The story: Chef Dominique Crenn, who garnered a Michelin-star for her high-end tasting menu at Atelier Crenn, has opened a casual French restaurant in the former Bar Jules space in Hayes Valley. With executive sous chef Aaron Thayer, Crenn invites diners to imagine eating at her mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen, transporting them to the French coastal region of Brittany.
Why I went: My friend Brenda, who writes the entertaining Bites and Bourbon, suggested we try the new restaurant, even though it was only three days old. She had an in to get reservations, so we were able to get a table for Friday night, and joining us was Brenda’s husband, Patrick, and our other food blogging friend Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging.
The vibe: Playing on Brittany’s seaside towns, there’s a nautical theme with the exposed light bulbs at the end of ropes. The predominantly white decor with spots of light blue gives a hint of the sea, but it’s a contemporary modern space. The layout hasn’t changed much from when it was Bar Jules, but for some reason it seems louder than before.
The menu: Petit Crenn offers a five-course prix fixe dinner for $72 (which includes tip) with two seatings each night they’re open, at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The menu changes daily, but will primarily focus on seafood since it’s supposed to represent the food of the Brittany region. Our dinner began with Pacific Gold oysters served with smoked tomato gelee (walking into the restaurant you can smell the smoking happening) and pousse pied, followed by a trio of small bites that included a gougere, simple French omelet and marinated anchovies. The main entree, which was a whole rainbow trout, came with two sides of cauliflower gratin and grilled cabbage, and it was followed (in a very French way) by a salad of little gems. Chef Crenn was out of the kitchen in the dining room delivering the dishes and explaining how they were all recipes from her mom or grandmother, including the dessert, which was an orange mousse that’s frozen inside an orange peel shell (this was the star of the table for many of us).
The booze: The wine list includes several wine (primarily from France and California) by the glass or bottle, and also includes champagne and cider. Since we were eating mostly seafood, I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Touraine, Loire area of France ($11). It was refreshing and crisp, which was perfect for the warm summer night we were having.
My favorite dish: While I think most people at the table would probably pick the orange mousse dessert, I liked it but mine felt like it had too much salt and not enough orange flavor. But I really loved the whole rainbow trout, which was drizzled with a cider sabayon that looked like sea foam. The fish was cooked perfectly, almost like it was poached even though it was fire-roasted on the grill. It was simple but elegant, and really captured the seaside dining I imagine in Brittany.
Insider tip: If you don’t want to go through the five-course dinner, you can walk-in and dine at the bar and order ala carte of what’s being served that night. But you’d need to come early because the bar was totally packed by the time I arrived for our 6 p.m. reservations.
The last bite: San Francisco’s restaurant scene seems to be trending back to prix fixe dinners, and while Petit Crenn’s comes in on the high end at $72, it’s a satisfying and tasty meal that really reflects modern seaside dining. Service was hectic at the start, but I’m sure they’ll get into the groove as they get more nights under their belt. Crenn taps into childhood memories for her dishes, but the execution from the kitchen takes them to a sophisticated and elegant place.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Petit Crenn, 609 Hayes St., San Francisco. PH: 415.864.1744. Open Tuesday through Saturday with two seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.petitcrenn.com
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