I've been trying to go to Frances since they first opened. I had followed the pre-opening reports from sites like Eatersf and Tablehopper and was eager to get there right away. Between my flu and holiday plans, I did not make it until last night.
One of the reasons I was so excited about Frances, besides the chef and menu, was that it is walking distance from my house. Well, if you consider 3.25 miles round trip and an intimidating hill walking distance. I do. So I hiked down to meet my friend Lo for our 8:45 reservation. I was both early and thirsty. Amazingly for a Friday night at a popular spot, within minutes, I was seated with a glass of their house white in front of me. Acknowledged as soon as I walked in? Seated early? I can't remember the last time that happened.
One of the interesting options at Frances is the house wine, white or red, at $1 an ounce. The wine is brought to the table in a large beaker and at the end of the night the waiter simply calculates how much you drink and charges accordingly. Due to the A-Z challenge, I queried the waiter as to the blends and found that the white is 80% grenache blanc and the red is a blend heavy on the gamay. Both were very food friendly and easy to drink, as our $30 wine tab later proved.
Lo was late so I entertained myself by reading both the food and wine menus. After chatting with the waiter a bit I ordered the chickpea fritters to tide ourselves over. They and Lo arrived at just about the same time. Looking vaguely like fried mozzarella sticks, they were served with meyer lemon aioli. The fritters were smooth and not greasy at all. I'm a big chickpea fan and thought these were wonderful.
We had consulted with our waiter over our food orders. To my delight, he had strong opinions. When asked to choose between crab salad and gnocchi, he did not hesitate on gnocchi. Served with duck confit and cavolo nero, it was made with semolina. This dish was excellent, but small. Although the gnocchi and duck were both good, the highlight of the dish for me was the very flavorful cavolo.
Our waiter also had strong feelings on entrees. His preferred item was, sadly for me, the chicken. Given the Soul Food CSA membership, I've been eating a lot of chicken and was eager for anything else. He steered me towards the steak and Lo happily ordered the chicken. The steak was served sliced, rare, with a green garlic chimichurri , arugula and carmelized onions. I was very pleased and the house red paired nicely. Lo's chicken was Zuni-ish with a savory bread pudding with sultana raisin and apple relish. I can't say I felt I should have ordered it, but do highly recommend it for anyone not suffering from chicken overload.
When it came time for desert, Lo opted for the Valrhona Ganache Tart with McEvoy olive oil ice cream. I debated the hot buttered Madeira and the lumberjack cake. Again, with no hesitation the waiter suggested the cake. I have never had lumberjack cake before though it is apparently a traditional cake. Moist and flavorful it featured both dates and pears and was perfectly complemented by the Humphrey Slocombe maple walnut ice cream. I'm planning some internet research for a recipe to make this at home.
I'll be back to Frances soon. The food is both simple and highly flavorful. The service is lovely and the space inviting, if slightly cramped. It is the neighborhood restaurant we all wish was walkable.