In 2011, Dominique Crenn opened her first restaurant, Atelier Crenn, in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco. Within two years, its enchantingly artistic cuisine earned two Michelin stars, making Crenn the first female chef in the United States to hold the honor. A piece of artwork in Atelier Crenn’s kitchen — a girl holding two star-shaped balloons while a third floats tantalizingly overhead — hinted at her dream of an even larger constellation.
But for some time, she had been quietly tending another, more modest dream, of a restaurant that paid homage to the simple dishes prepared by her mother and grandmother at their home near the coast in western Brittany, where her family’s roots can be traced to the 11th century.
This spring, when Bar Jules, a popular spot in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, closed its doors, Crenn jumped. “In the course of a few months, everything came together,” she said. Her new venture in that space, Petit Crenn, opened in August.
On a chilly December evening, the intimate room was radiantly warm, courtesy of the open kitchen’s massive wood-burning grill. The bar menu is à la carte; at the tables, available by reservation only, the menu is prix fixe. My wife and I opted for the latter and began with an amuse-bouche of tiny gougères embellished with buttons of pickled shallot gelée, and filled with a creamy, savory sauce of Navarrais (a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees) and Comté.
The cooks and chefs, including the chef de cuisine Aaron Thayer, do the serving. Their blue-and-white-striped aprons are similar to those worn by Breton fishmongers, fittingly so, as seafood, rather than meat, is the name of the game, starting with small and buttery St. Simon oysters. Moules marinières — mussels steamed in Breton cider — were a kind of perfection, as was a whole grilled trout, stuffed with lemon and dill and finished with a delicately tangy cider sabayon.
The wine list is predominantly French, with selections from organically and biodynamically farmed vineyards. A well-structured pinot noir rosé from Domaine Charles Audoin complemented all five of our courses adroitly.
Crenn’s newest star doesn’t just shine at night. Petit Crenn serves breakfast and lunch as well. Think pain au chocolat and croque-madame, respectively.
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