All Together Now, Everybody Eat!

By Sean Kenniff | Megan Swann

By

Sean Kenniff
Megan Swann
Large Format Amberjack at Petit Crenn | San Francisco, CA
Large Format Amberjack at Petit Crenn | San Francisco, CA

Chef Aaron Thayer calls it “cooking without a net.” He does it twice a night at 6pm and 8:30pm. A campfire aroma mingles with the scent of freshly caught fishalmond wood and amberjack. Guests are holding up their iPhones, anxious to catch a glimpse and capture a shot to share on Instagram. And that’s what it’s all about at Petit Crenn—sharing. In San Francisco, a city known for subverting traditional dining formats, Dominique Crenn’s casual, mod spin-off of Atelier Crenn, is bringing guests together for dinner inspired by the shared meals Crenn grew up eating in Brittany, France.    

About 30 patrons, who have reserved their $79-seats, will dine from the same blackboard menu, at the center of which are two 15- to 20-pound amberjacks. Other nights it could be octopus cooked on a spit over the wood-burning grill, or a single 35-pound striped sea bass. As the first guests arrive and are seated at tables for two and four, the fish are still curing in the back. While diners nibble on snacks and preliminary courses, Thayer hauls the fish out to the dining room to make his rounds. Each guests gets face to face with her dinner, and Thayer talks about sourcing the fish (Four Star Seafood, who offers Thayer large catch options), its preparation, and accoutrement—tonight it’s butter bean casserole, roasted carrots, sauce vèrge, and crispy garlic. The amberjack is chauffered on a tray, and if it slips or Thayer trips, that’s it—dinner is on the floor, no net. 

There’s an undeniable theatrical tension, and as Thayer brings the fish back to kitchen to furiously (precisely, lovingly) fabricate the amberjack like a reality show contestant, he is in full view of all his guests. Those at the counter get the best view—10 seats reserved for walk-ins who will eat à la carte. They have the chance to share in the experience by ordering the cheeks, collar, or a crudo preparation of the amberjack’s lower loin. Flames fly from the grill as Thayer brushes the portioned amberjack with seaweed, katsuobushi, and grilled fish head-steeped fish sauce. “It’s all about the experience, and the umami sauce,” says Thayer.      

Sharing the Love
In addition to Petit Crenn, here are four San Francisco restaurants where guests can indulge in the shared experience, and chefs can bask in the glow of the convivial atmosphtere (with guraranteed baseline check averages.)

Trestle | Trestle exclusively serves a set prix fixe menu that changes daily. The kitchen, under the direction of Rising Star Jason Halverson, cooks technique-driven American comfort food.
Lazy Bear | At Lazy Bear, Rising Star David Barzelay and his hospitality army host two dinner parties for 40 guests each night, with tickets sold in advance. Festivities start in the loft with snacks and cocktails and continue at two long tables in the dining hall with 10 imaginative courses.
Cockscomb | Chris Cosentino offers a Shared Supper menu at Cockscomb with large format dishes (pig’s head, tuna collar, and lamb shoulder Parisian) and accoutrement feeding anywhere from four to six to 12, depending on appetites.
Mourad | La’acha describes the section of the menu at Mourad with Moroccan family-style dinners. A feast for two to six, shared selections include braised short rib, lamb shoulder, a chicken, whole snapper, and a duck—served with all the sides—proving that even at the height of fine dining, we can all still share. 

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