Atelier Crenn is small. No more than 35 diners can be accommodated at a single time. Yet eating at the San Francisco restaurant can be a sweeping, artistic experience because of how chef Dominique Crenn and her team have envisioned the presentation of their dishes. “The visuals must trigger something in your mind, condition you to what you experience,” says the French-born chef. “It’s not just putting food on a plate. It’s also storytelling.”
Diners are presented with a poem, not a menu. Each verse arrives as a dish that evokes Crenn’s past and present as well as the seasons and the emotions they stir up in her. The dessert called “Walk in the forest” is a version of a savory dish the restaurant used to serve when it opened in 2011. Pastry chef Juan Contreras suggested the revival. It embodies Crenn’s memories of mushroom- and berry-hunting excursions in the French woods with her father and brother. Customers, she says, are very interested in the narrative and the journey. “It’s all part of an expanse,” she says. The dessert is composed of blackberries, pine nuts, and a sorrel mousse; and arrives in a custom-made vessel with the color and texture of the French woods. It has, Crenn says, “the texture, sweetness, and bitterness of what the forest is about.”
Atelier Crenn has two Michelin stars and fans across the world. New York businessman Sunjit Chawla makes sure he books a table at the restaurant every time he visits. (He's eaten there seven times.) To him, it’s not just about the visuals. “The food tastes even better than it looks.” Crenn will be featured in the second season of Chef’s Table on Netflix, which starts on May 27.