Review: Atelier Crenn Restaurant

Location
San Francisco, USA
Cuisine
Modern French
Price
$$$$
Michelin Stars
Date
October 2021
Rating

Ever since watching an episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table that featured an episode on Chef Dominique Crenn, I have been enthusiastically looking forward to eating at her restaurant. 

During a recent trip to San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to secure a reservation at Atelier Crenn, and I was excited to be able to celebrate both my mom and wife’s birthdays at such a distinguished three Michelin star establishment. 

In This Post

Atelier Crenn – About the Restaurant

Atelier Crenn, which opened in 2011, pays homage to Dominique Crenn’s late father, Allain Crenn. The word “Atelier”, which translates to “workshop”, was a place in their home where he had spent time painting during her childhood, and was fittingly called “Atelier Papa Crenn”. 

In addition to the love for arts that Allain instilled in Dominique, he also brought her along as he frequented many fine-dining establishments throughout France. This crossroads of food and art is what led Dominique to develop such a strong passion for implementing art into her modern French cuisine.

The restaurant offers only a pescatarian tasting menu, omitting all land animals from its ingredient base. This bold move has paid off for Chef Crenn and her restaurant, as it is currently ranked 48th on the famous World’s Best 50 Restaurants list in addition to its three Michelin stars.

Atelier Crenn – About the Chef

A global icon, Dominique Crenn is creator of the concept “poetic culinaria” – the idea that food must tell a story. She channels this idea by presenting written lines of poetry alongside every dish at Atelier Crenn.

Crenn is the first female chef in the United States to have been awarded three Michelin stars, which in my opinion is very well deserved. In addition to her three stars, Crenn has also been the recipient of the James Beard Award for Best Chef.

Aside from having received many accolades in the restaurant industry, Chef Crenn is also very outspoken on several other topics, one of them being the need for sustainability.

Her menu has a high focus on zero-waste, sourcing produce from Bleu Belle Farm in Sonoma and reputable purveyors for the seafood found in her restaurant. 

Atelier Crenn – Booking

Reservations are required to dine at Atelier Crenn, and can be made through Tock, or by using a concierge service like the American Express Platinum Concierge. 

The restaurant is a part of American Express Global Dining Collection, and Amex cardholders may be offered a complimentary amenity during their dining experience when using the concierge. 

American Express Credit Cards with Platinum Concierge
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Given the intimate size of the restaurant, reservations do get booked up quickly, so I would suggest planning ahead to secure your spot. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance, with availability being released at 12pm Pacific Time on the first Tuesday of each month. 

You will be required to prepay for dinner at the time of booking, which includes gratuity and taxes. This allows the restaurant to accurately anticipate their guest count for the evening, and guests to have a more seamless experience without having to worry about paying at the end of the meal. 

It is important to note that reservations are non-refundable, but can be transferred to another diner if you are unable to attend. 

Atelier Crenn – Location

Atelier Crenn is nestled in the Cow Hollow locale of San Francisco, a short distance from Fisherman’s Wharf and the infamous winding Lombard Street.

Despite being adjacent to a bustling urban street filled with bars and restaurants, the immediate neighbourhood is largely residential. The restaurant itself is situated in a nondescript building, with only a small placard bearing the name Atelier Crenn along with its sister venue, Bar Crenn, located next door.

Atelier Crenn – Exterior
Atelier Crenn – Exterior

Indeed, arriving at Atelier Crenn feels somewhat like being invited into a personal home – which is very much a reflection of Chef Crenn’s own childhood experience of being adopted into a new home at a young age.

Like much of California, traffic can be a problem, so plan to arrive 10 minutes early. Your dinner experience is expected to last three hours, so arriving late means the restaurant may move at a faster pace to accommodate the next dinner seating, and keep you within your three-hour ticket time.  

Atelier Crenn – Three Michelin stars sign

Atelier Crenn’s 14+ course tasting menu ranges between $365–490 (USD) per person, and prices can vary depending on the experience selected and the number of guests in your party. 

You can customize your dining experience at Atelier Crenn in different ways:

  • Enjoy your dinner in the main restaurant.
  • Enjoy a semi-private dining experience at Bar Crenn.
  • Partake in the moveable feast, in which you are moved next door to Bar Crenn for dessert after your main courses.

Certified sommelier Rachel Coe heads the beverage efforts at Atelier Crenn and has put together four spectacular beverage pairings for guests to enjoy:

  • A Clear Contemplation ($90): A non-alcoholic pairing experience.
  • Champagne Pairing ($350): A dynamic champagne pairing highlighting storied, well-established estates, each with a desire to capture the essence of their terroir through thoughtful stewardship.
  • A Study in the World of Wine ($220): Emphasizing a dynamic harmony of flavours between the wine and menu, guests experience both the Old World and New World through samples ranging from modern winemakers to traditional domaines.
  • A Sense of Time and Place ($550): A stellar journey that transports you through history by means of exceptional terroirs, legendary vintages, and iconic producers – the world’s greatest wines, many of which may never be experienced again.

Wines are also available by the glass and by the bottle if you’re not looking to indulge in a full beverage pairing with your dinner. 

Atelier Crenn – Wine selection
Atelier Crenn – Wine selection

You also have the option to bring in up to two 750ml bottles from your personal collection for a $90 corkage fee, per bottle. It’s best practice to refrain from bringing in a bottle that the venue has on their wine list. 

We had opted for the semi-private dining table inside Bar Crenn, and in doing so had a $600 beverage commitment as per the size of our party.

If it were just my wife Nicole and I dining, we would go for the pairing, because a carefully thought-out wine pairing with each course can really elevate your dining experience. But with six guests and at $490 per person, we were not looking to overindulge. 

We instead brought in a beautiful bottle of 2013 Opus One from our cellar to enjoy, and ordered a few more bottles off the menu with dinner to satisfy our minimum spending requirement. 

Our bottle of Opus One 2003

Atelier Crenn – Dinner Experience

We were greeted by the maitre d’ upon our arrival and were quickly whisked next door to Bar Crenn, where our private dining area awaited. 

We were graciously seated at a large walnut table in a dimly lit room, in awe of the gorgeous decor that resembled the likes of a 1930 Paris wine bar.

The walls of both Atelier Crenn and Bar Crenn are adorned with paintings by the late Allain Crenn, as a reminder of the inspiration by Dominique’s father growing up. 

Bar Crenn – Interior
Atelier Crenn – Bar Crenn interior

We were presented with a copy of a poem, each page showcasing a wonderful depiction of the meal to come. Guessing what was coming up next was something the entire table had fun with, and it kept us very engaged in what would turn out to be a very long dinner. 

I must admit that it was fairly difficult to keep track of all the courses that I enjoyed that night.

Not only was I in the midst of celebrating two birthdays with a seemingly endless supply of wine, but the sheer number of courses and the level of thought and intricacy that was built into each dish was at times overwhelming.

I do, however, have some notes to share with you about the highlights of the meal. 

1. Kir Breton

Poem: Autumn has come with its cool breeze

Atelier Crenn – Kir Breton
Atelier Crenn – Kir Breton

A soft shell made from cocoa butter and white chocolate encapsulates a frozen cider centre, finished with a crème de cassis gel on top. It’s a reimagination of the classic Kir Breton cocktail that was served to guests when they visited Crenn’s home in Brittany in her youth. 

2. Geoduck, Sea Urchin & Stone Fruit

Poem: With a most adored gift from Neptune, this aureate bloom

Atelier Crenn – Geoduck, Sea Urchin & Stone Fruit
Atelier Crenn – Geoduck, Sea Urchin & Stone Fruit

A beautiful dish, at first using the theatrics of dry ice to simulate fog, reveals a floral arrangement crafted from delicately sliced geoduck and sea urchin.

The fresh seafood of this dish really shines through, complimented by the subtle sweetness of the fruit.

3. Oyster & Rose

Poem: See the efflorescing beauty with rosy cheeks rises

Atelier Crenn – Oyster Rose
Atelier Crenn – Oyster Rose

The harmony exhibited by this dish was like nothing I had experienced from an oyster before.

Breaking into the salty, frozen shell reveals a single raw oyster alongside rose gelée. The subtle scent of salty ocean air permeates your nose as the oyster melts in your mouth.

The taste of the oyster was so robust, it was like eating an oyster for the first time all over again, finishing with a fine-tuned balance of acidity and sweetness from the rose gelée.

6. Spot Prawn, Seaweed & Whey

Poem: Warriors ashore bathe in a glow as luminous as its gilded crown

Atelier Crenn – Spot Prawn, Seaweed & Whey
Atelier Crenn – Spot Prawn, Seaweed & Whey

Spot prawn is the highlight of this dish, beautifully garnished with a ring of powdered seaweed and whey foam added tableside as a finishing touch.

A very light and refreshing course with interesting textures as the prawn was seemingly au torchon (i.e., cooked to give it a certain desired shape, usually circular).

On the side, a bold broth added warmth to our palate. Quite the contrast, but one that fits this dish well.

8. Onion & White Pearl

Poem: By the shimmer of white pearls, tumbling in the ashen cloud

Atelier Crenn – Onion & White Pearl
Atelier Crenn – Onion & White Pearl

Charred onion petals adorned with snail caviar decoratively placed around a generous dollop of cauliflower ice cream and a light sprinkle of vegetable ash.

This dish is accompanied by buckwheat crepes and an onion broth that I would kill for. The entire table asked for seconds of this silky, savoury, umami broth.

10. Abalone, Cabbage & Smoked Mussel

Poem: An armored gents listens, beneath the bluff

Atelier Crenn – Abalone, Cabbage & Smoked Mussel
Atelier Crenn – Abalone, Cabbage & Smoked Mussel

Cooked on a yakitori barbecue, the abalone component of this course was perfectly tender, with a texture similar to that of a cooked scallop.

A herbed crème fraîche and smoked mussel lent the dish the right amount of lactic and smokey properties.

Finished with crisp dehydrated napa cabbage, the tastes and textures of this dish struck a deep chord with me, and was my favourite on the menu.

14. Daisy

Poem: Autumn has come and is full of sweet surprises

Atelier Crenn – Daisy
Atelier Crenn – Daisy

Delicate meringue petals with a citrus mousse and passionfruit centre. Finished with edible marigolds, this was a fun start to our dessert courses.


I had come to Atelier Crenn with high expectations after watching the Chef’s Table episode featuring Chef Crenn, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

I have to be honest, I did have some reservations about booking a pescatarian dinner. While I do enjoy the occasional seafood dish, it’s not something I’d actively seek out.

However, my apprehensions were quickly resolved, as I found each and every dish on the menu to be as fulfilling as the next, and the heartiness typically found in a duck or beef dish came in different expressions throughout the meal. 

I will also give credit to Chef Crenn’s “poetic culinaria” concept. Introducing the courses through a written poem adds a unique dynamic to the menu, taking her guests on a journey of some of her dearest memories and creating an atmosphere of fun, adventure and excitement.

Our dinner lasted five hours in total. Typically, a 14-course menu for two at Atelier Crenn would last three hours, but the additional courses and a party of six added to the length of our experience. 

Atelier Crenn – Service

This was my first time visiting a restaurant with the prestige of holding three Michelin stars. 

As someone who has spent most of their adult life in the hospitality industry with a few years of experience in fine dining, I was truly excited to see what subtle differences distinguish restaurants of this esteem.

I can say with confidence that the service team was knowledgeable, dedicated to fostering the a most hospitable experience, and took pride in the work that they were doing.

The service was friendly, not over-the-top or pretentious, and always seemed to be there when you needed without feeling like they were actively being a part of your dinner. 

All tableware and cutlery was cleared and refreshed between each course, and nothing was forgotten by the staff or missing at our table. 

The team worked well together, serving and clearing the table in unison – something I like to call military-style service. It’s a small factor, but one to look out for, as in my opinion it really adds a nice flair to any dining experience. 

However, in what was an otherwise flawless dinner, as someone who has a severe food allergy, I was disappointed that I was served food I was allergic to – not once, but twice, during the course of my dinner.

I always take extra precautions when making any reservations to make sure that I clearly communicate to the restaurant staff about my dietary restrictions.

I had spoken to the reservation manager on the phone, where my restrictions were noted, and I had followed-up by email. Furthermore, I also communicated these allergies to the server upon arrival. 

While the staff was very apologetic and I could see they were also upset about what happened, I do think that these are the type of errors that simply should not occur at any restaurant, let alone one of this calibre.

Conclusion

Dining at Atelier Crenn takes you beyond the confines of a dinner table, captivating all of your senses along a journey of emotion through a modern French tasting menu.

Chef Dominique Crenn puts on a masterful show of culinary creativity, taste, and presentation as she translates memories into food and reimagines her life experiences as poetry on a plate.

Crenn’s talents are complemented by a team of hospitality experts, resulting in a multi-sensory dining experience that leaves not only your taste buds, but your mind, yearning for more.

While the meal was superb in isolation, my only criticism of the evening was that my (admittedly quite rare) food allergy was overlooked on two separate occasions.

I found that quite disappointing given the restaurant’s standing and price point, but especially given the lengths to which I had gone to communicate it. 

Still, those missteps did not overshadow the overall experience. I’d highly recommend having a meal at Atelier Crenn at least once in your lifetime and adding to your book of memories one which will not be soon forgotten.

8 Comments
  1. Marty

    Rohin, great article. I was wondering if you have any food & drink magazines/blog recommendations that cater at this level of fine dining?

  2. John Dohm

    IMO, this is the worst Michelin rated restaurant in the world. I had a trout inspired menu where every single dish tasted like smoke or vinegar. I so advised the restaurant when I was there as most of the dishes at our table of six were sent back half-consumed. The staff did nothing other than advise me that I was wrong and that people were enjoying their meals. I polled people afterward and can assure you that they were not. This is one of those places where people want to believe the cuisine is special so they gush over preparations that just isn’t good. The only possibility is that the owner was not feeling well due to her medical treatment so she was not there. However, the restaurant offered nothing even when contacted afterward. Go to Quince or Single Thread.

  3. Stephen

    I admit that I’m shocked at the mishandling of a clearly communicated allergy.

    I’ve been to Quince and the French Laundry, and Atelier Crenn is definitely on my radar.

    I’ll also admit that I don’t enjoy observing fellow diners photographing every plate. For me, this act diminishes the ambience.

  4. Chris W YCD

    this was an excellent read, masterfully presented. thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough review Rohin.

  5. Moha Brih

    Thank you for sharing this pieces of art and poetry. Everything show on the pictures look perfectly presented. This is what we call real fine dining. I enjoyed reading your review.

  6. DenB® YTO

    Expertly presented review. Composition, prose, photos, sent me to the table. Years from now, no doubt some readers will believe we actually ate there and can remember the smells. Well done Rohin!

  7. SoyMexicano

    Thank you for your review Rohin, the menu and presentation looked wonderful! It reminded me of Atelier in Ottawa (sadly now closed). Kind of shocking that your clearly advertised allergy/dietary restrictions were mishandled at best, and ignored at worst.

    1. Marty

      What do you mean closed? Looks open online.

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