I took my meat-n-potatoes mom to a molecular gastronomy dinner at Atelier Crenn [San Francsico]
And we both lived to tell the tale.
I visited Atelier Crenn with daveena last year and loved it, and while I was eager to try the extended menu, I was surprised that my mom, who doesn't like fish and loves straightforward meats and starches, wanted that to be the place for our special occasion dinner.
On previous visits from the East Coast, we went to Cyrus and Farmhouse Inn, and she loved both (especially the desserts at Cyrus and the meat at Farmhouse) but I don't think she's had anything as experimental or seafood-heavy as the food at Crenn.
I suggested La Ciccia for dinner, but she wanted to go to Crenn, so we went. The dinner was, surprisingly, a huge success. Her favorites were the clam with sea foam, the squab and the inventive plating--several courses appeared in or on rocks. I loved all the briny and funky tastes and Juan Contreras' playful desserts. The dessert "amuse" was a eucalyptus popsicle concealed in a little eucalyptus bush (my mom wanted to pose for a photograph with this one) and the main dessert reflected a dream he had about ash and cinders--the glass tray holding the course lay atop a smoking brazier. When the cinder dessert came out, and Contreras with it, my mom looked at the belching smoke and said "What part of this is food?" When she saw the foie course, I just said that it was duck, so hopefully karma doesn't come back to me on that one.
She loved the mignardises, which were beautifully made but more traditionally dessert-like--little bits and bobs that included a stunning salted caramel and a white chocolate and dark chocolate pair with a beaded exterior that resembled Haribo gummi raspberries. Dinner is very seafood-y and also quite light--the only meat was a small piece of squab as the last savory course--she said on the ride home that she wished there had been a piece of beef. I like about Crenn that I leave feeling full but not stuffed, part of which I think is the menu not relying much on meat. Also, she had hoped to get a martini before dinner, but they serve wine only.
Service was warm, and mom was impressed that both the chef and dessert chef came out a couple times to greet us and ask how we liked the food. Also, she noticed that they asked several times about preferences and dietary limitations and were open to creating an alternate menu to accommodate allergies or tastes, which was different than some places we've been that specify no substitutions.
Overall, if you want to bring your meat-n-potatoes mom to a molecular gastronomy dinner, I would suggest: pick a mom who is a good sport, and get a martini first.
Pictures below of cinder dessert, clam and foie gras.