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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Years ago, when the book The Da Vinci Code came out, I was all over it. It was the first book in a long time that completely held me captive, I actually looked forward to commuting just so I could read it. So when I heard it was being made into a movie, I was excited. Add to that Tom Hanks, the girl from Amelie, and Ron Howard directing, and I was like wow, this is really gonna be something.

My experience with Frances was kind of like that.

It started almost a year ago, when I started reading reviews about how fantastic this little Castro-adjacent restaurant is. Michael Bauer loved it and it was awarded a Michelin star even before it was a year old. Add to that my 5-month wait (!) for a reservation, which just fueled my anticipation as I counted down the days. I felt what was in store was really gonna be something.

So when the time came and I finally I saw the movie, I have to say, I left the theater feeling a little unsatisfied. It was good, just wasn’t exactly the mind-blowing movie experience I was hoping for. I left Frances feeling kind of the same.

In all fairness, perhaps nothing could have lived up to all that hype, not to mention justifying a 5-month wait. It truth, Frances is an earnest, inviting space. It was quaint and intimate and the staff made us feel at home. The menu, which has been touted as new-Californian, was full of elevated but not overly complicated food. Beignets. Atlantic scallops. Little gem salad.

What made it feel special were all the little touches. The light, fluffy beignets offered smoked applewood bacon and a maple crème fraiche and the little gem salad felt vibrant and fresh with red and gold roasted beets, kumquats and a tarragon vinaigrette. The chicken wings were coated with cornmeal and gently fried.

If Tom Hanks was my favorite part of the movie, the carmelized scallops were the star of the meal here. Tender, succulent and cooked perfectly, they were nestled in a flavorful sunchoke puree with roasted fennel and olives.

And my favorite of the supporting "cast" was the chicken liver mousse which was smooth, rich and executed beautifully, served with toast points that had been slathered with fig jam. (The beignets were pretty good too, as expected.)

For dessert their signature lumberjack cake, heralded by some as praiseworthy (and voted item #92 on the 7x7 must-eat list), was in my opinion, just ok. The dark, sweet coconut, date and pear cake (served with Humprey Slocombe maple-walnut ice cream) was good, just not the the rich, moist, to-die-for mouthful I was expecting.

The truth is, the food here is lot more thoughtful, interesting and better executed than a lot of places I've tried in the last year. The dishes are certainly delicious and served with a deft hand, for sure. Again, in all fairness, it would have been almost impossible to live up the hype I had generated in my mind, just as I had with the book years ago. The funny thing is, I actually liked the movie better seeing it a second time, when it came out on DVD. So maybe I just need to give Frances another try. And this time, I have a feeling it just might wow me.



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