Several months ago a small little restaurant called Frances opened its doors in the Castro. Melissa Perello, the chef/owner, hails from the Fifth Floor and Charles Nob Hill. She clearly didn’t garner three James Beard nominations and a Michelin star for nothing. This woman can cook! Her small staff, cooking madly behind a postage stamp of a window in the dining room, puts out a new menu daily, highlighting the absolute best of the season. The restaurant is small, albeit loud enough to feel gigantic (hence the “bomb” rating in the SF Chronicle review). They do take reservations so be sure to call ahead. I almost didn’t write about it for fear of never getting in again but I think it’s safe to say that the secret is already out.
There were four of us at dinner and we started out by sharing three appetizers. The first, Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets, had been written about in several reviews so they were a must. To be honest, the food we ate that night was so amazing I’d have to say the beignets didn’t overwhelm-ok but a bit on the doughy side. Grilled Calamari with Butternut Squash, Preserved Lemon, and Pickled Currants was outstanding-a lovely balance of acidity, crunch, and tender calamari. Ricotta Gnocchi could be a small entree in and of itself. Rich and fresh at the same time, the dumplings were tossed with fresh favas and morels and spiked with green garlic. I’d have loved some of the “by request” bread to soak up the last of the sauce but didn’t realize it was available until dessert (note to self, read the fine print before ordering next time).
There were four entrees on the menu so we ordered them all. The first was a Lucky Dog Bavette Steak with glazed cipollinis and green garlic Chimichurri. This steak, a cut from the short loin that can be tough if not cooked correctly, was succulent, well seasoned, and gone at light speed. Next we had the Lacinato Kale and Crepe Cannelloni. Next time I’m getting this entree and not sharing a bit. The crepes, stuffed with kale and Andante “Cadence” cheese sat on a bed of matustake mushrooms-a vegetarian entree for even the most carnivorous. I adored it. We also had the Sonoma Duck Breast, seared medium rare over a bed of butter beans, sauteed escarole, and cotechino sausage. Duck isn’t usually my first choice of meat but this was not the least big gamey and that escarole, yum!! Last but not least was the Caramelized Atlantic Scallops served atop baby artichokes and leeks with a pea shoot salad. This was the lightest of the entrees, screaming “spring” with scallops cooked just right. The portion sizes were spot on-enough to fill you up while leaving room for dessert.
Speaking of dessert, there were three on the menu so, once again, we ordered them all. The first was the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse. The base of the plate was a burnt caramel cream and the mousse sat on top in three quenelles (oval shaped scoops). Each one was topped with a wafer thin chocolate sea salt cookie and crunchy course salt was dotted throughout. Not at all too sweet, the varrying textures made this dessert completely satisfying for a chocolate lover like me. We also ordered the Lumberjack Cake-studded with pears and dates it had an almost caramel like flavor to it. On it’s side was a scoop of Humphry Slocombe Maple Walnut Ice Cream which, in my mind, is truly ice cream nirvana. Finally there was a Buttermilk Panna Cotta topped with candied citrus zest/compote and served with three tiny shortbread cookies. Panna Cotta isn’t my favorite but for the fans at our table, it was declared delicious.
Our wine server was attentive and very knowledgeable, letting us taste several wines by the glass until we find the one that was just right. Our waiter was busy and I would rank his service with those beignets, slightly underwhelming.
That said, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons at Frances. It is a neighborhood restaurant serving up some of the best food around. I can’t wait to go back.