actually, a carefully ceramic dish designed to mimic wood. Inside is a mousse whipped from Sorrell extract, which is then frozen and cut into slices. Then it is drizzled with blackberry sauce, with desiccated blackberries which are then rehydrated with buttermilk, frozen, and placed atop the sorrel mouse. It is also drizzled with caramelized pine nuts and chocolate shavings that appear to look like wood shaving or truffle shavings, which was another visual boobie trap of what you think is a black truffle, which is actually a chocolate that looks like truffle that they shave onto the moss miracle.
The bittersweet sorrel contrasts nicely with the sweet and savory buttermilk infused blueberries, which are perfectly chilled, and the smell of the buttery/nutty pine nuts makes you feel like you eating moss and bark in an alternate Hansel and Grettle universe, or The Upside Down for you Stranger Things fans out there.The scene below is apparently staged to display the chef’s childhood history of picking wild berries and mushrooms/truffles in Brittany as a child.
The ‘falling leaves’ fall on the hedonistic highway of umami that leads us to another riddle that is obviously more than meets the eye. There is a bubbling cauldron, further expanding on Hansel and Grettle forest theme, the witch’s brew, waiting for the children. It was a eucalyptus leaf with a pear-infused cream that was quickly frozen in a liquid nitrogen bath turning it into a meringue, with Meyer lemon zest shaved on top. Looking like a leaf-laden with snow that can no longer bear the weight, which falls into our greedy little mouths.
The ‘sweet surprises” come in many shapes and forms that lead to more molecular witchery. Starting with an olive that is actually pistachio sorbet, with an olive stem frozen onto it, soaking in an olive oil pond. “Olive, not olive, olive, not olive?”
Then the ‘walk into the deep woods’ and ‘into the orchard’ refers to the next surprises hiding in plain sight. The golden chocolate eggs are likely the ‘precious token’ in the poem.
Let’s start with the walk in the deep woods.
This was real frozen yogurt wrapped in phyllo dough with an apple gelee and fennel pollen with an apple Turkish delight cube. Tasted like a Lebanese dessert called ashta, light and satisfying.
This picture was kind of dark, but it was blood lime and mint shaved ice. So tangy and palate cleansing. WTF, I’ve never heard of blood lime. Here it is, wonder if they can make a gelato out of this. I’ll be sure to ask when we go to Sicily soon.
The final scene of ‘sweetness and bounty’. The meringue was light and airy and dissolved in your mouth. looked like you were eating a little beehive. Then the magic box held some chocolates that had various flavor, peanut, espelette pepper I think, and I can’t remember the rest. I was in a catatonic food coma at this point trying to figure out how to fit the baked goat cheese supplement we had ordered that was on its way.
I love those chewy marzipan nougat squares. The woodwork on that box was exquisite. A lot of elbow grease went into sanding and polishing that wood, look at the beautiful grain.
Though I’m not a big goat cheese fan, the banana leaf cochinita pibil effect cut the musky goatiness nicely.
I am a big cheese for romance. She nailed the whimsical component, lots of parallels to Grace in Chicago in retrospect with the wooded scenes, etc, but she’s much more precise in her narrative and her persona is super spontaneous and warm. The dinner had that transportative quality you want when you experience something of this caliber. Like when you leave the restaurant you forget where you are, how you got there, what time it is. Overall, the level of high-end luxury items was pleasing to my gluttonous side, and though some dishes, in the beginning, sacrificed narrative for flavor, on balance the flavor component was not ignored for presentation, which can be hard to do when you are trying to make the dishes look as pretty as possible. Loved the bread and butter theme throughout, I mean she is French after all. Rather than trying to express the sentiment of what the entire experience felt like in words, let me show you a video of what this journey felt like viscerally. It sums it up to a tee.
2 comments on “Atelier Crenn..SF 2 Michelin Stars”
Looks and sounds amazing, also the wines. Did you order bottles (how many were you?) or was this a pairing offered by the glass?
Hadn’t ‘seen’ you in a while and hope you are well. We will be at Pinchiorri two weeks from now!
Hey Stefan, nice to hear from you. I have been super busy, but I am soon going to post my pictures from NOMA Mexico. We met Rene and Rocio, who now has a taqueria in Denmark. We leave to Rome on MOnday. Looking forward to La Pergola. Planning on getting more active with blog soon. I look forward to your photos from Pinchiori, I hope you can get a grand cru tasting there. We decided to order 5 bottles that night for 4 people, 2 of the bottles were the small format size, the Nuit Saint George.
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