Friday, July 22, 2011


I just celebrated a special occasion at Frances, but to be honest, eating at Frances is cause enough for celebration!  For me, it is the perfect blend of sophistication and accessibility, in terms of the food, service, and ambiance.  I also love the small intimate environment, the focus on local and seasonal produce ... and of course the house wine paid by the ounce!

To maximize our coverage of the menu, we ordered three of the bouchees, a gem salad, two entrees... and a dessert.  Yes, that was certainly overdoing it, but I don't know what I would have skipped! 

The hands down favorite for both of us was the Panisses Frites, a plate of chickpea croquettes with the most amazing and creamy consistency inside, crispy crust outside, and served with a lemon and black olive aioli.  Also in the bouchee category, we enjoyed an onion dip with a black sesame lavash cracker, and the bacon beignets with maple creme fraiche.   A gem salad with roasted beets, blue cheese, and hazelnuts gave us a little bite of something fresh before we dove into our entrees.

While Lafe's bavette steak with bordelaise sauce was faultless, we both practically screamed over my delicious salmon.  Served over a creamy polenta with a Meyer lemon gremolata and roasted root vegetables, there was an amazing range of texture on the plate and a very happy synthesis of flavor.  We both agreed it was the best salmon dish we have EVER tasted.

And, we couldn't refuse a taste of their highly regarded lumberjack cake, a ginger-molasses apple date cake with maple walnut ice cream that somehow managed to show great refinement of flavor despite its country leanings. 

I hesitate to tell you all how good this meal really was, because it was hard enough to get a seat there!  But for me, I want every special occasion to involve a meal at Frances.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Paella night

A recent email from Sur la Table made me jump out of my office chair and hot-foot it across the street to the Ferry Building, in search of a great deal on a paella pan.  Pan in hand, what else was a girl to do besides organize a paella night?

A group of friends joined me one Saturday night for an amazing Spanish style feast.  To start, we had a salad made with roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, and sevillana olives in a sherry vinaigrette topped with Manchego cheese and toasted almonds. 

From a recent cooking class I learned to blister the peppers directly on the flame of my gas stovetop before sweating them and removing the skin.  This was WAY more effective than trying to do the same in the broiler, and an inspiration to start eating homemade roasted peppers more frequently.

I served the salad alongside some crusty bread (courtesy of my neighborhood Boulange) and of course the paella, a chicken, chorizo, and mixed seafood combination that did not disappoint.  I made a basic sofrito to start (sauteed onions with tomato and garlic), and added about a teaspoon of saffron threads I had bloomed in hot water as well as paprika.  I stirred in rice and stock, and buried the meat and seafood inside the rice, adding the mussels and clams last.  When the mussels and clams opened it was nearly finished, although I tasted the rice to be sure. 

I brought the paellera to the table so that all could dig in directly to the broad and inviting dish ... and of course scoop their own crusty rice from the bottom.  The socarrat, as it's called, is coveted in Spain and now in my house as well!