FRAICHE flavor. Re FRAICHE ing. FRAICHE prince. FRAICHE out of bad puns.
Had an 8:30 rez for one, but my evening started earlier at six as I ducked into BottleRock for a few glasses of Sancerre to go along with the charcuterie plate. I'd never spent much time on Main so I wanted to take in this opportunity to see not only the restaurants, but also the neighborhood.
I walked into Fraiche at 7:45 and my first drink at the bar was a prosecco fruit flambe. The table ended up being ready immediately, but I waited for Albert to finish his flaming presentation. The drink isn't of the caliber of, say, a cocktail at Hungry Cat, but they've set the bar high, and it was delicious cocktail.
I had read about the service issues, and I know that at any new establishments there are bound to be FOH problems, so I took everything in stride. I waited a while and noticed that tables immediately around me were getting served but not me. The maitre d' fixed it, though. (he's the heavy set guy that everyone seems to dislike; I found him attentive and was the one that actually brought my server over). It seemed like my table was just on the edge of someone else's "territory" and so the servers, rather than me having two to a table, I ended up with none. A minor hiccup that was corrected, and I'm glad to report that I ended up with Cat, who is absolutely delightful.
I asked about the boudin noir and the pork osso bucco agnolotti, but ended up ordering the smoked eel salad (great; wonderful greens) and the farro salad (surprisingly complex with great refreshing flavors from the peas and hints of mint). Reason being was that I would have ordered the boudin if it was made in house (it's made by someone who's a close friend of Chef Travi, who was there tonight in his tatted glory), and I would normally order an amazing sounding dish like pork osso bucco agnolotti until I thought to myself... osso bucco is braised shank... pork osso bucco, then, is ham hocks. A plate full of that stuff will just send me straight into food coma.
The farro was a surprise just because I'm used to the more velvety texture that you can get from AOC. This was much more of a fresh flavor (pardon the expression) which seemed appropriate for late spring, early summer. Bear in mind that Fraiche's menu changes constantly, more than simply having different dinner specials.
My entree was taking a while so they brought out an espresso tasse filled with the delicious roasted corn soup. There was a clam base in the soup, which didn't give it the brinyness that I would have expected, but instead gave it just an essence of ocean, really. If you added potatoes, it'd be the greatest clam chowder ever.
It's at that time that I noticed the whole size of the room. I'm of the opinion that the space is too large for the restaurant. If you took away tables to reduce the number of diners, it would be too sparse. If you added more staff to compensate for the diners, it would be too crowded. As it was, the place was packed all night long, and perhaps not everyone on the line can "dance" in the kitchen (as they say) as well as Travi could. The menu really spoke of Chef Travi's resume... there were certainly elements of both Spago and La Terza throughout and his skills are impeccable. When they finally get all the staffing nailed down, Fraiche will be ready the lofty stratosphere where Spago and Lucques reside.
My entree arrived and were spectacular. I ordered the veal cheeks, which I could not pass up at all once I saw it on the menu. It's presentation was simple; just sliced portions of perfectly seasoned veal that was slow cooked for 24 hours at such a low temperature that, if it were submerged in liquid, it'd be poaching. Instead, the long slow cooking process made an already-tender part of an already-tender animal to mythic levels of, um, tenderness. This dish is amazing. I initially thought that the paired romesco sauce was a little too acidic for such a plate, but the herbal/woody notes definitely complemented it well.
For dessert I ordered the cookie/confection platter, but the house surprised me with a complementary order of the tiramisu as well. The cocoa had just the right amount of sweetness and bitterness (certainly not Valrhona cocoa; Callebaut? Scharffenberger?) and the ladyfingers were thoroughly soaked which is just how I like it. The cookie platter, though was excellent. The stars of this plating were the macaroons and the oatmeal cookies, though it's hard to turn away from the chocolate chip cookie (which was most certainly Valrhona).
No alcohol ordered, just a bottle of sparkling water. Two salads, entree, dessert and an espresso set me back $60 after tax before tip. Because they gave me a tiramisu, I felt compelled to tip as if I ordered it, if only because it was a wonderful evening from beginning to end.
Try this place out for yourself; look past the reports of spotty service and remember that the Front of the House is the easiest to change, and that the quality stuff coming out of the kitchen gives it a solid foundation. I think Fraiche is the real deal and certainly a keeper. Apps were around $10, entrees hovered around the $20 mark, so it's an exceptional deal all around. I'd hesitate to call it Spago-lite or Angelini Osteria-lite, because that doesn't give enough credit to the place itself since it certainly can stand on its own ground. I highly recommend Fraiche and can't wait for my next visit.
Revisited Fraiche again, and it sure seems to me that they're hitting their stride just fine. Had the farro salad again which was great, but also the boudin noir was excellent. Dining companion's main was a huge slab of kurabota pork chop, while I opted to go light with the branzino en papillote. Had the ever-delightful Cat as my server, who gave me the La Mauriane Saint-Emilion upgrade after discovering that the first glass of wine I ordered was actually out of stock.
Oh and the menu certainly did change, even if subtly, since two weeks went by.
Here's my blog post plus pics: