Sunday, October 2, 2011

Atelier Crenn

In keeping with the tone of the fancy meal of my last post, I give you an even fancier meal this go around. Last weekend, some good friends and I hit up a spot in SF that's been getting a lot of buzz lately for pushing the boundaries of what food can be: Atelier Crenn. An understated decor (a few whimsical touches against a rather grey backdrop in the "metaphorical garden" room where we ate) really let the artistry of the food shine. Our entire table did the chef's 8 course tasting menu, my husband and I going with the vegan version. Check out what Chef Crenn and team provided for us lucky folk:

First up, a tomato and herb amuse bouche. As a first taste, it was perfect. It captured the essence of its ingredients, whetted the palate for more, and revealed the talent behind the food, peaking our curiosities for what would be next. We were still not prepared.

The second amuse was an uber-delicate orb of cocoa butter. Slightly sweet and filled with a liquid center, it really defies explanation. It almost has to be experienced to be believed that such a paper thin shell could hold anything, let alone the divine nectar it concealed. We were now amazed and ready for the first course.

Gorgeous, right? This garden on a plate was such a fun layering of vegetables, crunchy quinoa, and sauces worth slurping (I restrained myself) that I could hardly take it. Art in edible form.

Course 2 was a carrot sorbet with aloe gelee. I couldn't even conceive of such things in my wildest dreams. The sorbet was beautifully salty and the aloe such a surprisingly good partner for it. By now my mind was being blown. It continued.

Course 3 was... well... I don't even know. The only thing I remember about the server's description was the "cucumber sheet". So basically we had pockets of crazy textures and flavors all covered with this blanket of something intensely cucumber-y (in a good way). I'm pretty sure magic was involved here.

Course 4 was my favorite flavor wise. I love mushrooms, and these may be the best I've ever eaten. I was getting pretty tipsy (off the best pinot noir I've ever tasted, by the way) so I'm not sure what combination of herbs and foams were at work here, but I simply remember wanting there to be a big old messy pile of these mushrooms on my plate instead of the thin, artistic line.

Course 5's eggplant was delicious as well, the carrot puree on the plate adding a nice brightness. At this point, the wine is not helping these photos at all. Apologies.

I can not even tell you how fragrant course 6 was. Suddenly we were in a eucalyptus forest, the astringent scent filling the air and totally reviving our wine and umami-soaked tongue. You see, attached to a few of those eucalyptus skewers were frozen, eucalyptus infused sorbet lollipops. Incredible, cleansing, and a lovely preparation for what was next.

What I remember most about course 7 was that stunning coconut powder in the center of the plate. Wow! I am not even a huge coconut fan and I loved it. LOVED. You'd think by now I'd have stopped being flabbergasted by everything that arrived in front of me. Not true... but even if that had been the case, dessert would have still blown my mind.

This peach explosion was so enjoyable to look at, dissect, play with, eat... it was really the most wonderful way to wrap up the meal. Encompassing the best of all the dishes, only in sweet (but not too sweet) form. I couldn't have enjoyed it more.

For a final treat, us vegans got the chocolate bark and jelly candies and they were a much appreciated sweet bite. Even now, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the food we ate at Atelier Crenn. Having eaten at almost all the high-end restaurants in SF, this was hands down the most creative meal I've ever had. The service is also attentive without being coddling, and the whole meal took place over the course of about 4 hours. This is the same with most of the fancy pants places, but the difference is most other places also serve tons of bread. Here the focus is strictly on the main courses, which I liked. However, this did mean we left pretty drunk and not quite full. I would still go back to AC for the experience, however. I don't know of any other place in SF pulling off such innovative cuisine, and I'd love to see what they could come up with next time....

Ok, back to the real world in my next post. A new-to-me Mediterranean place to be exact. Stay tuned!

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