Frances, San Francisco.

October 2013.

Here’s what I said about Frances approximately a year ago in September 2012:

This place was filled with nicely-dressed and -behaved people along a long thin space, with tables in the antique storefront alcoves.  Serving staff in black were moving pretty quickly which didn’t decrease the tension in the air.  The menu was simple (four each “bouchees”, appetizers, mains), and the wine list arcane even to Bill, but (annoyingly, I find) classified according to somebody’s impression of wine characteristics: whites are “light refreshing simple”, “full-bodied rich buttery” etc.

Eventually we shared the four appetizers, a warm squid salad that reminded me of my octopus at le Bernardin it was so tender and succulent, razor clams with bacon and other ingredients chopped, put back in half-shell, and baked, bacon beignets (not as exciting as I hoped) and grilled green tomatoes.  The first two were 10 storey highs to compensate the slight dullness of the others.

My main was little semi-deboned quail halves roasted perfectly on bed of vegetables mostly corn and chanterelle adequately cooked.  Delicious. There was a maple cake with better-than-Haagen-Dazs ice cream which we shared.  The pinot I ordered was green and disappointing. Bill informed that central coast is about Rhone grapes, and so I changed my approach. Robin had a complicated rolled pasta with tomato and pecorino which she liked better than I did.

… And I didn’t like the waiter at all.

This time, things seem significantly worse. Is the same place, but the sense of hurry has if anything increased, and I don’t think the food is as good. What the lady owner and chef appears to have done is held the prices down and is therefore struggling to maintain the quality and pushing customers through like a Keg and Cleaver.

We arrived and were immediately seated at tiny table with couples on either side so close I almost had to watch my elbows. Waiter had very little time. We had brought a local pinot which he splashed out, told me he didn’t have any hard liquor so I couldn’t have a martini, and disappeared as I was asking for a glass of white wine.

A beet salad was first, quite delicious with a perfectly soft vegetables nestled in crème fraîche. Next came a kale salad that was just a disaster. The kale was like crinkled heavy-duty bag plastic that had been somehow imbued with lawn-clippings flavour, and it was only slightly redeemed by a couple of pieces of date and some nuts that you ran across every fourth or fifth bite, and a very nice dressing which was intentionally light and in the background.

Tagliatelle was tasty but not noticeably superior to different from what you might get in a middle-of-the-road Italian restaurant anywhere. And then there was the (very same, it turns out, as I had a year ago) absolutely perfectly roasted semi-deboned quail which was delicious but completely unadorned.

Wow. She still has her Michelin star, and once again at $100 counting the corkage it is on paper an incredible bargain but on the plate not seeming all that underpriced.

Ambience 6.8, service 4.2, food 6.7, overall value 7.2. Won’t be returning next time we come to town.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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