Seven years, two Michelin stars and one James Beard award after its debut, Atelier Crenn has finally achieved the highest honor bestowed upon a Bay Area restaurant: four pristine, twinkling Michael Bauer stars. In this week’s big review, Bauer strolls down memory lane, recalling how Crenn’s whimsical, poetic menus have now evolved into a “fanciful maturity” and “a more enduring voice ... that equally incorporates the artistic and the emotional into a unified whole.”
“Last year I was very close to awarding the restaurant four stars,” Bauer notes, but he felt that pastry chef Juan Contreras’ Mayan-influenced dessert courses were out of place at the end of a French meal. (Although he loved the desserts themselves.) Now, Contreras and Crenn are, “in sync and have discovered the magic formula.” Like a microdose of whatever Michael Pollan is on, this new magic formula has a profound effect on the longtime critic and he begins to have visions of future dinners at Atelier Crenn before drifting off to speak in vague metaphors of his own.
Each dish “reveals something new and complex,” Bauer says, recalling a plate of meticulously arranged sliced geoduck, “like the unfolding of a satisfying friendship over time.” A bite of English peas, creme fraiche and ham hock gelee even induced synesthesia, resulting in “a joy similar to that of solving a complex math problem” — which is a joy most diners try to save until the bill arrives.
Those ethereal moments combine with terrestrial pleasures, like a recently refined dining room and a level of service that is more “interactive” than any other restaurant in Bauer’s the four-star club, to put Atelier Crenn alongside local heavyweights like Single Thread (which debuted with four stars), Benu, Californios, Chez Panisse, the French Laundry and Coi (maybe).
- 4 stars for the artistry of Atelier Crenn [SF Chronicle]