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Frances - Chef Melissa Perello's Market-Based, Approachable, Fine Dining on 17th Street in The Castro

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We went to Frances for dinner tonight.

I can see why this restaurant is consistently ranked in the top 10 establishments in San Francisco. Perhaps we need another visit to compare notes but having said that, neither B nor myself were impressed enough to return right away. The company was wonderful though, and that saved the evening.


Applewood smoked bacon beignets, with maple chive crème fraîche.

Nice "snack" to start. Light, airy and there was just enough maple in the crème fraîche to be of interest.


Watermelon and Early Girl tomato gazpacho, with Gulf shrimp, English cucumber and shiso.


Little Gem salad, with heirloom tomatoes, avocado, smoked bacon, pecorino and balsamic vinaigrette.

Sounded wonderful on paper, but not in execution. Too much dressing on the lettuce - if I can see it and it's pooling on the bottom of the plate, then someone had better restrain their hand in the kitchen. Croutons were tough. And the balance of flavors clashed against the wine we were drinking.

Seared snapper, with fregola, Castelvetrano olives, pistachio fennel slaw.
Duck confit, with habañero stone fruit jam, ricotta dumplings, and grilled broccolini.

The duck was dry and a touch overcooked, the jam of little interest (barely spicy and nearly sweet enough to be ketchup). The dumplings were just "ok" and the broccolini might as well have been raw. If they were grilled, I didn't detect anything that tasted as if they were cooked that way.

And yes, those are also grilled turnips. At least those were prepared well.
Roasted cauliflower and Gala apple fondue, Nicasio reserve, pickled grape.

The English language has only so many ways to write "mediocrity". Clearly prepared well, but totally uninteresting to me. As if roasted cauliflower needed a cheese sauce. The grapes which were clearly there to lend acidity/contrast were just an afterthought.

BTW this "side" which consists of maybe 5 tablespoons of food, cost $10. WTF?!?
Blistered Romano beans, pepita and nigella crunch, arugula and sunflower pesto.

We were comped this side by the kitchen.

I hated the pesto, the crunch didn't contribute anything, and the beans were "ok". There are four elements in that bowl that don't belong there IMHO.
Warm apple crumble cake, with butterscotch and cinnamon brittle ice cream.

Somewhat better, although B remarked that the cake reminded him of a muffin. He could've been eating breakfast.
Lumberjack cake with Medjool dates, Yali pear, apple and muscovado ice cream.

Dense, flavorful but not moist cake saved by intensely flavored ice cream. The dates were "fine". They also contributed nothing IMHO.

You can detect a trend - too many ingredients that don't make sense together and aren't interesting. But lots of folks like this place so maybe it's just me.
My main criticism is - if you're going to charge top dollar with your two most expensive dishes on the menu in the mid-$30s, then you had better damn well make sure that what you're serving is perfect. I wanted to like Frances. I really do. Their style of cooking is market-driven and it's what moves me, but all the little things add up and based on this experience, it'll be a while before we return.
Other observations: there is very little sound absorption in the restaurant. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that there is none. It's all wooden surfaces with square tables and wooden benches. Even with the restaurant half full and windows/doors open, prepare to be swallowed up by a wall of sound. We had to lean in against each other in order to be able to make ourselves heard.

3870 17th Street (Pond Street)
The Castro


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