Dominique Crenn, the chef and owner of the artful Atelier Crenn, which has two Michelin stars (she was the first female chef in the U.S. to earn such a distinction), opened her much-anticipated new restaurant this week in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. She dishes on her second outpost, an elegant, casual French restaurant named Petit Crenn, its all-seafood and all-vegetable menu, distinctly inspired by her own childhood and frequent returns to her roots in Brittany.
How does Petit Crenn differ from your first restaurant, Atelier Crenn?
Dining at Petit Crenn feels more like a dinner party, with all the dishes served family-style, except for the bar, which will have à la carte. It’s more casual, but the food is guided by the same philosophy of pristine ingredients and great service. I opened Atelier Crenn as homage to my father, and Petit Crenn is for my mother and grandmother.
What are some of the fondest dishes of your childhood in Brittany that influenced the menu at Petit Crenn?
I grew up eating fresh crab, lobster, sea urchin, clams, langoustines, oysters, escargots and the best vegetables in the country of France. Dishes like coriade (fish stew), plateau de fruit de mer, gateau Breton, crepes, and gratin de choux fleur inspire my cooking today.
As such, the main ingredients in the dishes at Petit Crenn are vegetables and whole fish, no meat, prepared over a wood-fire grill. The menu will be like home, like the food my mother and grandmother made, using classic French preparations and recipes, but sourcing the bounty of California. Expect gougères, salmon en croûte, cheese, tarte tatin, and mignardises. Oh, and cider. A lot of cider. I’ve included a variety of French and local ciders, served in traditional hand-made ceramic cups.
What about Brittany’s cuisine inspires you?
The freshness of every ingredient. Pristine ingredients are essential to Brittany cooking, and they shine on the plate without being covered by heavy sauce. Fire is also very important in Brittany cuisine, allowing the flavors to come out in the most primitive way.
Does the décor also reflect your experience in Brittany?
When I think of Brittany, I think of purity, and that aesthetic is reflected in the white décor, walnut tables, vintage silverware, and porcelain dinnerware in the dining room. Local artist Tina Frey’s Champagne buckets add a contemporary touch, and rope-corded pendant lights offer a nautical nod to Brittany’s maritime heritage. It’s all very elegant, yet inviting and warm, like a home-away-from-home.
How often do you travel back to Brittany?
Every year. My mother and brother still live there, and a large part of my family still work as farmers.