Franco - St. Louis?
- bobzemuda Jan 12, 2007 10:42 AM
With the exception of Bonwich, because, well, I saw your review...anyone been here and care to comment?
I'm having a hard time not being put off by the menu after reading their website.
"Our focus is to serve classic French dishes with a modern twist."
"Hearty French Cuisine"
And then they have dishes like "pulled pork shoulder on buttermilk biscuit and natural sauce $6". Much of what is online sounds delicious, albeit not even remotely French, and I notice the two reviews I've read mention Sweetbreads so the menu online must be very different then the one they're actually working off.
I haven't yet been there, but it is near the top of my list of places to visit. It seems like a good percentage of their online menu could be described as French, especially their entrees. Their wine by the glass list is pretty disappointing. Only one French red, and that is a Bordeaux. I'd think a place like that would have a Cru Beaujolais or a Cote du Rhone on the glass list.
The menu changes every week and has grown entirely french, with the exception of a few lunch items. Currently all of the wines by the glass are french, with the exception of a couple sparklings, and has been for months. The online menus are being updated soon, and will reflect those changes. No Beaujolais by the glass, but the Rhone is represented as well as Burgundy, Bordeaux and a straight Malbec, which is hard to find quality at in a French. Whites have Burgundy, Muscadet, Vouvray and Bordeaux.
I loved the room. It's beautiful and a nice setting. The menu, though, was a little tricky. Hard to settle on something, because everything was so specific.
The wines by the glass were, yes, disappointing, but the cocktails are perfect and worth a try.
I was disappointed by both my choices: I had oysters and the fried green tomato with crab salad. Both seafoods were utterly flavorless. I suppose that's better than being faintly stinky and nasty like a bad salmon I had at Cafe Zoe the other day, but disappointing nonetheless.
The flavorless oyster (provenance not listed on menu) in very, very, very faint brine was accompanied by a GREAT housemade cocktail sauce that would have been lovely with a more assertive oyster. The fried green tomato itself was deeeelicious, but the crab salad paired with it could have been tuna, chicken or turkey. It was as bland as bland could be. Dollops of chili mayo on the plate gave it a little zing but there weren't many of them and it didn't rescue the dish. I left hungry for flavor.
But as I said, really lovely looking place.
Deserted when I went -- better visit while you can!
Amazing that it won best new restaurant isn't it?
When I was a cook, I applied at Cafe Zoe. The owner was incredibly nice, and I was set to say yes, but then she offered me an insane amount of money compared to what I made at the time. This left me wondering what the deal was so I asked to work one night to see if I felt it would be a good fit for me.
Two things struck me which made me not take the job. One, at that time (and this was 98 or 99) they cooked their muscles ahead of service and then reheated them for an order. Two, a piece of tuna came back because the customer said it was bad. I'd been in the back kitchen doing something when it went out and didn't see it, but the chef/cooks were upset, and thought the customer was nuts, but you could smell it from about 10ft away as the server whisked it into the back kitchen.
I will never eat there.
When I went a few months ago, everything was fantastic -- I would have been happy had I ordered any of the entrees my four dining companions ordered, and they all felt the same way. It's certainly understandable why one could be put off by the menu, though.
So, Bill, in the months since you began this post, have you tried franco yet? We have an anniversary dinner coming up in a couple weeks and are thinking about giving it a shot. I can deal with the non-French menu that's inconsistent with the self-characterization of the food and I don't care about the spotty wine list because I'll bring my own, but I am concerned about the food notwithstanding Sauce Mag's "best new resto" vote. Any recent feedback?
We went once pretty early on and I was pretty under whelmed. Sautéed Foie was cold, sweetbreads were, well, standard sweetbread fair. Lamb shank was bland....I don't really recall everything from that visit, but we sort of steered clear after that as we left with what has become for our dining in St. Louis a very common theme. "We've had far better for far less".
I ended up downtown Friday night alone, so I figured I'd go sit at the bar and give it another shot since, as you mentioned, it got the best new restaurant vote, and Ian Froeb seems to really like it, and he tends to feel the same way about places I do.
Upon arriving around 8:30, the place was absolutely packed. I grabbed the one available stool at the bar and immediately felt that this was the better side of the room. While the room as a whole is actually really slick for St. Louis, I really preferred the vibe in the bar compared to that of the dining area on my first visit. I don't know if that's just a reaction to my having sat in the restaurant early on or perhaps a reaction to the service we received on our first visit which I recall having put me off quite a bit. I noticed that amongst the front of house staff were former Niche, An American Place and King Louie's service staff, so that clearly says something about Franco. Whether that is quality of service, a hip place to work or perhaps deep pockets I do not know.
The menu is laid out such that you have 7-10 Apps, about 5 salads, 3 "Big Bowls" I believe they were called and 4 entrees. I'm not a huge fan of giant entrees, and the choices seemed pretty safe on both visits as I recall. I went for three appetizers on this visit which better suits the way in which I like to dine. More flavors, smaller portions. I was saddened to see when looking over the menu at dessert that they had a $3 portion of pork rillette that I'd have liked to try. Rillette of anything when done right is one of the greatest things I've ever eaten, and always brings back memories of a rabbit rillette with fig compote I ate at Bouchon.
For my first dish I had Foie Gras en Torchon w/ sautéed watermelon & peaches and a port reduction I've never had watermelon with foie before and as I was drinking a Chateau Valmaer vouvray I felt it would accompany the wine nicely and ordered it. The torchon itself was really nice, and better then the one I'd had at an American Place a few weeks ago. I didn't care for the dish, however, for a few reasons. If you're going to serve something like this, you need to make sure you have impeccable produce, and I didn't feel the flavor of the peaches or watermelon really delivered. They can't have been local peaches, because the local ones fizzled out a few weeks back, so why serve them. The second gripe was that I didn't feel like the watermelon peach combo even meshed well. He should have gone with one or the other, rather then combining these two flavors. Third, the torchon sat on a melba toast of sorts. It was kind of soft, however, to be, I assume, easy to cut, and didn't add anything to the dish in my opinion.
Second, I had Fried Green Tomatoes with a 5 rock chile crab salad and avocado. This I really liked. It was a sort of kicked up comfort food of sorts. It was maybe a tad spicy for some people, but I'm not very sensitive and didn't mind the heat, thoroughly enjoying it's flavors. I stuck with the vouvray on this course as it was the original reason for my choosing it in the first place.
Third I had Grilled Beef Brouquette with a mushroom blue cheese relish. I believe it was tenderloin as it didn’t have a particularly great beef flavor. Whether or not it was a relish I will leave for someone else to argue, but I will simply cast my vote as no. Overall, it was neither good nor bad. It is the kind of thing I'd whip together to eat at home, but it's not exactly a best new restaurant winning dish in my opinion and could have really benefited from a more flavorful cut of beef.
Last I had a Strawberry Shortcake. So simple, but easily the best thing I had all night. It was traditionally straightforward (a biscuit, fresh berries and whipped cream). I was drinking a La Fin du Monde at this point, and I hadn't expected to drink it with the shortcake, but it was easily one of the best beverage pairings I've had in a long time. Who would have known? It's always nice when culinary accidents like this happen.
The friend green tomato and strawberry shortcakes made me think of the other Justin Keimon food I'd had in the past, and it struck me that the one other thing I can vividly recall eating of his, from years ago at RL Steamers was a crab cake. Easily the best I've ever had in the city I was a bit taken back by it, as it's not something I would order, and found myself wanting to continue eating it after sampling one of our companions. It was packed with flavor and more importantly the standard accompaniment, remoulade, was traditional and sticking with the theme, simple.
So after two visits to Franco, I do think it's better then it was when I first visited. Keimon has a great grasp of making simple, comfort type dishes absolutely delicious, but when he over-extends his reach, things can get a little weird almost for the sake of being weird.
Initially surprised by it's winning best new restaurant, when asked by a friend what I felt the better choice would have been, I admittedly had no better response. I don't believe that speaks to the quality of food that Franco is putting up, however, as much as it is to a lack of truly great restaurants opening in the last year.
Thanks for the replies to my inquiry that revived this post a few days ago. Bill and Sarah, your comments based on recent experiences don't amount to ringing endorsements, but there were enough positive remarks and I really want to try someplace new for this year's anniversary, so I think we'll give it a shot, order carefully and bring some really good wine. Will report back after the Sept. 8th dinner and hopefully I won't be TOFTT.
As forecasted above, we did the anniversary dinner at Franco this past Saturday night. There were 4 of us, 2 couples who share a common anniversary [day and year]. We all were very pleased with Franco and will return. It's a great space. Our res was for a table in the dining room, but we arrived very early and, after a drink at the bar, wound up taking the corner table in the bar. That may be a preferable place to eat. Highlights of meal included the fried green tomato app [described by bobzemuda above], the salmon w/ cream corn and the seafood stew. The bread and biscuits were excellent. I enjoyed my lamb shank because it was done just right and I was hungry [and it was very large, which I don't generally find to be all that positive an attribute], though it wasn't all that inspirational in flavor or concept. The service was very good - our waiter had spent a long time at King Louie, until it's sudden demise, and it would be hard to find a more charming bartender than Nicole [?] or more accomodating staff than the women handling front of the house duties. Brought 3 bottles of our own, so didn't really get into their wine list. I could get more detailed and critical, but much of the evening is still in a foggy haze; might be the after dinner shots of Idol vodka, distilled from wine grapes.