Dominique Crenn has built quite an empire for herself in San Francisco over the past few years: The decorated (although not without controversy) female chef made history in 2012 as the first woman in the U.S. to earn two Michelin stars at her whimsical modernist tasting menu restaurant, Atelier Crenn; Petit Crenn, her casual bistro showcasing the seafood-centric cuisine of her native Brittany, was named one of GQ's Best New Restaurants in 2016. So why add a humble wine bar to the mix?
"This is a house," Crenn gestures, referring to Atelier Crenn, which shares a courtyard with Bar Crenn—her newly opened wine bar inspired by the salons of Paris in the 1930s. "But it was missing something. I wanted to create a space where people could come eat, have a glass of wine and really engage with each other." So when the neighboring bar went out of business, she snapped it up. "This is my living room . . . I just want people to have fun."
The jewel-box interior, kitted out with dark velvet drapes, crystal chandeliers, built-in bookshelves and low-slung settees draped with fur throws, indeed has a cozy, living room vibe, albeit in a rich uncle kind of way. And the selection of small bites ferried out on silver trays and premier crus served in vintage goblets are not your typical family-room fare.
Much like In Situ, Corey Lee's tribute restaurant that replicates signature dishes from the world's renowned chefs, Bar Crenn pays homage to the classic gastronomy of France, with a rotating slate of dishes "donated" from the Gallic greats themselves. Think tarte flambé from Alain Ducasse and ice-poached oysters à la Guy Savoy, rounded out by classics like pâté en croûte and canelé de Bordeaux, expertly prepared by Crenn's own kitchen brigade. But her hand is evident in everything from the sourcing of ingredients from her organic farm in Sonoma to the emphasis on environmentally conscious vignerons on the nine-page wine list. And some of the most 'grammed about dishes—brioche served with whipped Waygu beef fat and Arpege eggs filled with bone-marrow custard and garnished with smoked crème fraîche and caviar—are Crenn's own creations.
Originally envisioned as a place to start or end the evening, Bar Crenn has fast become a destination in its own right for noshing on posh amuse-bouches and sipping light aperitifs. Despite requiring a hefty deposit, online reservations—for options including an à la carte menu, a three-course prix fixe or an Osetra caviar tasting—have been selling out quickly. (Though Crenn has partnered with American Express to give its Platinum Card Members exclusive access to reservations.) And while San Francisco magazine just gave Bar Crenn a three-star review, don't expect the chef to be resting on her clogs for long. Next year, she'll be opening Boutique Crenn, an ambitious patisserie, boulangerie and retail shop in the Salesforce Tower. After all, a proper home needs a breakfast nook for café au lait too, non?
Meesha Halm is a San Francisco-based writer, producer and cookbook author. Follow her adventures in sous vide and other dining escapades at @meeshahalm.
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