Dominique Crenn Dishes On New SF Restaurant: Petit Crenn

Dominique Crenn
Dominique Crenn

Photo Credit: Fran Endicott Miller

Fans of celebrated chef Dominique Crenn and her lauded eatery Atelier Crenn will be pleased to know that the French-born chef now has as many San Francisco restaurants as she does Michelin stars. Her more casual sibling to Atelier, Petit Crenn, is set to open tonight, Aug. 11, marking the culinary rock star’s second SF eatery. We had a sneak peek at what is sure to be the Hayes Valley new haute spot and caught up to Chef Crenn herself while there to talk about her new space.

Located at 609 Hayes in the former Bar Jules space, Petit Crenn features French-inspired seafood and vegetable dishes created with California’s bounty of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Sleek and sexy, much like Crenn herself, Petit Crenn’s minimalist white interior provides the perfect canvas for colorful five-course dinners inspired by Crenn’s Breton heritage. Walnut tabletops, vintage silverware, simple porcelain dinnerware and rope-corded pendant lighting combine to provide a soft nod to Brittany’s coastal setting.

The menu changes daily, based on the whim of Crenn and her executive sous chef Aaron Thayer, who, with their team, scour local markets each morning for the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. A selected local fish purveyor daily delivers the best available, and dishes are devised based on the day’s catch. Two large chalkboard menus are revised each afternoon to reflect the evening’s offerings.

“I didn’t necessarily seek to open a restaurant as much as I wanted to create a gathering spot,” says the dynamic chef who bears the look of a hip bohemian artist–another part of her heritage. “My hope is that Petit Crenn brings people together in a celebration of good food and good company.”

Crenn states that while Atelier Crenn is homage to her artist father Allain Crenn, Petit Crenn honors her mother and grandmother. “Petit Crenn is homage to the women who, through their cooking, bring people together. My mother and my grandmother were the heart and soul of the family, drawing people to the table to share the joy of good food and good company. This is my goal with Petit Crenn.”

With two prix-fixe dinner seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, diners sit communally at tables of four that span the length of the wall. The festive, dinner-party-inspired ambiance features classic French prepared family-style dishes like whole-grilled fish cooked over the wood-fired grill.

Thayer, 28  and the former sous chef at Atelier Crenn, expressed his desire to run the Petit Crenn kitchen and was thrilled to be given the nod. “This is a dream for me,” said Thayer, whose background includes stints at some of Boston’s well-known steak houses. He humorously acknowledges the irony in his running a seafood and vegetarian restaurant.

Wine director Courtney Humiston oversees the restaurant’s beverage program, which focuses on natural wines from France and includes a strong selection of grower Champagne, white and rosé wines to complement the seafood-driven menu. Staying true to its Breton inspiration, a variety of French and local ciders will be served in traditional hand-made ceramic cups by Issa Pottery in Sausalito.

Beginning mid-September Petit Crenn will open as an all-day café, serving Stumptown coffee, pastries, fresh breads, omelette françai, and oeuf à la coque. Lunch offerings will include a selection of crepes, salads and tartines. “My hope is that Petit Crenn become a cozy neighborhood spot where during the day, people can find what they seek, be it solitude or companionship,” says Crenn in her lovely French accent. Dinnertime, on the other hand, will be a party. “Everyone will be welcome here.”

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Photography by Fran Endicott Miller