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Jul 16, 2012 01:04 PM

Crenn/Saison/Coi or Benu? (Commonly asked I know, I have read, I still cannot decide)


I know this must be one of the more common questions asked on this forum and I have read many, many a write up, thought and tale about how good one is vs another, how one disappointed and one who's wine pairings were a let down. I still am no closer to deciding where to venture and am after a few more thoughts, if possible!

A little background. Travelling form the UK two of the three of us (one from Caymans), all very good friends and good eaters/drinkers. Have eaten at some pretty good restaurants in our time, Fat Duck, Noma and El Celler Can Roca and liked aspects of all of them, FD still stand atop the list as best eats. I am after one meal, a friday night, to say bye to our friend heading back to Cayman, so where do I go of the starred places in town? I know chasing the stars is sometimes wrong, but alas I do it and am willing to take the hit of criticism it sometimes get. I would expect we wil end up with a tasting menu (but wouldn't go beyond ALC) and will drink with it, possibly pairings (although some tales on here sugest not always best option) but happy to go by the bottle (would love to continue my exploration of US wines if possible). We will have travelled down from Sonoma/Napa and will try and get to somewhere there (missed TFL, am on waiting list) although have a plce with kitchen so also hope to cook a lot.

On the list are those mentioned in the subject, I am already planning on eating cheaper during the day. We are staying out in Richmond and have had recommendations for the eateries around there, so will try one of those if time allows. I am also up for trying Nopalito to try some mexican cooking and Cotogna is also on the list.

Any thoughts most welcome, or throw me some more questions if that will help clarify. Or do I sack off the starry places and try somewhere else, Zuni for that SF/Cali feed?

Thank you again in advance (some already helped me out elsewhere on the boards)

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  1. What would you need to know that you don't already know to make that decision?

    If you're staying out in the Richmond you should definitely try Aziza.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Wow! That stumped me. I guess any further insight from people, ie the best dish someone has ever eaten is form x, or the sommellier is so good at y that if you are specific about your requests they may put together an all american flight for you etc.

      Aziza was on my list also, maybe on the first night we are there. I haven't given ourselves very long, it may be only two lunch, two dinner and a breakfast (probably at the saturday market)

      1. re: stanleyk

        Atelier Crenn gave us the best meal we've ever eaten, period, this year, and it gave me the best, most though-provoking dish I'd ever had - and it was a dessert. I'm not usually a dessert person, so this to me says a lot. you may have already read my review of my visit earlier this year, but if not, here it is.

        Crenn outdid Coi exponentially (and I loved Coi) - there was just so much imagination and care in the preparation, and nothing was extraneous or just for show. so many times during the evening we just sat quietly savoring something - having been visually pleased we were then treated to the wonderful flavors Chef Crenn evokes from her food - until (quiet) moans and "oh my gods!" began.

        in fairness, i've not been to Saison nor Benu.

        1. re: mariacarmen

          I've been to Atelier Crenn twice now, Benu once. Haven't been to Coi or Saison.

          In the past, I've stated that Atelier Crenn's risk-taking did not always work for me but some of the dishes are truly amazing and creative. The food presentations are the most beautiful I've ever seen. I think the pastry chef is quite brilliant. The sommelier/wine program seems to be improving. The staff is overwhelmingly determined and earnest that you have a good time. Still, though, the whole experience wracks me with mild anxiety. Everything feels very effort -full instead of effortless. The room is small, so I find myself watching the servers almost collide with each other, whisper hurridly etc. instead of concentrating on my food and my dining companion. In addition, (esp considering the length of the meal and the wine parings), the stalking out the one bathroom experience is off-putting, and once one is in the bathroom guaranteed at least one person will try and tug on the bathroom door.

          Benu was not as quite as creative, but the meal was wonderfully effortless, I enjoyed the food a lot and felt very satisfied, the service was carefully coordinated and completely in sync. The wine pairings were well thought out and amazingly well done - a true highlight. I've felt very comfortable recommending Benu to my friends with no reservations.

          1. re: goldangl95

            maybe we just went at a time when it wasn't that busy - the room was serene and nothing felt effortful to us - but i defer to your opinion about Benu, of course.

            1. re: goldangl95

              your take is interesting, I agree about the levels of creativity and Benu being more consistent but I much prefer the space at Creen which feels more cozy and intimate to me and I like being able to see the entire room while the thing I like less about Benu is it feels like an office and the there is little sound baffling.

              1. re: goldangl95

                Been to Atelier Crenn twice, Coi once. Have not been to the others. I really enjoyed Crenn and Coi, but Crenn was more fun (perhaps *because* of the effort I could see?) with crazier food and unforgettable desserts. If this matters, Coi felt more fine-dining-ish to me. I love fine dining, and would return to Coi, certainly, but there's just something about Atelier Crenn that's a little off-kilter. I like it.

              2. re: mariacarmen

                Atelier Crenn gave me the most interesting, inventive, beautiful, thoughtful, different meal I've ever had. So much to delight and surprise. I think the only meal I liked better was at the Dining Room at the Ritz five years ago. AC was about $300 and totally, totally worth it to me. I loved practically everything about the meal. I know I owe a write up like mariacarmen but the number of words it would take to properly describe the meal are totally daunting to me.

                I have not been to the other three contenders.

              3. re: stanleyk

                Ah. Just something that strikes the right chord.

                Make the Saturday market a definite -- you're from England, you'll cry. Combine the perfect climate with a community that supports farmers experimenting with unusual produce and you get something extraordinary. If you're interested in Mexican, try Primavera there.

              4. re: Ruth Lafler

                Of the choices, l have only been to Benu and the above mentioned Aziza. If someone else were paying and offered me a freebie meal, l would pick Aziza over Benu in a heartbeat, it was a true WOW. Cost 70% less as well.

              5. If you are looking for something that compares to Fat Duck right now I would go to Creen, then Benu, then Saison then Coi. Saison has been hit and miss for me, I don't feel the service is a the level they are priced at and that I know they are aiming for. Coi I like but it's not as creative and I'm not sure how willing they are to individualize. I really like Benu but Creen is really delivering it right now and is the type of place where if you wanted something special ie. wines, desserts they would try to deliver.

                Zuni isn't in the same category. I understand it's historical significance and I've never had a bad meal there but it's not a can't miss place for me personally.

                22 Replies
                1. re: tjinsf

                  This is all really excellent, thank you very much. I shall take a harder look at Crenn for sure following all these thoughts, certainly seems a popular place to get to at the moment.

                  Can I ask re Cyrus on here or is that California board? Apologies if my geography is wrong, it is 'my holiday geography' at present. I see Cyrus is closing and wasn't sure if this ha meant a dip in form, loss of its chef etc? Am wondering whether or not to do a finer dining feed while in Napa/Sonoma and then head for mexican/cali moroccan as feeds when in SF. It may allow me some more time to try and get to sample the beers of the area (fine dining can equate to some serious sitting and eating time).

                  1. re: stanleyk

                    Cyrus is completely closing. If you like fine dining I would do it in both places for at least one meal. In my experience the fine dining places in Napa/Sonoma like morimoto's, Redd, etc places are a bit more safer in their menus than places in SF.

                    Napa/Sonoma is good for California cuisine, farm to table, simple ingredients done beautifully. If you're looking for local favorite that I think really show the California cooking, I would recommend Cook in St. Helena. It's not a super or expensive place but really on point.

                    1. re: stanleyk

                      I think going to Cyrus would be a great idea. It'll be open until the end of October and the chef has said he'll be doing a greatest hits tasting menu in Sept/Oct.

                      1. re: stanleyk

                        Cyrus is closing because of a dispute about their lease. No bad reports about the quality as yet.

                        1. re: stanleyk

                          Mexican food is much better in Sonoma County than in San Francisco.

                        2. re: tjinsf

                          I'd agree that Crenn would be better than Saison (from my experience). I haven't been to Benu yet.

                          Not sure if you'd be willing to go south but I think Manresa is better than all the above mentioned.. and probably not harder to get a reservation than the others either.

                          I saw you had Cotogna on the list as well. Cotogna has great pasta but you might want to consider Acquerello -- more consistently strong across the whole menu.

                          1. re: calumin

                            Cotogna is straight up Cal-Italian, vies for best in SF with Incanto, La Ciccia, and Perbacco.

                            Acquerello is Cal-French-Italian, like Quince and SPQR. To me it's apples and oranges.

                            1. re: calumin

                              +1 drive south to manresa instead of any of these.

                              if you're coming from the UK, perhaps get some good chinese food. yum's in fremont is a quite a bit better than any others i've found in sf proper --- could be a good lunch on your way to los gatos for dinner.

                              jai yun is also worth looking at to see if you would be interested -- expensive, weird, but also delicious and extremely unique.

                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                Jai Yun's food is generally similar to what I've had at a couple of other great Shanghai places. Other aspects of the place are pretty eccentric. To get a similar meal at another restaurant you'd probably have to organize a large enough group to order a banquet.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  ... and know what to order to put together a banquet, which i think is a pretty tough nut for most westerners to crack (myself included.)

                                  what are the other great shanghai places you think compare to jai yun? i need to try them.

                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                    The other great Shanghai I've had was at the long-gone Fountain Court in SF and the divey Shanghai in Oakland, which went downhill a couple of years ago.


                                2. re: Dustin_E

                                  We have this debate a lot. I'll just voice that considering the incredibly long road trip you will just have been on StanleyK, I do not believe as a visitor Manresa is worth the hour + drive there and back. Esp, since the traffic from around 8 am to 10 pm and 5 pm to 7:30 pm on a weekday is really bad.

                                  Now for a local, I feel it is worth a visit as it "punches it weight" if not more so with similar restaurants in SF.

                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                    Thank you all again, am still pondering. As far as Manresa goes it was on my list, and after SF I am in fact driving south to Santa Cruz for some more wineries and then on to Monterey before flying home. My only reservation about Manresa was i am hoping to get out whale watching from Moss Landing on the Sunday and not sure it is worth the risk to try and follow a potentially bumpy (can't remember if I have sealegs or not) boat journey with an expensive meal.

                                    Chinese on my list, although am hoping to try and get some good chinese in Vancouver next week.

                                    A slight aside, any good craft beer places out in Richmond or do I need to head into town? Toronado on my list plus a few others if time allows

                                    1. re: stanleyk

                                      Here is an interesting article to reconsider getting some Chinese while you are in the Bay Area...

                                      An accountant who has eaten at 6,000 Chinese restaurants across the United States and ranks them - the Top 10 are all in California:

                                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                                        "Chandavkl" further clarified that the Chinese eats are better in Vancouver but that Canada was not the subject of the piece.

                                      2. re: stanleyk

                                        save your chinese meals for vancouver then. every report i've read say it is better than sf bay. (but also that sf bay is a lot better than uk/london.)

                                        1. re: stanleyk

                                          Do you mean the Richmond District of San Francisco, or the city of Richmond about 30 mins north of sf?

                                          1. re: stanleyk

                                            Manresa's great but if you want to go there I strongly suggest spending the night. Los Gatos is a good place to start a day of wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Thanks Dustin, I rate Hayler too, so an 8/10 certainly nudges that towards the top of the list.

                                              Richmond district in SF, think I am down towards the edge of central and outer, 28th and Clement.

                                              I am staying in Ben Lomond for two nights, hence my thought on Manresa as a possibility, assuming can get a booking

                                              1. re: stanleyk

                                                Ben Lomond's centrally located for the wineries, but it's kind of a hick / hippie town with no great dining options. Driving in the mountains at night isn't my idea of a good time.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Thanks for the heads up, will maybe have to stick to home cooking while there then. Plan is farmers market saturday and take stuff with, maybe i'll need to ensure enough for the Sunday night too. May try out Cigare Volant one of the days if possible too, always been keen on Randall Grahm and interested to try the cellar door, there and Ridge (sorry off subject!)

                                          2. re: goldangl95

                                            might not be worth the drive -- though i think once you get out of the city, traffic on 280 is not bad. these are two reports by uk food blogger i like a lot, with manresa and saison (my favorite in sf proper) compared side by side:



                                            another post comparing manresa to the best in europe:


                                    2. Been to Crenn and Coi twice, Benu and Saison once.

                                      Of the four, I would return to Crenn;
                                      - Coi is completely hit or miss for me. A few wow dishes and the rest mostly memorable.
                                      - Benu was interesting but not remotely memorable and halfway through, both my dining companion and I were bored.
                                      - Loved Saison but can't justify the kind of money they are asking for now.
                                      - Just recently took my BF to Crenn for our collective birthdays and for him, it was the best meal he had ever experienced.

                                      (p.s. I have also eaten at Fat Duck, French Laundry, and a handful of other "Must Eats" restaurants).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                                        i've also been to all of them, and this assessment very closely matches my own views on these four places.

                                      2. if you aren't concerned with price, and believe the fine dining market to be somewhat efficient, then you should choose saison, because they operate at the highest price point. :-)

                                        1. you might also consider a meal at chez panisse -- i'd consider that sort of a midpoint (both in price and complexity) between say, cotogna and manresa.

                                          another blog post about it i like:


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Dustin_E

                                            ps -- i think hayler is very wrong about chez panisse:


                                            -- but generally spot-on with all his other (often less than flattering reviews) of some other sf favorites.