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Jan 17, 2002 01:05 PM

Dine Around at Fringale (long)

  • m

My apologies in advance for the quality of the review, it is not up to the standard I have seen on this board. Having said that...

had dinner at Fringale last night. The Dine Around order was a lark, as we were planning to go anyway. The prix fixe menu consisted of salad, poached salmon, and Gateau Basque for dessert. Two of us, myself included, were not in the mood for salmon so we ordered from the menu. I had the Wild Mushroom Ravioli, Duck Leg Confit, and Goat Cheese Souffle. My girlfriend took Crab Salad and Mussels. As you can imagine, the choice of wine with this selection was a challenge. On the waiter's recommendation we ordered a 98 Oregon Pinot, the cheapest red on the menu. I did not retain the name of the winery.

The salad was, well, salad. Salmon was good, moist, and a generous center slice. Not bad, but not inspiring either. Gateau Basque turned out to be a dry Amaretto cake with thin Creme Anglaise. Overpowering at first bite and with no taste sensation to round it out. One bite was more than enough.

The ravioli were redolent with the scent of fresh porcini, and I was really looking forward to the taste. Unfortunately, it turned out to be completely one-dimensional, the porcini overpowering everything else including the ravioli filling. I could not even tell you what was inside. Bite after bite delivered the same flavor. Even someone who loves poricini, like myself, would be bored after a few. The crab salad, again, was just crab salad. Not very interesting.

The duck was another disappointment. It was dry, had less than crispy skin, and was lacking in the essence of confit. The accompaniment was a mass of brown lentils flavoerd with duck drippings. Not bad, but not far from great.

The mussels, now, that was a revelation. Fat, juicy bivalves in an absolutely incerible sauce with onions, a bit of garlic, a hint of leek, and some sort of acid. They would have been perfect if the kitchen had made sure that each mollusk was well coated with the sauce. As it was, only the bottom layer had been and we did not discover how good the dish really was until we plowed through two thirds of it. But we did soak up the very last bit of the sauce with the excellent sour bagette provided at the start. The whole wheat bread that also was served was a bit flat.

The souffle, which again was highly anticipated, was more like a goat cheesecake, with none of the fluffy airiness you would expect. It was far too big for one person, and had no depth. Again, one bite was all I wanted.

The wine had a pleasant fruity nose and a nice peppery first taste. But it had no legs whatever and an unpleasant, acid finish. Far from going with everything as promised, it did nothing to complement any of our dishes.

Bottom line: I've had far better meals. Fringale is off my list, except perhaps if I need some mussels.


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  1. Hi David - welcome to the board!

    Fringale definitely gets mixed reviews. And if mussels are your only reason to head back there, skip it entirely - better to head to Plouf on Belden Ln.

    Now THEM are some mussels.

    And on a side note, has anyone tried the mussels from Trader Joe's?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Fatemeh

      Trader Joe's Mussells? They used to stock frozen mussells from New Zealand that made a handy freezer staple, but I hadn't seen tham there in several years. Are they back?

      1. re: Calvinist

        Yes, they are frozen. Not sure if they are New Zealand... they have them in two styles - one with garlic butter, and another "provencal" style with tomatoes and white wine sauce.

        They're pretty good... for frozen mussels. They are a fast way to get a fix in when I really need one, and they are actually pretty good for Paella as well.

        But, we're going musseling next weekend, and I can't wait to eat the real thing!

        1. re: Fatemeh

          Your right, nothing beat the fesh real thing. TJ's old style of New Zealand Mussells were unseasoned -- I used to use them for a quick pasta or other such mid-week meal. I will have to try the ones the stock now.

      2. re: Fatemeh

        Thanks for the pointer, Fatemeh! I have indulged in Plouf's mussels many, many times, but as good as they were, these were really something special. My one regret is not ordering the fries to go with them, so I cannot comment on the overall classic mussel experience...


      3. I've eaten at Fringale several times, and I've always been vaguely disappointed.

        The only reason I would ever make a point of going there is if I had a craving for their signature gratin potatoes -- and even this dish wasn't as good the last time as I remembered it being.

        Plus, it's a little cramped. The service, however, is excellent; on one visit I had a cold, and when I mentioned this to the waiter he made a hot brandy drink for me. I like being pampered!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ruth Lafler
          the other Zach

          Gotta say, I'm a huge fan of Fringale. For appetizers, the crab and papaya salad is inventive and refreshing, although I haven't seen it on the menu of late. The house made pate is of the chunky, country-style variety -- a nice break from the smooth and creamy pates that abound.

          For main courses, I've had the duck confit twice. The first time it was crisp and juicy; the second time it was a little dry, as you mentioned. My current favorite is the pork tenderloin with apples: so tasty, and much better than my attempted replications at home.

          Actually, over the past two years, my wife Amy and I have had more consistently satisfying meals at Fringale than at any other restaurant in San Francisco. We return for the food and the relaxing night out; we can afford to come back because of the modest prices -- half to one third the tab of its culinary rivals. A so-so night at Fringale I can deal with. A so-so night at [insert favorite $$$ restaurant here] is hard to stomach.