Frances in San Francisco
by Katie Christ
Last visited: March 2010
I have a charming new neighbor named Frances. Most of us in San Francisco know about Frances, the sweet new restaurant of chef/owner Melissa Perello that opened a couple of months ago to a massively warm welcome. I met Melissa a few years ago on a photo shoot at the tail end of her tenure as the executive chef at Fifth Floor. While I enjoyed dining at her occasional Monday night dinners at Sebo in the interim, I'm happy she's returned to the kitchen full-time and is in her own, very personal space. And I'm even happier she put down roots in my 'hood.
Evidence of just how personal Frances is can be seen in just about everything from its being named after her grandmother, to the wooden service boxes, cabinetry and tables crafted by her father...
...to the aprons designed by Melissa and sewn by her mother (and her mother's friends...)
to the hand-sewn coasters that protect her dad's gorgeous walnut tables.
The wine beakers are from Melissa's personal collection and are a fun part of the wine program put together by wine director, Paul Einbund (his wife made the coasters!) Apparently Paul's taken up Muay Thai Boxing (which he swears is not meant to be learned as an adult) and had a broken finger on my last visit. So I gave him a break and let him pour a beaker of his own Santa Barbara blend of grenache (50%), syrah and cab. It is mighty tasty and went really nicely with the meal. Had it not been a school night, I would have likely ventured a little further into the eclectic wine list.
Okay, enough suspense and on to the food. First off, love the manageable menu. On a weeknight when my brain power is usually spent by the end of the day, I appreciate a well-curated, simply stated menu. And Melissa's dedication to sourcing from local producers garnered the attention of the American Farm to Table Restaurant Guide -- a culinary website you should know about if you don't already. It was started by a kindly gourmand chap named Maurice Graham Henry and aims to list the top farm to table restaurants around the country.
We started off with the applewood smoked bacon beignets (oh yeah!) and one of the highlights of my night, the perfectly crispy Panisse chickpea fritters. They were divinely silky inside -- and dipped in a little Meyer lemon aioli, heaven!
Pickled currants, preserved lemon and winter squash were intriguing companions to grilled calimari and I was, admittedly, a little skeptical. I shouldn't have been! It was fantastic. I love being surprised.
Trotters... okay, I'm not often a fan of trotters but these herbs fines and mustard seed seasoned pups were fab-u-lous. The pickled baby veggie garnish and chunky, tangy sauce gribiche elegantly rounded out the flavor/texture combo.
The gnocchi were pillowy (as in marshmallow pillowy), buttery, and the melange of green garlic, broccoli di ciccio and rapini was a refreshing, crunchy companion.
I really love a good bavette steak but am so often disappointed. THIS bavette from Lucky Dog Ranch was perhaps the most meltingly tender, flavourful bavette I've had. One's gotta have frites with un steak, n'est ce pas? These spuds (Rose Finn Apples) had a nice lil' kick from Aleppo chili and romesco. If only I had a bigger stomach...
I was stuffed by this point, but couldn't resist the heavenly desserts. The citrus compote atop the buttermilk panna cotta was divine. The compote was made up of blood orange, cara cara, Meyer lemon and Bergamot... served with crisp, slightly salty shortbread cookies.
I realize this may be shocking to some, but I'm not a big fan of cake. I'm a huge fan of texture -- especially contrasting textures -- and tend to like my cake dense. This 'Lumberjack' cake is just my kind of cake! It's chewy and has lil' hunks of Medjool dates and D'Anjou pear. The mighty tasty maple-walnut ice cream from Humphry Slocombe usually sits on the plate with the cake but my dining companion is allergic to walnuts, so we played it safe and asked to have it on the side. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the all-around excellent service on both my visits!
So, if you can't tell, I'm pretty smitten with my new neighbor and hope to visit as regularly as the heavily booked reservations allow. Fortunately, there are 10 spots at the wine bar available for neighbors, er, walk-ins. Perhaps I'll see you there!
© 2010 Katie Christ.. Used by Permission. All rights reserved. "gorgeous grub – wanderings of a food stylist" blog.gorgeousgrub.com