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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jonathan Kauffman on Frances: Big Buzz, Modest Ambitions

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 11:02 AM

click to enlarge P. K./YELP
How can a restaurant have everything going for it ― bicoastal buzz, polished staff, previously starred chef, solid bookings ― and still leave a critic wanting more?

That's the question SF Weekly's Jonathan Kauffman explores today, as he parses recent meals at Frances. Chef Melissa Perello has perfected purely modest food, Kauffman argues. Nothing wrong with that ― some of S.F.'s most celebrated kitchens have built national reputations on it. Except, as a diner, don't you have a right to expect more after enduring a three-month wait for reservations?

Read Kauffman's thoroughly honest explication (excerpt after the jump) at Feel free to comment here with your own thoughts.

Even the two most adventurous-sounding dishes on the menu were ones my picky 5-year-old nephew would have devoured. The first was the crisp pork trotters with sauce gribiche. Perello pressed shredded hock meat into two scallop-shaped cylinders, deep-fried them so the edges of the pellets crisped, and placed them on a smear of sauce, composed of infinitesimally minced shallots, egg, pickles, and caper. With its rustic twang, gribiche is a classic accompaniment for collagen-rich off cuts. But the acidity in Perello's sauce whispered instead of keened, which turned out to be fine, because the meat -- which could have come from any part of the pig, really -- whispered right back. The other false promise was the grilled asparagus salad with boar lardo (cured fat) and anchovies. If that doesn't sound like a dish that struts and sneers, I don't know what does. But it simpered prettily, with asparagus tips the size of an eyeliner pencil blanketed in mild, crunchy bits of ungamy meat, any flavor of cured fish subsumed by the vegetables.

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