Chef Dominique Crenn's New Venture, Petit Crenn, Offers a Visual and Culinary Taste of Her Native Brittany

Chef Dominique Crenn's new restaurant, Petit Crenn, reflects the warmth and spirit of Brittany, her childhood home.When Dominique Crenn—the visionary chef behind the two- Michelin-star Atelier Crenn—decided to open Petit Crenn in Hayes Valley, she had a very clear vision in mind: A place with a true community feeling that would reflect the warmth, spirit and flavors of her childhood in Brittany, the beautiful, windswept coastal region at the far northwestern edge of France. Crenn set out to gather a team of trusted friends and associates who understood her style and approach, and began with Akemi Tamaribuchi and Gary Wiss, the duo behind design firm Subject to Change. The pair was called on to redesign the space at 609 Hayes, previously home to Bar Jules, with the watchword “purity” in mind. To Crenn, the word symbolizes the freshness and authenticity of the food she grew up eating and cooking with her family, and the aesthetic she wanted for her new venture. 

The coffee bar at Petit Crenn, Chef Dominique Crenn's restaurant in the Hayes Valley.​Tamaribuchi and Wiss have translated the concept into a subtly nuanced range of whites in the space—from the light, chalky walls to the matte whites and creams of the Panton chairs, to details like the simple, ivory-toned resin salt dishes and creamers, commissioned from local designer Tina Frey. Plus, as Crenn and Tamaribuchi point out, white is the perfect canvas on which to play with colored accents like the custom, gray-blue Pillvuyt dishes that evoke Brittany’s wide skies and misty ocean. Lamps hung from thick, knotted ropes are also a nod to the seaside and create a low-lit, cozy feel at night in the high-ceilinged space. 

The Gallic design language extends to the walls, where resin panels by artist Lucky Rapp read “Chocolat” and “Les Enfants Terribles,” adding character, personality and a story, as do elements like the pretty, vintage silver flatware that Crenn and her design and food teams chose together at the Alameda flea market. 

The community feeling is present in the thoughtful way the restaurant is run: Everyone, from sous chef to sommelier, takes a turn at waiting tables and interacting with diners—it’s a little like a dinner party among friends, albeit one with superlative, Breton-inspired cooking. As Crenn confides, “It’s like a little bit of heaven from my childhood,” now evolved into a chic, cozy corner in another city by the sea. 

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Comforts of Home.