Francine is the Beautiful Belle of Camden
Francine Bistro is in a fairly small rustic building that is worth a fairly large detour to 55 Chestnut St., Camden, Maine. It is better than most Manhattan restaurants, somewhat in the style of Ouest, which it outclasses handily. The seating is Manhattan-style, which means that the tables are small and crowded close together. (A good opportunity to make friends with the adjacent table and buy each other drinks back and forth, which is exactly what happened to us.) The lighting is also Manhattan-style, which means that in order to see the food, you need to take flash pictures and look at them later at home.
First came the bread, which we thought might be wood baked. It was not, but the baking was masterful and it had great flavor. For our wine we picked out a Portugese Alvarinho, Auratus Quinta do Feital 2005 ($38), which had a full mineral flavor and tasted like the sea. White Bean Soup with Chorizo and Chilies ($7) was fairly bland, with soft mushy beans, smoky bits of chorizo, and very mild chilies. The Baked Pemaquid Oysters with Greens, Leeks, and Fennel Marmalade ($13) featured broiled oysters with crispy vegetables and cilantro on top. The dish was simply stunning. The oysters were well browned but tender and sweet inside. The marmalade was coarse and dry, with chunky bits of preserved orange peel. There were so many layers of flavor in this dish that the oysters could seem almost incidental. Or maybe the leeks. It depends on what you home in on.
We had the Skillet Roast Duck with Sweet Potatoes, Local Porcini, and Green Peppercorns ($25). The sauce was cream and stock, more tasty than creamy. There was a generous amount of peppercorns, soft like capers. Besides the porcini were shavings of garlic, fresh tarragon, dill, parsley, and cilantro. To all this was added a dollop of whole-cranberry and orange relish. The duck was a half breast, served medium rare with crisp skin. It was absolutely superb. We also had the Wood Roast Pork Loin with Root Cellar Vegetables and Caramelized Pear Glaze ($24). Its intensely delicious taste was slightly smoked, a touch like ham, because of the wood cooking. It was so tender and succulent, I could not believe it was a pork chop. The portion was huge—two ribs off a good–sized loin. The waiter said that the pork came from Quebec. (There is a very good line of Quebec pork called Breton, which I’ve bought at Fairway in New York.)
Our dessert was Dark Chocolate Terrine with Pomegranate and Pistachio ($7), which was good although the pomegranate here was quite punchy. Dinner for two with coffee and dessert wines came to $150 before tip.
The service was absolutely professional—very helpful, prompt, and attentive. Our waiter was thoroughly informed about the dishes and was able to answer all questions easily. With such top-notch food and attention to detail at every step, this place is a treasure.
Perfect. Their wine-price gouging is consistent with their other Manhattan-style characteristics! At least the wine was in pretty good shape. In Manhattan, most places don't have decent wine storage. The wine ends up on a high shelf near the ceiling where the temperature is over 80 degrees. So you spend $40 for a bottle of bad $10 wine. Is it any wonder my wife & I like to cook and eat at home?
I, too, love the food at Francine, but I am continually bothered by their markup on wine. I work at a wine shop just a few miles up the road from Camden, so I know what they pay for their wine. The wine you had costs wineshops and restaurants $10. You do the math. I think that's gouging.
Indeed. I had a terrific meal there in September – the highlight was a huitlacoche and sweet corn crepe with a local camembert-style cheese. It broke my heart to eat only half of it; if I'd eaten it all, I wouldn't have had room for the lovely seared duck with plum sauce that followed. Terrific atmosphere, professional but unstuffy staff. It made me rue deeply my local restaurant scene.