The restaurant world today is still dominated by male chefs and that has been one constant criticism of restaurant reviews and rankings around the world. I for one believe that female chefs can do great things just as well as their male counterparts. One chef that has caught my attention is Dominique Crenn who was featured in the Chefs Table series on Netflix. I was enamored with her background and culinary philosophy featured in the documentary and really wanted to try either her haute cuisine establishment Atelier Crenn or the more casual bistro style restaurant Petit Crenn on my next visit to San Francisco. Recently my wife Jun and I traveled to the Bay Area over the Memorial Day weekend to visit the venue in Napa Valley for our wedding in the fall and I figured this trip was a perfect opportunity to visit one of these restaurants. Since we were supposed to meet up with a mutual friend in the city on the day we landed in SF, I decided to place a reservation at Petit Crenn. Overall, there was a lot to like about the dining experience here.
The theme at Petit Crenn is a family-style dinner party. You get a set menu at vegetables and seafood at $87 per person, all in large formats appropriate for sharing. One thing that I always love about restaurants in the Bay Area is the consistent emphasis on the quality of ingredients. When my wife Jun tasted pink scallop crudo, she said she knew this dinner was going to be special. Since Jun doesn’t take raw seafood very well unless it is fresh, I felt very comfortable with what will be coming after she remarked that the scallop was quite delicious. The freshness of ingredients kept showing throughout our meal. Artichoke with mussels, baby carrot, fennel and parsley displayed the citrusy flavor that was not unpleasant for a dish at the beginning of the meal.
My favorite dish of the night was gnocchi with English peas. Gnocchi is certainly not one of my favorite pasta dishes as I often find the texture of the dumplings to be a bit too soft for me, but the one at Petit Crenn really nailed the texture (having the right amount of firmness to it while still keeping the essence of gnocchi) and the fresh English peas added another dimension to the dish. It really did make me feel like I was eating at a farm with all the ingredients sourced directly from the farm. I felt the seasoning on Spanish mackerel could’ve been toned down a little bit, but the fish was overall very well cooked, and the side dish of roasted potatoes with local goat cheese and caramelized onions offered a perfect hearty complement to the mackerel. For the dessert, I still can’t forget the delightful penny royal crème caramel with rhubarb jam and pistachio. It displayed an awesome complexity of different flavor and texture from different elements all packed in one beautiful plating without being too sweet.
It’s always good to book a reservation in advance especially with chef Dominique’s growing profile, although I saw that the turnover on a Friday evening (granted it was the start of a long weekend so presumably a lot of people in the city left town) was more frequent than I had thought. The French-centric wine list skews toward more organic, natural and biodynamic varieties (one gripe that I had about Petit Crenn since I don’t like those kinds). I really loved the cozy, welcoming vibe of the white décor with menus handwritten on blackboards to give a sense that you’re not really dining at a restaurant but are participating in a supper party that is meant for enjoying food together without much fuss. If you want an experience of how a French bistro meets California cuisine is in action, Petit Crenn is a perfect place to be; I hope chef Dominique can keep up the awesome work she has already been doing. After all, especially in this day and age where misogyny is being viewed as tolerable, we need more female voices in the restaurant world.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 609 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA, 94102
Telephone: (415) 864-1744