Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

Atelier Crenn, Molecular Gastronomy in San Francisco

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Composition 8 (Komposition 8), July 1923. Photo courtesy: Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Not counting the occasional foam or sous vide, Atelier Crenn was our first molecular gastronomy meal. My husband and I are both scientists who have spent a significant part of our lives studying molecular interactions, so we were of course delighted when the word molecular started to be part of modern food cuisine. But before this meal, I had occasionally wondered if molecular gastronomy was just clever hype. But after this meal, I think a better way to describe this new cuisine is to consider the difference between abstract and realistic art. Just because art is in one category or other, doesn’t make it good or bad. The artist has to work equally hard to capture the imagination of his or her audience. Molecular gastronomy is abstract art and Dominique Crenn’s creations reminded me of Kandinsky’s composition series – many ingredients playing with each other to create something that was larger than sum of its parts.

I decided to indulge the chef when the menu arrived, it was a list of evocative words.  We were at the restaurant towards the tail end of winter and the words on the menu evoked pre-spring, moist earth partially covered by a thin layer of snow, moist aroma of decaying vegetation,  and a few green seedlings trying to rise above the dead foliage. I say bravo to the menu in retrospect.

Mussel with citrus-y seaweed foam, perhaps yuzu; it smelled of seaside and tasted of sea.

Crispy rice poppadam, the ones that you get with South Indian meals, with salmon roe; poppadam sprinkled with fennel-y salt.

A bite sized white chocolate “egg” shell filled with chilled cider and topped with cassis jelly

Grilled Japanese tiger prawn with a strong aroma of wood chips, sesame-ginger sauce and baby coriander greens

Oyster poached in sake, tapioca pearls, seaweed foam, celeriac and other root vegetable flavors

Dungeness crab, crispy sesame rice cracker, slightly sweet celeriac and rutabaga broth

Scorched mackerel, lemon verbana foam, beet and horseradish sauce, bonito powder

Rooibos tea, vanilla ice and blood orange sauce served in a cold stone jar

Cold foie gras log, vanilla coconut tuille, french curry and caper sauce; small bits of vegetation sticking out of the log; creaminess of foie gras was highlighted by sous vide style cooking; this was perhaps the highlight of the meal.

Razor clam, smoked sturgeon and carrot foam, squid ink, paprika lemon, and puffed rice ash formed the soil

Snapper, coriander leaf sauce, grilled kumquat and scallion, brown butter rice and sage leaves

Smoked pigeon, foot of the pigeon clasping its heart, balsamic plum reduction and vegetable powder.

I wish there was a little more light at the table and a macro-lense in my possession. I don’t think I had so many textures, flavors, shapes on any single plate before, that too arranged so artistically. It was like looking at miniature models of forest floor. It made you want to be a child again. If it weren’t for some competent classical training background, I suspect that these plates wouldn’t have come together so magically as a whole.

After the savory courses, a siphon coffee maker arrived at the table, something to remind me of my chemistry lab from way back when, which brewed a wonderful tisane of hibiscus, citrus, rose, and lemon grass. I am surprised that my husband has not yet added this coffee maker to his collection!

Mint and coconut ash

Pear sorbet (as good as Scream sorbet) shaped like a pear with vanilla bean stem; crunchy brown butter, sage, citrus sand; pulverized greek yogurt; this can very well top my last meal list …

We will be back soon…

Written by Som

June 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm

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