Dinner at Atelier Crenn

We were having dinner one night at home and started talking about our travel credits due to cancelled trips from the pandemic. We jokingly said we should use our credit to go to San Francisco for a night and have dinner at Atelier Crenn to celebrate our anniversaries. The joke kept going for several weeks until we started looking at flights and realized that we could actually pull this trip off. We were waiting by our computers for reservations to open on Tock, and just like that, our anniversary dinner dreams came true.

Atelier Crenn had been on our bucket list for a long time now thanks to an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix. Dominique Crenn is the first woman chef in the United States to receive three Michelin stars, and we were insanely excited to finally try out her menu. We arrived at Atelier Crenn for our reservation at 6:00 PM. The outside of the restaurant is very understated and almost unnoticeable with the other bright and loud restaurants near by. We made sure to take our obligatory “we are at a 3 star Michelin restaurant” photo before we headed in for dinner.

We were greeted by a host who knew exactly who we were before we said a word. He welcomed us to the restaurant and we were seated immediately. The restaurant itself is simple but special in décor. All of the art was made by Chef Crenn’s father. If you have watched the Chef’s Table episode on her, you will know how important and special her relationship was with her dad which is reflected all throughout the restaurant. We kicked off our dinner with a champagne toast (thank you mom and dad!) and were taken through the most amazing 15 course dinner.

Atelier Crenn’s menu is always presented by way of poem leaving both a whimsical and mysterious nature to the dinner. The menu is now fully pescatarian, a change they informed us was implemented within the past few years in an effort to be more sustainable. Chef Crenn draws influences from her home in France and the bay area, weaving a delicious menu combined with traditional French techniques and modern coastal cuisine. Many of the ingredients are sourced from the restaurant’s farm upstate in the Napa Valley. We enjoyed dishes like geoduck clam, abalone with cabbage, trout mousse, and a playful spin on “oysters and rose”. We ate the most beautiful tomato dish comprised of 6+ types of tomatoes and were beyond indulged by a seasonal white truffle course that was irresistible. We don’t like to spoil the experience by sharing what each dish was but can tell you that between the four of us, we each walked away with different favorite dishes because everything was just that creative and memorable.

10/10 we would recommend this unique experience to anyone who finds themselves (or purposely goes out of their way) to be in San Francisco. It was such a special and memorable way to celebrate our anniversaries together and cross another Michelin starred restaurant off our never ending dining bucket list.

Dinner At La Toque

We have planned two trips to Napa in the last few years, and for both trips, we have centered our plans around a fancy dinner. For our first trip in 2017, we had dinner at The French Laundry; a bucket list dining destination in Yountville for any foodie. For our trip this year, our original plans were unfortunately disrupted by the California fires. As people who travel to eat, we felt lucky to steal a reservation at La Toque – a Michelin star restaurant located in the Westin Hotel in downtown Napa. La Toque, run by chef Ken Frank, has earned a Michelin star every single year that Michelin has awarded stars in wine country and from our experience, rightfully so.

Fine Dining During Covid: Before we dive into the details of our meal, we wanted to give a quick update for how dinner went during COVID. Some people might think that sitting down for a multi-course, three hour dinner is crazy during a pandemic, but we felt La Toque went above and beyond to ensure the safety of their staff and diners. We were asked to fill out a contact form and our temperatures were taken upon arrival. We were asked to wear masks until our orders had been placed, and after that we were free to enjoy our dinner! The staff was seamless in their efforts for safety and we were in great hands to celebrate our vacation together.

Making A Reservation: Reservations for La Toque can be made on Tock. At the time of making your reservation you can choose between the tasting menu or the a la carte menu. We opted for the 6 course tasting menu but did not choose to do the wine pairing. Due to our busy day of visiting local wineries we went for cocktails and glasses of wine. The restaurant has over 2000 bottles in their cellar and the extensive menu is presented via iPad. Out of all the fancy dinners we have been to, the wine list was very reasonably priced and there were plenty of options for people who weren’t looking to spend tons of money on alcohol.

The Menu

Amuse Bouches

We were offered two amuse bouches to start our meal. Our first bite was a brunoise of fresh garden vegetables and our second bite was a mussel with chorizo.

First Course – Puffed Rice Bowl with Dungeness Crab.

A few of us left dinner with this as our favorite dish. The beautifully served bowl felt like everything you wish a poke bowl could accomplish but never quite does. A perfect bite of soft crab paired with an Asian infused sauce atop the crunch of puffed rice.

Second Course – John Dory with Artichoke Puree.

An absolutely delectable bit of pan seared John Dory with a rich and unctuous artichoke puree. This is the preparation for fish that we always strive to create at home, but never quite achieve. This was the other favorite dish in our group.

Third Course – Fresh Spaghetti with Roasted Sunchoke and Fresh Burgundy Truffle.

The truffle dish of everyone’s dreams. Creamy, rich, homemade spaghetti topped with an embarrassing amount of freshly shaved truffles. This is the course that always makes us feel like we are at a really special dinner.

4th Course – Veal Variations.

Three preparations of veal; braised, roasted, and seared accompanied by a bean and carrot stew.

5th Course – Choice of Cheeses or Dessert.

We had a lot of fun with this course since we could pick and choose our own adventure. Calli and Jamie opted for the cheese course and the boys chose dessert. Our waiter helped us navigate the 8+ offered cheeses based on our preferences of texture and funk. Jamie was a bit more adventurous and went with two pungent options while Calli went for milder cheese, and were both very happy with our selections. The cheeses were presented on a personal cheese board with fresh bread, fruit, fig jam, and roasted almonds. The boys both chose the milk chocolate creme brulee and were very happy with their sweet selection.

6th Course – Six Textures of Chocolate. As we were getting full we thought “there’s no way we can eat more”, but as this final course came to the table we knew we were willing to make more room. A playful presentation of chocolates on a dish that was shaped like a painter’s palate. The palate included a traditional chocolate truffle, chocolate brittle, hazelnut biscotti, pate de fruit sweetened with cocoa sugar, a chocolate curry truffle, and last but not least, a miniature pumpkin white chocolate latte. The desserts were small and decadent; the most luxurious way to end a delicious dinner.

Overall Experience: Dining at La Toque was the perfect way to say “thank you” to Calli and Kidd for extending their home for almost four months. The food and service were great and the meal felt special. We highly recommend La Toque to anyone visiting Napa – it is a great way to experience multi-course fine dining without the heavy price tag that comes with eating at The French Laundry. The staff went out of their way to ensure a safe dining environment and we will be thinking about the food for a long time to come.

Dinner at Alinea

There is no better way to experience food than by sharing a meal with good friends. A little over three years ago, we met our new foodie friends Kaitlyn and Aaron. Over the years we have formed a friendship around discussing restaurants, cooking, and enjoying new foods together. Our foodie entourage took our first trip together this past weekend to Chicago to have dinner at the renowned restaurant, Alinea. 

The Story 

In order to have the full picture about Alinea, you have to know more about its head chef and creator, Grant Achatz. We highly recommend watching his episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix for a full history, but we will give you a quick background. Achatz is a rock star in the culinary world. He is known for taking molecular gastronomy and the dining experience to an entirely new level. His MO is to heighten all of your senses while dining through a combination of scent, taste, sound, surprise, and visual stimulation. Dishes at Alinea are rarely what they initially appear to be and the entire meal is an explosion of sensory experiences. 

The Reservation Process 

Alinea uses Tock to open monthly reservations to the public at 11:00 AM central time on the 15th of every month, two months in advance. This means our November reservation was available at exactly 11:00 CT on September 15th. Small tip: be sure to log into your Tock account in advance of the time reservations are released; this way if you get a table you won’t lose it during the login process. If you login at exactly the correct time, you should be able to get any table for any day that you are interested in. 

There are a number of different seating options for Alinea. The Gallery is the main dining room of the restaurant, serving their full experience menu. It seats parties in groups of 2 or 4 people at either 5:00 pm or 9:00 pm. This seating costs about $400 per person which includes tax and gratuity, but does not include alcohol. The Salon at Alinea is an abbreviated experience of the restaurant. There are a number of seatings per night and that experience will cost you about $325 per person including tax and gratuity, not including alcohol. The final experience at Alinea is The Kitchen Table– the most exclusive of the experiences- at a private table in the kitchen. It seats six guests and costs about $530 per person including tax and gratuity, no alcohol. Because we were a party of six…. you guessed it…. this kitchen table was our dining destination! 

The Experience (Spoilers Ahead!) 

To give you some of the details without giving the entire dinner away, we will give you a full account of our first and last courses. After watching the Chef’s Table episode, we walked into the restaurant wide eyed and ready for everything. We were taken to our table in the kitchen, which was decorated like a fluffy ball of pink cotton candy. There were birds hanging above, flowers at the center, and a number of elements on the table that were clearly items to be eaten. The “show” began with the waitstaff pouring liquid into the vases that held the flowers. The result produced a smoke that smelled like pink lemonade. To accompany the smell, we had frozen pea soup (it looked like dip and dots) delivered to our plate . It was served with edible flowers and a cold broth that was hidden within the centerpiece of the tables. The birds hanging from the ceiling ended up being sesame stuffed cracker pastry doves that were cut down for the second bite. A gold dome on the table revealed the most delicate and perfectly cut melon with jasmine. The beautiful flower dish held two “puffs” flavored with tea and honey. Ladies and gentleman – that was JUST THE FIRST COURSE.

The rest of the courses throughout the meal were a similar adventure. We had a course in the kitchen, our room decoration completely changed while we weren’t looking, and a number of other surreal experiences throughout the night. Every single aspect of the dining experience is thought out while we ate our meal. The music, brightness and color of the lights, and scents being pumped into the room all changed with each of the foods we ate to heighten the experience of our dinner. 

The dessert courses, and the conclusion of our dinner, were menu items that are mentioned in the Chef’s Table, so we don’t feel too bad about giving those away. Dessert starts with Alinea’s famous apple balloon. Each person at the table is served a balloon that is fully edible, string and all. The next and final performance is the dessert art that is featured in the episode. Two chefs come to either side of the table, remove plexiglass that was hanging from the ceiling, the music changes, and the lights go out. The chefs plate the dessert in a synchronized dance onto the glass; each element goes onto the glass one color at a time. The final product can only be described as beautiful, edible, graffiti. 

Final Thoughts

This is one of the most unique and fun culinary experiences in the world. You will be hard pressed to find a more amazing, sensory dining journey. While we loved everything about our dinner, we would be hard pressed to go back again given that the menu would largely be the same and that the “show” would not have the same surprise that is did this first time. Should Alinea produce a new concept as they did a few years ago, you can expect a new review! 

Dinner at Arpege

After watching season one of Chef’s Table France, we knew that dining at Arpege was high on our list of things we wanted to do during our four days in Paris. Ranked #6 in the world on the World’s 50 Best List 2018, this was the epitome of a three star, French Michelin dining experience. Arpege is located right in downtown Paris near the Musee Rodin. Reservations are available online via their website for about a year in advance. We had no problem getting a dinner reservation in the winter about three months out, and did not have to put down a credit card to reserve our table.

We arrived for our 8:00 pm reservation and due to a snafu with a private party, were seated in the basement in a six table wine cellar. Some of the other diners in the room seemed annoyed to be there, but we really enjoyed the privacy and more intimate atmosphere. Chef Alain Paissard was a regular face in the private room, and even with a language barrier made us feel welcomed and appreciated during our dinner. We also had our own set of waitstaff which made the experience that much more personable. 

The Chef’s Table episode talks about Chef Passard and his evolution as a chef from cooking traditionally meat-centric meals to cooking completely vegetarian and growing almost all of his produce in his gardens outside Paris. As a result, there are three menus available for dinner: a vegetable tasting menu, a land and sea tasting menu, and an a la carte menu. Our waiter convinced us that if we were going to do the tasting menu, that one of us should order the vegetable and the other order the land and sea, and we were really glad we made that choice. There were elements of both menus that were spectacular and the menus were so different that it was nice to be able to share them and try that many more dishes. There is an extensive wine list, but no pairing options, so we just ordered bottles of wine per the sommelier’s suggestion throughout dinner. 

Overall, our experience at Arpege was incredible. The staff was very attentive, we were constantly blown away by particular dishes, and felt the constant influence of Paissard’s garden throughout the meal. It really changed our perception of what “vegetarian food” could be- for example the beet burger with poached egg. While not a traditional burger, it really did taste as good as it looks. Even the desserts were primarily vegetable based! Some of our favorites were the shallot tart with caramel and a celery root ice cream with sweet herb creme anglais.