Saturday, May 22, 2010

Frances & Randall Grahm

This past week was difficult. By Wednesday, it felt like it has been a month long. After a long and painful meeting that night, I was quite possibly speaking in tongues. Apologies to anyone I communicated with on Thursday or Friday. But, sometimes, when you've had a rough week, something pops up to make you feel a lot better about life. For me, it was dinner last night at Frances in San Francisco with Randall Grahm and our wine book acquisitions editor, Blake.

As most of you probably know, we published Randall's Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology last fall. The book is "a compendium of the choicest bits of Dooniana from the newsletters over the last twenty years, as well as some work that has been published in sundry journals, magazines, reviews and revistas, in addition to some new bespoke pieces." As I've mentioned here before, I have a long and sentimental attachment to Randall's wines, having started drinking them at an age that was not quite legal. I've also been a wine club member since I first moved to California in the early 90s. Clearly, I'm a fan. Earlier this spring Randall won a James Beard Award for the book!!) As Randall had a book signing in SF last night, I suggested that we head out to celebrate. To my delight, he was able to get us a reservation at Frances.

I arrived early, to find that Blake was already there. While waiting I tried the market shot of the day, which featured meyer lemon, orange, and Randall's pommeau. It was refreshing and perfect after my hike there. Note, as many places seem to be in SF, Frances is uphill both ways for me. I also tried their second pommeau inspired cocktail: Apples & Honey with Villarnau Cava, house White Wine, Bonny Doon Pommeau, Martin Gold. Unlike the straightforward fruitiness of the shot, this was dryer and a really nice pairing with the warm almonds we were nibbling on.

For wine, and lets face it, when you have dinner with a winemaker everyone wants to know about wine, Randall took the charge of the list. We started with a half bottle of Maximin Grunhaus Riesling Herrenberg Kabinett. Randall suggested that drinking it now was a bit of infanticide, but we enjoyed anyway. Our second wine was the 2007 COS Frappato, a wine I have enjoyed before and was served more chilled than I had expected. To finish we enjoyed a glass of the fortified muscat that they are working on.

As for food, I can say that we ate most of the menu. We even ate things not on the menu. In fact, I may have the order of items served confused as the conversation was too much fun to allow for note taking. Twitter, we spoke about you. I apologize for the burning ears of many. We also spoke quite a bit about possible UC Press authors. On that, Blake took notes.

To start we had the beet salad, grilled calamari, brioche and two orders of the chickpea frites. Yes, I ordered my own as well as some to share. I will point out that once Blake and Randall tasted them, they understood. The kitchen also sent out crispy pork trotters which were another highlight.

We then moved on to the crab salad, gnocchi and a special smoked trout salad. For mains Randall and Blake seemed to enjoy the lamb, which I did not taste. (Yes, I know. It is a long story.) We also had the chicken which was almost a perfect dish and the canneloni. The kitchen also sent out grilled asparagus with aioli. For dessert we shared the Pot de Creme and the Semifreddo.

This is a rare meal for me where it is hard to pick out favorites, as nothing we had disappointed. Highlights for me were the frites, brioche, trout salad, chicken and the Semifreddo. Frances has gotten rave reviews from almost everyone and, according to Jonathan Kauffman's review in the SF Weekly, requires 3 months for a reservation. Three months is crazy, but it won't stop me from heading to heading to OpenTable to see when I can next get in. The company was charming and the service perfect. It is hard to imagine a better way to end a long week.


  1. Amy Love,

    Oh, that Randall always says the nicest things about me. No wonder it felt like I had napalm Q-Tips in my ears last night. Perhaps I do have a book in me, which would explain the chest pain.

    So, is Frances named for the Talking Mule, or is it just the plural of France?

  2. It is named after Melissa Perello's Grandmother.

  3. Ron,
    I sent you an email. I want you to virtually meet one of my "twitter followers."


  4. Robert
    Pretty certain Ron was not serious, but good to know. I referenced my grandmother in a canning post recently.