Jack and I celebrated my 35th birthday at Petit Crenn last Saturday and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Petit Crenn (pronounced with a silent “T” at the end of “Petit”) is described as a “neighborhood restaurants inspired by Chef Dominique Crenn’s mother, grandmother, and her home in Brittany, France.” Brittany is surrounded by the sea, so Petit Crenn is a pescatarian’s dream – the menu is teaming with fresh fish, seafood, and local produce.
In 2012, Dominique became the first female chef in the United State to earn two Michelin stars. If you are interested in learning more about her life as a chef and artist, I highly recommend watching the Netflix miniseries Chef’s Table – she is featured in Season 2, Episode 3.
Petit Crenn is the less formal sister restaurant of Atelier Crenn, also located in San Francisco. Jack and I ate at Atelier Crenn a few years ago – I remember it being very good, but I can’t remember anything specific about the meal other than that is was tasty, very formal, and the menu was a poem written by Dominique. This likely says more about my memory than the meal, but I do think our dining experience at Petit Crenn was more memorable. The space is bright and inviting, located in the heart of Hayes Valley (in the old Bar Jules location). The set 5-course prix fixe menu is more affordable and approachable than Atelier Crenn. There is also the option of sitting at the counter and ordering menu items à la carte, if you prefer.
The meal started with fresh grilled bread from Josey Baker Bread. This is the bread made and served at The Mill, home of the famous “$4 Toast,” which a couple years back became a symbol of hipster culture and the effect the tech industry is having on San Francisco. If you’ve read my other posts, you know how much I love bread and butter, so I am the last person who will complain about expensive toast; this city has a lot of problems, but I do not believe good bread is one of them. Petit Crenn’s bread course is up there with one of the best I’ve had at a restaurant; not only was the bread fresh, local, and delicious, but it was brushed with olive oil and grilled, then served with bright yellow warm butter with sea salt. I could have eaten that bread all night!
While we were enjoying our delicious grilled bread and some sparkling rosé, two cooks from the kitchen came by carrying the fresh salmon that was to be our main course for the evening. They described the fish and how it was going to be prepared that night. It was a fresh and beautiful piece of fish, and it was fun to learn a little about it before putting it in our bellies. The kitchen is visible from the dining room, so we were able to take in the delicious aromas and sneak a couple peaks as the kitchen staff grilled up the fresh fish for our dinner.
The next course was the Shigoku oyster with Persian cucumber ice and pickled green strawberry, as well as these delicious cheese puffs that were not listed on the chalkboard menu. Both of these items were very tasty and well-balanced, and I enjoyed the contrast between the light, fresh oyster and the rich, creamy pastry. I’m not sure if Petit Crenn changes the preparation of these oysters often, but their oysters with preserved Meyer lemon are #5 on 7×7’s 100 Things to Eat in San Francisco Before You Die (2016) (one of my go-to guides for restaurants/food in San Francisco).
The next course was Gnocchi à la Parisienne with spring peas, beech mushrooms, charred pea broth, and ramps (yummy ramps!). I learned from our server that Parisian gnocchi is not made with potato or ricotta, but instead pâte à choux, a French pastry dough made of butter, water, flour, and eggs. Gnocchi is one of my go-to orders when eating out at a restaurant, and this unique version did not disappoint. The delicate pillows had a great creamy texture, and rich flavor from the butter and eggs (have I told you that I’m from Petaluma?). The spring vegetables were a nice accompaniment to these delicious dumplings – the flavors worked well together.
After the gnocchi, the main course came out. This included the salmon we met earlier with sauce vierge (a French sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice, tomato, and basil) and crispy garlic, legume (butter bean and fava bean) salad with vinaigrette, Niçoise olives, and fresh oregano, as well as roasted heirloom carrots, Vadouvan (French spice mix similar to Indian curry) honey, mint, and yogurt. I love main courses that are served family style with interesting side dishes – Mourad and Zuni are two of my favorite restaurants that serve meals like this. It takes me back to family meals where you load your plate up with as much of each item as you want, and the different flavors and textures mix together. The salmon was cooked perfectly, and they somehow managed to keep all the juices and flavors inside despite it being cooked on the grill. The bean salad was a hearty side dish that was a nice alternative to a traditional starch. The crispy garlic added a nice contrast of textures. The carrots were incredible – roasted to perfection, with plenty of flavor from the spices, fresh mint, and cool yogurt.
In true French fashion, Petit Crenn served a refreshing salad after the main course. The salad consisted of Little Gem lettuce, creamy dill dressing, broken avocados, and fresh market radishes. It reminded Jack a bit of the sweet “dessert salad” we had a Osteria Francescana when we were in Modena, Italy last summer (though this one was savory in flavor). It is such a treat to have salad after dinner, and the French like to say it aids in digestion. This salad was light and crisp, with a delicious herby dill dressing. We were pretty full by this point in the meal, but there’s always room for salad, right?
Dessert was a mixed berry galette (a round, free-form cake) of almond financier (springy cake with a crispy exterior) served over fromage blanc (fresh white cheese often served as a dessert, similar to yogurt). My favorite desserts to get at a restaurants are usually those made with fruit, and this was incredible. And as if we weren’t full enough, our server brought out an array of mignardises (small cakes and candies) at the very end of our meal. I managed to find room for these items too!
We had a wonderful meal at Petit Crenn. The food was delicious, comforting, colorful, and nourishing. The restaurant space is bright and welcoming. After our dinner, we watched the Chef’s Table episode about Dominique Crenn; learning about her life as well as her dedication to the art of food made me appreciate our meal even more. Highly recommended!
Petit Crenn: www.petitcrenn.com 609 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Phone: 415-864-1744. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday). Lunch: 11:00am – 2:00pm (no reservations for lunch). 5-Course Dinner: seatings at 6pm and 8:30pm (only 6pm on Sundays). The Chef’s Counter is open from 5:00pm – 10:00pm without a reservation (except Sundays). 72-hour notice required to accommodate any allergies or dietary restrictions. Credit card required to hold reservation (48-hour notice for cancellation).