Imagine this if you will: You are a little over a week in to living in a brand new city, you’re there on one of the city’s biggest event days, and with dinner plans at the hardest place to get a table in town. That entire situation was me at Frances on the first big day of Pride. I was walking from my new apartment to this restaurant that I knew very little about, except that it had a waiting list that was in the “months” time frame. My walk had me tweeting away as sports cars were blasting Bob Dylan, plums were falling off trees and onto my head, and I began seeing naked men in pink tutus on every block. I was invigorated. Being able to walk less than a mile through a maze of entertainment and energy to a fine dining establishment had me more than excited. The reservation was early and the excitement of Pride was just beginning to brew. If you can see from the main picture the restaurant is nestled just away from the heart of the Castro in subdued colors and minimal signage, but on this night to the right was a man with pink hair and short shorts and black angel wings.
My dining companion had to wrestle the special day parking situation and I was seated. My waiter was adorable as can be and when I said I wanted a cocktail but needed help deciding he recommended I’d get the Strawberry Fizz because today was such a festive day. The drink was refreshing, fruity, and full of champagne…all of my favorite things. The restaurant was modern, minimal, and a perfect juxtaposition to all of the excitement going on this day.
My dining partner The Dapper Diner joined me for dinner a few minutes later and I had been so busy perusing the menu that I knew exactly what we would have. One of the coolest things about Frances is their wine blends. You choose either red or white and you get it in a glass pitcher, but the best part of all is that you only pay for what you drink, a dollar an ounce.
For me, the most interesting thing on the menu was the Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets served with maple creme fraiche. I loved the concept of this dish but unfortunately they weren’t as light as I would have liked and the dipping sauce was off. Perhaps our batch wasn’t straight out of the oven or something but I wasn’t in awe. However, this dish has such a potential and sounds so promising that I am sure I will always order it, even if I don’t absolutely love it.
The Panisse Frites on the other hand, a dish that I wasn’t that excited about, blew me away. The concept was simple, chickpea fritters that could be dipped like french fries into a Meyer lemon aioli and yet these were addictive little suckers. They were gorgeous to look at and the most awesome consistency, think of the smoothest mashed potatoes known to man.
The Dungeness Crab Salad, was yet another dish where Frances fooled Carina. This was an appetizer that we added to our order at the last minute, neither of us really thought much of the description. It was crab served with cherokee tomatoes, sweet herb vinaigrette, and baby lettuce. This dish was on my top 2 dishes of the night it was well-balanced, light, and perfectly dressed. It is funny because for the most part I thought I have reached the point in my life when I can look at a movie trailer, a dress on a rack, or a dish on a menu and know how it will fit and what I will love. I cannot tell you how exciting it is when I am more than surprised. Melissa Perello, the chef /owner of Frances, takes her dishes to places that can’t be captured by simple menu descriptions and therefore the element of surprise is always there. Perhaps this is why Fifth Floor received a Michelin Star under her leadership.
The White Corn Soup with shrimp, basil, and creme fraiche was all in the presentation. I was sure that this was going to be a favorite, but sadly it was not. It was a beautiful dish but the taste didn’t quite match the elegance of its description.
I am a sucker for pasta and will pretty much always order either mac and cheese or gnocchi on any menu when it is offered. The Ricotta Gnocchi with green garlic, english peas, and morels was denser than I would have liked and again didn’t match up to the perfection that was the crab salad.
For the entrée, I had the Herb Stuffed Guinea Hen, which was served creamy polenta, chanterelles, white corn and an apricot. This site is called Mission Fruition and I love all dishes with fruit components and this was quite good. The sauce was way too salty for me, as I am ultra-sensitive to salt but between the polenta and the apricot I was able to cut most of it. The mixture of light meat and dark wrapped together in crisped skin was perfection.
My dining partner had the Napa Valley Lamb with summer squash, baked ricotta, and braised lamb crespelle.
We finished off the meal with a shot, shot, shot, shot. At Frances they have these Market Shots, which according to them are: “Whatever we find at the market gets juiced, spiced and spiked.” On our night we had a delicious berry shot, which was a perfect end to the meal and got us ready for dessert.
For dessert we had the Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme and the Almond and Semolina Crostata. I am a girl who likes my men like I my desserts: Fruity! So the chocolate belonged to my dining partner and let me tell you that it was as rich and decadent as can be. I wasn’t sure what to get on the dessert menu and nothing was really jumping out at me so I ordered the crostata basically because of the red plum, nectarine, and raspberries. It was also served with the most delicious English thyme ice cream. Once again, the dish that I was look forward to least was the dish that won my heart. The pastry on this dish was to die for, as was the fresh fruit and savory ice cream.
While were having dessert in this quiet tranquil little restaurant nestled in the Castro, all of the sudden we were shaking with the loud sounds of a gang of motorcycles riding by. I asked “Dykes on Bikes?” and within seconds the restaurant agreed and confirmed that it was Dykes on Bikes who just rolled through the streets. I smiled and when we were walking out I tweeted: “Dykes on bikes just rode in front of @FrancesSF. I love San Francisco fine dining.” The next morning, I received a tweet back from the restaurant saying, “We love our neighborhood, too.” This was really the most fantastic restaurant and dining experience. Perhaps it was because of the excitement of Pride or me settling in to my new home but this is my number #1 on San Francisco restaurants. I may have had a more put together meal at Prospect but this was non-corporate and just felt like what you’d imagine a great San Francisco restaurant to be: fresh, local, neighborhoody, and full of great people and great food. I was happy to learn that my favorite bookstore (Omnivore Books) owner took famed NYT food writer Frank Bruni to Frances when he was in town. I, in turn, will take my favorite foodie friend The Minty there on Friday when she is visiting from Los Angeles. If you want to see real SF Pride, they are serving it up beautifully at Frances SF.
Frances SF 3870 17th St
(between Pond St & Noe St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
The Dapper Diner