For some reason, it feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve gone to a restaurant where I’ve had a really delicious meal that tasted really special. Or it could be that I’ve just been on a role of decent restaurants that serve solid food but not necessarily anything that knocked my taste buds. Although I did go to this Asian Fusion place which was so bad that I decided not to even write about it, because I felt it would be such a complete waste time. Generally speaking though, there have been some good restaurants in the mix, but tonight’s meal at Frances really set this restaurant apart from the recent bunch. Although, ElleC had mentioned this restaurant a little while ago, it was CC Giants’ glowing praises that convinced me to go secure a reservation for dinner.
The restaurant is situated along a pretty nondescript street in the Castro. It didn’t look like there were a lot of other eateries or many other stores to bring a lot of foot traffic into the area, but even though it was well before 6pm, there was already a group of people waiting outside and a completely packed dining room inside. The restaurant is not very big at all. With a small bar area on the left and a smattering of tables situated very close to one another on the right, it seems that the capacity of the restaurant would be no more than 40. Although the intimate layout of the tables felt quite tight at times, the friendly service of the entire wait staff and the warm cozy ambiance lessened the awkwardness I felt listening to the conversations of the tables on either side of us. I also have to give a shout out to one of the waiters, Bobby, who saw me perusing Yelp on my iPhone and asked me to make sure I write how good looking he is. 😉
The first of two items we ordered from the Bouchées section of the menu was the Grilled Calamari which interestingly came as a salad of arugula, carrots and fennel. Although I didn’t enjoy the bitterness of the arugula, the calamari was supremely tender. It was perfectly cooked and lightly dressed with some preserved Meyer lemon and Chermoula spice. Everyone knows I’m quite partial to squid and calamari, but this really was a delightful start to the meal.
Bouchées translates to “mouthful” in French, so assuming that the dishes from this section were intended to be smaller than appetizers, I figured it would be safe to order two. After one bite of a Bacon Beignet, I was truly glad with this decision. The beignets were surprisingly light (as light as a beignet can be) with a very subtle hint of bacon flavor. The inside was warm and doughy but not too dense, so it was reminiscent of a biscuit without being as heavy. I almost wished for a little more salty bacon flavor, but the Maple Crème Fraîche and Chive sauce on the side complemented the beignets quite well and added that slightly sweet yet herby flavor. It was like a light version of Ranch dressing. At $6.50 for 5 beignets, not only was it was a great deal, it was equally delectable.
The Trottoloni Pasta was the lone item from the appetizer dish, although if I had let my eyes get the better of me, I could have ordered another one. Trottoloni are large fat coil-shaped pasta and were perfectly al dente. The spiral shape helped scoop up the light buttery sauce which was rounded out by the earthiness of the Chanterelle mushrooms and smoky saltiness of the pancetta. I really liked how simple yet profoundly flavorful this dish was.
The Salmon was nicely cooked with a crispy skin on the outside and medium pink-colored and succulent fish on the inside. The meyer lemon gremolata spread across the top of the fish added some nice citrus accents and the creamy bed of white corn and wild mushrooms completed the dish. The fresh cut white corn kernels were mixed in a cream sauce that somehow did not taste as rich as it looked. I really enjoyed this dish a lot.
I actually didn’t think the Bavette Steak would be that interesting tasting, and although it wasn’t as tasty as the California King Salmon, I have to give compliments for the fresh and creative execution of the dish. The steak with the bordelaise sauce was okay, but the potato gnocchi was quite good. It had the starchy texture of gnocchi, but it was slightly pan-fried on the outside which gave it a crispiness that I really enjoyed. I also liked the creamy polenta-like addition to the dish. I think it was a creamy mix of roasted fennel and eggplant, and it complemented the steak quite nicely.
We were pretty full after finishing up every last bit of the dishes that were placed before us so far this evening, but considering how delicious every thing was tasting, Pdho and I were quite curious to give at least one of the desserts a try. Unfortunately, none of the desserts on the menu really excited us mainly because we couldn’t really recognize like half the ingredients. We eventually decided on the Lumberjack Cake which supposedly is a Frances‘ classic. Initially, it didn’t look all that appetizing. In fact, it looked a little too healthy like a carrot cake or some kind of wheat or multi-grain cake, but one bite proved that you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It was a bready cake filled with Gravenstein apples and medjool dates them served with a scoop of maple-walnut ice cream. The cake had some interesting texture and was quite scrumptious without being sweet. The ice cream was quite complimentary adding a subtle bit of saccharine. It was the perfect dessert for my normally sweets adverse taste buds.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal here. Every dish was pretty much perfectly prepared incorporating fresh, seasonal ingredients. Frances really exudes a lot of the personality and feel of a typical San Francisco restaurant. It’s the unpretentious air that is carried throughout the food and ambiance of the restaurant. There are no frills or gimmicks, and it’s just about the fresh quality of the ingredients simply prepared into organicallly delicious dishes. It reminded me a bit of another restaurant that I really enjoyed called Firefly. Frances is probably a bit more refined where Firefly seems a little more homey coziness, but they definitely share a neighborhoody type vibe which makes you want to come back again and again. I definitely recommend Frances and I would definitely add it to my list of restaurants worthy of repeat visits.
3870 17th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
PAFO Ratings for Frances:
Ambiance 3½ stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4 stars