Sometimes, you just have to compromise. Thanks (many thanks, Paul) to a very old friend who also happens to be a sommelier + beverage director par excellence, Kory and I got a last minute invitation to the first (free) test dinner at the soon-to-be opened Frances-SF the new endeavor of Melissa Perello.
We were lucky enough to find a last minute sitter, and made our way up to the city. The thing is, I had been gone all afternoon at another function in San Francisco, which meant I had an hour in between arriving home and heading out again. Which was, honestly, fine by me, but I was not going to spend that time cooking, and I did not want to pay for take out (the point being that this was that rarest of beasts–an inexpensive date night). So the kids ate frozen pizza (not the good kind, but the mini ones I stash for Ella’s school lunch), broccoli, and strawberries for dessert. I’m sort of chastened by the thought, but the kids were of course very perfectly content. You should note that my standards are falling: they had eaten frozen pizza and (homemade) Caesar salad on Friday night (my house had just been cleaned so there was no way I was making my own pizza. Also Kory and I have developed a minor addiction to TJ Frozen Tarte D’Alsace, a really excellent concoction of carmelized onions, cheese, ham on a pastry. It’s a great quick meal for us with a salad and a nice bottle of wine).
But it was all worth it, because we haven’t had a date night in a long time, much less at a great restaurant. And aside from paying the sitter, the night was free because this was practice run for the staff. But, even so, even had we paid, I would be writing that the meal at Frances was terrific, and there were many, many highlights, among them a semolina gnocchi with duck confit and kale, which just might be one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. The pillow-like gnocchi were light as air, the confit perfectly cooked. I could eat a big bowl of this everyday with a big glass of rustic Italian wine. Also on offer were applewood bacon beignets, which were maybe the perfect party food: smoky little bites of fried dough dipped in chive creme fraiche; and a lovely duck liver mousse. There was more, and it was all good, and as soon as it’s opened if you’re in the Bay Area, you should go. Prices are moderate. And the house wine will be sold by the ounce.
What we learned: that there’s a lot that goes into opening a restaurant, that a new kitchen is sort of like a well-oiled machine in that it takes practice to get all the parts running together, on time, in exactly the way you want them to; that it’s okay once in a while to give your kids the equivalent of a TV dinner–especially if it means that mom and dad get to go out on the spur of the moment alone; and it also reminded us that in these tough times, we should remember to support all the local arts as much as we can, including the culinary ones.
ocean trout with celeraic puree, cumin, roasted cauliflower