HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Frances dinner ...

Hello all and Happy New Year!
I thought I would write to say thank you to all the Bay Area folks who offered advice on where I should go during my recent trip to San Francisco (visiting from NYC). My plans changed a little but we did wind up eating at Frances on our last night in town. Put this place on the top of your list to try. There were four of us and we ordered from all over the menu. The entire meal was excellent! The bacon bigniets were all you might hope in such a dish, the mixed chicories were beautiful. All of the entrees were delicious ... My favorite was the chicken actually, which surprises me because usually chicken tends to be a little boring but this was perfectly cooked, moist ... really well done. The skate was excellent as well. The buttermilk panna cotta was the standout dessert that night. They used the citrus form the market to great effect all over the menu but especially here. The staff all showed an attention to detail that really impressed me and the service was really very attentive. I highly recommend this restaurant!

Also had a great bunch at The Tipsy Pig in the Marina.

See you in NYC!

3870 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This is Melissa Perello's new place, which she was sort-of previewing on occasional Monday nights at Sebo for a while. It opened December 1.

    3870 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

    1. Has anyone been recently? I am not sure if Frances would be considered a destination restaurant. Though with all the positive reviews I've read in the press I certainly wish to try it on my next visit to SF.

      4 Replies
      1. re: oysterspearls

        Went this week and had an excellent meal. Frances is turning out to be a destination restaurant because the night I was there Tyler Florence (Food Network chef) was dining with Phil Bronstein (editor of SF Chronicle). The positive buzz is definitely drawing people from all over, although you do get a sense that there are also a lot of neighborhood people happy to see Frances opened.

        For the food, I had the pig trotters small starter, which was like a crab cake in presentation. Not a lot of pork taste, but still elegantly presented and tasty. My friend had the fried chickpeas that he throughly enjoyed, served with a meyer lemon sauce.

        My friend also had the parsnip soup with apple bits and he loved the combination. I had the crab salad that was simple but beautifully plated. It was a very clean dish with minimal flavors to distract from the sweet crab pieces.

        For our main course, my friend had the scallops, which he said he loved. I had the duck breast that was perfectly cooked and served with sausages. It had a nice sauce to compliment the duck, and a nice twist was crouton-like substance sprinkled on top for a slight crunch.

        We ended the night sharing the chocolate mousse that was really light a fluffy but not super airy. It was just the right balance of light and dense. It had a smear of burnt caramel that was amazing.

        The only downside to Frances (that has been mentioned many times before) is the cramp seating and the loud noise. But for the food, it's spot on. A combination of neighborhood comfort dishes presented in the high-end classy way of a fine-dining spot.

        1. re: singleguychef

          We went last weekend. This service was really good and the host and sommelier were very nice but our server seemed a bit out of sorts or something. The food was a mixed bag. The food was more refined than bold. The place is new and has promise but the chef needs to step it up a notch, some of the dishes were too bland. My partner liked it more than me. We had a lot of the same things singleguychef had.

          Here is what we had:

          Pig trotters appetizer. Was good but not great. Did not taste very trottery. Kind of generic tasting. All I could think of was how much better the trotter appetizer at Bistro Jeanty is.

          Black truffle Risotto: Was quite delicious but was a head shakingly puny portion for $22. When I saw the size my thought was: Really??? They were generous with the truffles though. Was excellent tasting and the texture was perfect, although the dish was a bit overly butter saturated.

          Scallops (main course): Again was delicious but with three medium-small sized scallops it seemed more like an appetizer sized portion. The scallops were very tasty and the faro and mushrooms underneath were very satisfying. Excellent but they should add another scallop.

          Kale Cannolini: Was good but not great. The filling was better than the Cannolini itself. A bit bland.

          Chocolate mousse with burnt caramel. I don’t agree with singleguychef about this dish. I really hated this dessert. The mousse was overly sweet and very lacking in chocolate flavor. Tasted like something you might expect to get at Bakers Square or someplace similar. The burnt caramel did not add much to the dish. Overall one of the most disappointing desserts in recent memory.

          1. re: Ridge

            I totally agree with you about the trotter appetizer, didn't really showcase the trotter. I think I should have tried the squid salad because I love squid.

            Wow, I'm surprised you didn't like the mousse. I wonder if something happened that night. I just loved the texture and flavor seemed balance.

            Chef Perillo serves as expeditor so she's not cooking anything, but I'm sure she keeps a keen eye on the cooks who are following her recipes. I was pretty impressed with the kitchen's skills.

      2. Wow, it's kind of tough to land a table here -- has anyone eaten at the bar here? The Sunday evening we want to go (before a show we're catching at the Cafe Du Nord nearby), they're all booked up...and were already, even when I checked over six weeks before the date.

        The man I spoke to suggested just coming early and grabbing a seat at the bar, and he did say that the full menu is available there. Just wondering if that would be a much less pleasant experience than eating in the dining room proper, in which case we may just look into other restaurant options in the area.

        5 Replies
        1. re: abstractpoet

          I've been once in the dining area and then once "at the bar" -- I use quotes because it's not really a bar, but a counter. We sat at the counter against the window facing 17th Street and it was perfectly fine. Service was as attentive as when we sat in the dining area. I want to say there's less tablespace at the counter, which can make sharing or retaining several plates tricky, but otherwise it was just as nice as table seating.

          1. re: Frosty Melon

            Thanks, great info. If that's the case, we'll probably make a go of it then.

          2. re: abstractpoet

            We ended up being seated at the counter right at 5:00 when they opened on a Sunday, no problem.

            The highlight of our meal was probably the "Panisse Frites," from the bouches portion of the menu. These were like polenta fries but -- somehow, improbably -- made with chickpeas. Flat-out amazing, and a good deal at $6.50. We also shared a spring onion bouillon, which was very light.

            I had the bavette steak entree, which was fantastic -- a simply prepared, but perfectly executed, medium-rare steak is nothing to scoff at. Practically licked my plate clean.

            Had a bite of my wife's kale cannelloni. Oddly enough these crepes, with their mushroom and vegetable filling, reminded me of moo shu pork -- though not necessarily in a bad way. My wife enjoyed these well enough, but it's not a dish I would order for myself.

            We shared the much-discussed chocolate mousse dessert, and while I enjoyed it well enough, it definitely wasn't one of my favorites in this sort of salty-sweet category, which I normally love. The mousse was tasty, but the chocolate sea salt cookies and the (quite plentiful) salt on the plate just tasted, well, salty to me, and didn't do all that much to play off of the chocolate.

            In any case, we enjoyed our meal and would definitely come back -- though we'd be likely to return sooner if they switched up their entree selections more frequently. The four they were offering tonight were the same dishes I'd read about in various reviews from a couple months back; I don't know how often they mix things up.

            1. re: abstractpoet

              Abstractpoet, did you feel you had room at the counter to maneuver everything and eat?

              Also, I'm just guessing here, but I think they changing their menus with the season with a few minor tweaks here and there depending on supplies.

              1. re: singleguychef

                I thought sitting at the counter was perfectly fine -- we sat in the front left corner facing the kitchen, and it seemed to me that that front counter might be a little deeper/wider than the ones to the side or facing the window.

                In any case, there was plenty of room for our our dishes, and the only time it seemed cramped at all was when I had to get out to use the restroom -- the guy seated behind me at the side counter had me wedged in pretty good.

                If you go without a reservation, I'd definitely recommend getting there right at 5:00 when they open, though, at least on a weekend. On the Sunday we went, there was a line about 8 people long before they opened. There are, what, maybe 10 bar seats? By 5:10 or so they were all taken.

          3. Pros: excellent ice cream and tasty cakes, easy parking (!), lovely carafes for sipping whatever amount of wine you choose, congenial service (for the most part), the mixed crowd a pleasant surprise for SF, delightful menu offerings and fresh ingredients. Less pro: Dishes often didn't match the anticipation factor. The flavor depth/contrasts hover around the surface of these small plates. One finds oneself searching the dish for taste per forkful. So close, yet not quite there. Then too, I am finding it harder than ever to enjoy food in noisy places. Still, the crowd seemed happy.

            3870 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

            1. I had a really great meal at Frances last night. If I lived in the neighborhood, it would definitely be the kind of place that I'd drop in often to see if that had a seat at the counter. There were two of us and we shared: Bacon Beignets, Panisse Frites, Ricotta Gnocchi with Fava Beans and Morels, and the Bavette Steak and then the Lumberjack cake for dessert. Everything was good to very good, with the Ricotta Gnocchi and the Lumberjack cake being the standouts for me. The beignets were very smoky and not as heavy as I expected, the Panisse Frites had a crisp shell on the outside and were very moist on the inside, and came with a great lemon aioli. I liked all of the interesting starters, and I'd love to go back for the crab salad and the grilled calamari, both of which I saw passing by and looked great. We both loved the bavette steak, but the highlight of that dish were the roasted cipollini onions that came along with it -- I could have eaten a lot more of those.

              They have a fun house white and house red carafe gimmick: the wines are $1 an ounce, and they bring carafes with ounces marked on the sides to the table; you pour your own and then they charge you for what you've had.

              All in all, the food was great, and the price was pretty excellent -- it was just about $40 a person, including tax and tip. Even better was the service: from the phone call confirming the reservation to when we finally left the restaurant, the staff was incredibly friendly, gracious, and welcoming; they did a great job explaining certain dishes and advising us on the menu without being intrusive. Especially in a place that is such a hot reservation, it was refreshing for the staff to not have any attitude and to be relaxed and helpful.

              For people who do live in the neighborhood, it was packed when we got there just after 8, but there were some empty tables and an almost empty counter by 9:30 or so, so that might be a good time to drop in.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JasmineG

                I just want to echo the positive reviews of Frances...I was treated to a belated birthday dinner a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening. Service was polished yet not too stiff, the restaurant's atmosphere was perfect for a neighborhood spot and the food was expertly prepared without being fussy.

                I already have two more reservations lined up - can't wait to return!

              2. Arrived at 5:15 and snared the last 2 counter seats. Nice place to sit.

                Pig trotters interesting and excellent. Little slider like patties on a nice spicy grebiche.

                Artichoke soup with wild mushrooms excellent. Downhill from there.

                Duck with beans and escarole, quite good, duck itself excellent, but overall dish interesting but not up to what we expected given the (other than Chow) excitement over this place.

                I was impressed to see two dishes with ramps and waited with anticipation for the faro and ramps and preserved garlic --- oh, my, what a waste of ramps. They were barely visible and contributed not at all to the taste. Takes skill to keep a ramp from being flavorful.

                Dessert, a nondescript cake with some nondescript ice cream (from Humphry Slocombe, of course), and a professional chocolate mousse made modern with fleur du sel.

                Nice wine list with some good German whites.

                Service, pretty good to excellent.

                With a low end one of the German wines at $39, sharing a main course, total was $126.

                General impression: A crowd pleaser. That means don't challenge the crowd.

                Still hard to get value at this price level in San Francisco, which is why we keep going back to Delfina (and sometimes Bar Tartine and Range). A meal at Commis is worth much more than 2 meals at Frances. A meal at Manresa is worth much more than 4 meals at Frances. A meal at Robuchon's L'Atelier in las Vegas is worth extremely much more than 2.5 meals at Frances. And a meal at Twist or Robuchon's main place is worth -- well my calculator can't handle numbers that big... but they are worth lots more per $.

                Back to Chinese in SF.

                Manresa Restaurant
                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                Delfina Restaurant
                3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                Bar Tartine
                561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                1 Reply
                1. Just had dinner there last night.

                  My friend and I did not have a reservation so we had to wait for the next available spot at the bar. I knew that the wait for a counter spot would be a pain so I told my friend we should be there at 5 right when it opens but that didn't happen. We got side tracked when walking from the 16th and Mission BART station(Tartine of course). Well, we ended up getting there around 5:55. We were told it would be around 45min to an hour wait. It ended up taking 2 hours so we were hoping the food was going to be well deserved.

                  My friend and I shared 3 bouchees:
                  Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets- Not as flavorful as I was expecting but they were a nice treat to get the taste buds warmed up. I really could not taste the bacon in them even though I saw some specks in there.
                  Panisse Frites- I think we concluded that these were our favorite out of the three and maybe the best bite of the nite. These Garbanzo Bean or Chickpea fritters were like rectangular polenta sticks lightly fried to a nice crisp served with a wonderful light Meyer Lemon aioli that complemented it very well.
                  Crisp Pork Trotters- Could not really pick up the pork taste in the little cakes.

                  Ricotta Gnocchi- These were not as light and fluffy as I would of liked but the Morel Mushroom Ragout brought out some nice flavors in the dish. I guess when it comes to pasta dishes I just prefer the authentic Italian versions.

                  Watson Farm Spring Lamb- Good, but I was wanting something more from it. And as being a big fan of lamb, I was disappointed on how tough the meat was.
                  Smoked Steelhead Trout- I enjoyed this one more than the lamb even though I usually favor a good piece of meat over a fish as a main but the trout had a very nice smoke to it and fingerling potatoes underneath that soaked up the creme fraiche and grain mustard accompanied it well. I guess the jewish in really enjoyed the smoked fish flavor. It was cooked very well and was a very nice portion for the price.

                  Lumberjack Cake- Ok. Nothing really made me want to keep eating this except for the fact that I was still a bit hungry. Came with maple-walnut ice cream but I could not taste really any maple but some walnut. I think I should have gone with the bittersweet chocolate mousse to satisfy my love for chocolate.

                  My thought on Frances is that I think Perello is playing a little too safe. The food was good, the price was not bad, but after eating I left thinking about my decision on waiting that long for a spot at the very cramped bar. To me the appetizers were the best part and the mains left much to be desired.

                  1. Just another quick review. My girl and I enjoyed an early dinner at Frances last night. We had a 5:15 reservation and were able to pick our table when we arrived. The early evening light was gorgeous and we liked the simple, functional lines of the place.

                    We found the service to be terrific and very much enjoyed the house wine program (both in concept and in taste). We started with trotters and calamari, then crab salad and gnocchi, then chicken and lamb.

                    The food was impeccable in quality and taste, presented in a restrained, elegant way that showed enormous skill and confidence. Nothing groundbreaking in the presentations or combinations but it was still one of the most enjoyable meals I can recall in a long time.

                    I disagree with those who find the food to be flavorless and boring. Perhaps those people have numb palates (maybe from overpowering wines, or maybe too much time at places that focus on the flash and pop rather than good clean flavors).

                    I know the place is severely hyped, and I've heard that it can get ridiculously cramped and noisy on peak nights. In that kind of environment one might expect fireworks on the plate. We were lucky (or smart) enough to eat early, on a Sunday, and while bustling the place was neither too loud nor too cramped, and there was no one hovering over us waiting for our table. Really it was a great atmosphere to focus on our conversation and the more subtle things happening with the food. Overall a fantastic experience, a success all around, and we will be back.

                    1. Okay, I need to register as a Frances detractor.

                      Ate there recently and was not impressed. I did eat there once before sitting at the counter and think we ordered better. But after this trip, I will not return.

                      First off, we were not seated until 8:20 for our 8PM reservation. Acceptable, but irritating and my this sort of thing has not happened to me in a long time.

                      the menu says you have to ask for it and it is from acme. Really? Start baking if you want to keep that star.

                      First course:
                      Bacon beignets: These are really good, but I swear they were better on the previous visit. I think it's because they switched to a different dipping sauce that was not good. Previous time I kept the sauce when they cleared the rest, just to have.
                      Chick pea fritter: this was a special and the waiter recommended it but uck. They were little sticks and tasted kind of like you deep fried a hunk of tofu. No flavor to speak of.

                      2 of us had the crab salad. Huge disappointment. creamy dressing, lettuce, pieces of crab here and there, mandarin oranges. Compare this to the crab salad at Boulevard, or any japanese restaurant's sunomono, or a good crab louis salad, and this absolutely pales. Plus, the food at Frances is ALL heavy, do you think they could maybe make a crab salad be something with a lighter touch?
                      1 of us ordered gnocchi. This was nice.
                      1 of us ordered a chicory salad, also in a creamy sauce. I did not taste but he did not like.

                      Main courses:
                      I was the only one who liked his main course. I go the chicken which was a sous vide rolled up thing. Tasty, but really nothing special. Over polenta which was creamy and heavy and not particularly great.
                      Another ordered the black cod which looked oily and gross and my friend basically chocked it down.
                      Another ordered the steak which the waiter recommended to order no more than medium rare since "the cut gets too tough if you cook it more" but it was a bloody mess and my friend left 2/3 of it over.
                      Our fourth ordered the rissotto which he left half of. But he passed me a couple of chanterelles and they were heavenly. I think rissotto is just a tough main course because it's a big bowl of the same thing.

                      For dessert, we split two kinds of ice cream which were tasty but then Frances did not make them. The Humphrey slocumbe salted chocolate ice cream was amazing.

                      Oh, also, we ordered a bottle of wine and, as the service was ridiculously slow (we were seated at 8::20 but did not get out until 11). So we were out before the main course, and nobody came to see if we wanted more. I flagged the waiter down, and it was a good thing, and also a good thing that we decided to try the house wine which does not need to be uncorked, because the main courses came at about the same moment he plopped down the wine.

                      Anyhow, the worst thing of all is how disgustingly overfull I felt after the meal. I'm a good eater but afterwards I felt I had just eaten food that was bad for my system. I felt like I'd eaten a ton of over-rich over-fatty food. THis happened the first time as well, but I had figured maybe that was a fluke. But the fact is, everything on the menu is heavy, and cooked with a heavy touch.

                      There, I said it.
                      I don't like Frances.
                      Sue me.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: pauliface

                        I won't sue you, pf. I've only been once and will not be returning on one of our precious meals in your lovely city. I felt just as you did, overfull on heavy things, and I'm kind of a pig, actually. The steak was the only real failure for us too but it was a doozy.I noticed the strange not seating people for their reservations thing too. No excuse that I could see. And the pours were really small, both for wine and beer. I guess I just didn't get this place.

                        1. re: pauliface

                          I don't like to be so negative so I made myself a game.
                          I'm going to recommend an alternative elsewhere for each of the dishes I didn't like.

                          Bacon Beignets:
                          -- you can stay at Frances for that.

                          Chickpea Fritters:
                          -- agedashi tofu at Sushi Time
                          -- agedashi tofu at Kappou Gomi
                          -- corn fritters at E&O trading company

                          Crab Salad:
                          -- Boulevard's Dungeness Crab Salad
                          -- Swan's Crab Louis Salad

                          -- Jackson Fillmore

                          Chicory salad:
                          -- "the garden snake" at ubuntu" (okay it's napa, but this was a pretty special salad).

                          Black Cod:
                          -- kappou gomi
                          -- nihon whiskey lounge

                          -- 2223 - roast chicken.

                          -- L'ardoise

                          Ice Cream:
                          -- you can stay at frances. But why not go to the source at Humphrey Slocum? Or Mitchell's which I like even better?

                          1. re: pauliface

                            "the menu says you have to ask for it and it is from acme. Really? Start baking if you want to keep that star."

                            The French Laundry used to serve Della Fattoria until it built the bakery. So serving outside bread is not a crime.

                            Della Fattoria
                            141 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952

                            The French Laundry
                            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                            1. re: Scott M

                              I agree. Plus not very practical in such a small kitchen.

                              1. re: oysterspearls

                                Fine. Order in bread.
                                But give me an edible steak.
                                Any of the bread-defenders care to address the other points in my post?

                                1. re: pauliface

                                  The steak I had the one time I ate at Frances was excellent--a perfect medium rare, and not a bloody mess--and I actually really liked the chickpea fritters (maybe just a matter of personal taste there).

                                  That said, although I enjoyed my meal on the whole, I will say retrospectively that I don't really get the hype surrounding the place or why it's such a hard reservation to get. I thought we had a good meal, but certainly no better than at any of a dozen or so other places in the city at that price point.

                                  1. re: pauliface

                                    I wasn't at your table so can not explain what you experienced. Like abstractpoet I have had the steak and it too was a perfect medium rare and very enjoyable. My table also had the cod and it was great.

                                    If you don't want over-rich then don't order fried chickpea fritters, fried dough bacon beignets, gnocchi, and salads with creamy dressing, etc. Opt for the calamari or the beet salad. Also Fall and Winter menus tend to be heavier more substantial offerings due to the colder temps.

                                    1. re: Scott M

                                      Well now hold the phone there. I've been to plenty of places with rich menus, I've been stuffed to the gills before, but not felt this disgusting fattened feeling at the end. And actually I've been eating in the winter and fall for half the meals of my life.

                                      What I'm saying here is that the food is cooked with a very heavy fatty hand. I could order the same exact menu elsewhere and not feel this way; that's part of why I listed preferable alternative restaurants for each dish in my followup.

                                      If others have enjoyed there meals there, good on ya, but I think that this place is so often recommended and has gotten so hyped that I wanted readers to know that it's possible to not like the place.

                                      P.S. I didn't order the gnocchi, and the crab salad says it comes with a "tarragon vinaigrette." My order was: splitting a couple of fried 'bouchees", a salad, and chicken. And then we split some ice cream for dessert. Does that sound like a gut-buster?

                            2. After catching a rare Open table spot on Friday, I went with my husband to Frances and had a fine time. Thank heaven it was one of our cooler days I can see that small dining room getting stuffy. We started with a strawberry wine shot and the house made Sparkling water. We spilt the Bacon Beignets and a clean and sharp Squid salad and shared aTrottoloni pasta course that was a tony Mac and Cheese. My husband had the leg of lamb and I had the chicken which was good. The lamb however ... ? Is there such a thing as too tender? I have teeth and like to use them, I don't want tough but this is meat and This the third lamb dish I've had the season with lamb that so soft as to be baby food. And no Lamb flavour! If I ordered lamb then it should taste at least faintly of sheep.

                              However we had a wonderful time and will go again, But I guess I don't see why this place gets so much attention. At this price point there seem to be 20-30 spots just as good and creative. Not a knock, just question, What's the big deal?

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: budnball

                                I'm with you on this, budnball. While there was nothing wrong with our dinner, there was nothing that outstanding to make up for the 2 month reservation wait.

                                1. re: budnball

                                  Yeah, to me it's a very nice neighborhood restaurant, not a destination restaurant - but somehow it became that, pretty much from the very beginning.

                                  1. re: budnball

                                    I say this as an unabashed Francesophile: you're absolutely right. But it's not "overrated" so much as it is "misrepresented." Imagine that the perfect neighborhood spot went into a neighborhood as popular as it was un- or under-restauranted. then imagine that that restaurant exceeded all of the original neighborhoodites' expectations, and that it got a lot of things really, really right, ranging from signature dishes to an innovative wine approach to lovely desserts. (You'll notice I still haven't said anything about it being The Best Anything and/or it being Worthy of Pilgrimages.) Now imagine national press showered accolades on it so that it became impossible to get into, and ratcheted up everybody's expectations of it to bizarre levels. This is where we are. To get back to being able to enjoy Frances, a) imagine that your friend told you about his favorite bite-sized restaurant and b) don't worry about pursuing a reservation at all costs.

                                    1. re: budnball

                                      I agree also. I don't think there is anything wrong with Frances - the food is creative enough, and well prepared - but it is indeed a good neighborhood restaurant with solid food and not a destination, and I think it will end up settling down to a strong neighborhood restaurant eventually, as the hordes move on to the next big thing. I love the wine by the ounce program and wish more restaurants would emulate that, because I don't need to spend $50 or $60 a bottle for wine on an ordinary weeknight - their pricing on the wines is logical for a neighborhood place.

                                      1. re: budnball

                                        I think the Castro location accounts for the difficulty of getting a table.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Well, yes... but add to that Esquire's "Best New Restaurant of the Year," Bon Appetit's "Best New Restaurant of the Year," James Beard awards and probably a whole list of things I missed, and there's a whole lot more pressure on the restaurant than the already-considerable pressure exerted by being arguably the only decent dinner spot for blocks and blocks..... Id est: on my last visit there, there was a couple to my left who'd driven in from Novato (!), and a family who'd cabbed directly to the restaurant from the airport.....