[San Francisco, Castro] Frances

Walked in for dinner at the bar at Frances on a Sunday night, which was about half empty at around 9pm. They keep the bar area open for walk-ins only every day, but the other times I’ve walked in I’ve usually had to wait awhile for a seat.

Market Shot

Frances’ market shots are concoctions made of whatever looks good at the market with some booze. That night’s shot was composed of several different kinds of orange juice, fino sherry, and some other things that I don’t remember. Nice and refreshing after what had been an uncharacteristically warm SF day.

Chilled Vichyssoise
Smoked Trout, Dill Crème Fraîche, Vinegar Potato Chips ($14)

The soup was poured at the table over a smear of dill creme fraiche topped with a piece of smoked trout and little potato chips. Didn’t get a picture pre-pour but it looked nice. This was excellent. Very flavorful soup, not super rich, little smear of dill infused creme fraiche gave some spoonfuls more richness and a little tartness. Some spoonfuls had some crunch from the little potato chip bits. The piece of smoked trout was good as well, but I’m not sure if the dish even needed it.

Honey-Brined Pork Chop
Creamed Escarole, Fennel Slaw, Spiced Huckleberries ($34)

I’ve had Frances’ pork chop in various configurations a few times and it’s always been good. A big bone-in, very juicy, tender chop, cooked about medium and still a little pink in the middle. Could taste a little of the honey in the chop from the brine. The huckleberries on the side added a little more sweetness. Fennel slaw was ok, not a huge fan of slaw in general though. Escarole was nice, slightly wilted with a light cream sauce.

Lumberjack Cake
Comice Pear, Medjool Date, Coconut, Muscovado Ice Cream ($9)

I think this is the first lumberjack cake I’ve had. Apparently its always on the menu. Good cake with bits of fruit and shredded coconut inside. Not too sweet, moist and a little fluffy.

Also had some of the house red wine, which is served in a carafe and charged by how many ounces you end up drinking ($1.80/oz). I’ve always had good meals at Frances and this was no exception.


Thanks for the review.

Even a cup of coke often costs more than $3 these days. This is a great bargain.

I have not had it but it seems like people in general were quite fond of this cake there. Only good?

I liked it, would definitely get the cake again, and I’m not a big dessert person. Had kind of a carrot cake consistency due to the fruit and coconut inside I think.

What on earth do they do with the wine you don’t drink?

This somehow reminds me of the old San Gottardo bar in the St. Paul hotel in North Beach. they sold wine by the glass which I never ordered after I discovered they had a big bottle with a funnel on top behind the bar to dispose of the “leftovers.”

Sounds like a page out of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. :slight_smile:

It was more like something out of Casablanca. You expected to find yourself drinking next to Ugarte or Signor Ferrari.

Thank God before there was an Internet there were WRITERS.

In real life the San Giovanni was inspired by the San Gottardo, a small Swiss Italian hotel and bar, 217 Columbus Avenue, home to poets, transients, in-betweeners and out-of-luckers, musicians, painters, retirees, immigrants, escapees from 1950s suburbia, all scratching a living: drinkers and drunks one and all.

- A Great Place to Drink, by Nancy Robbin

Brain fart alert: Google reminds me that the San Gottardo bar was actually in the San Gottardo Hotel. The St. Paul Hotel was around the corner on Kearny St. It had no bar but a few nymphes du pavé who drank at the San Gottardo.

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Thanks Google!!

Cannery Row [John Steinbeck] … stolen paint, drinking from the liquor jug filled with the leavings of bar customers’ glasses, these men possess …

"He kept a gallon jug under the bar and in the mouth of the jar was a funnel. … The mixture of rye beer, bourbon, scotch, wine, rum and gin was fairly constant, but now and then some effete customer would order a stinger or an …

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Good question, seems like it would be a waste to toss the leftover wine. FWIW I finished my carafe, which was filled to 8oz, so even if they do reuse the leftovers no-one had to drink mine!

AFAIK the San G only did this with the wine. The hard stuff tasted like the label on the bottle they poured it from indicated, at least the brandies did.

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Sitting at the bar before, I’ve seen them combining half-finished carafes together or topping them off. They do this in view of customers so I don’t think it’s meant to be a secret. It’s never stopped me from ordering their by-the-ounce selection. The turnover on the carafes is pretty fast, so it’s not like you’re getting wine that’s been sitting out open for hours.

It sounds like something that is. or should be illegal. In New York, for example, if a bartender has two open bottles of an identical alcoholic product it’s illegal to pour from one bottle into the other to “even them up” or dispose of one with little content left. The wine carafe juggling sounds even worse because they’re dealing with a product that’s been returned from the custody of a customer.

In any event, it sounds like a bizarre idea. How do they, for example, account for fractional ounces? Do they always round up? I would think that the potential for petty Yelper tirades would be a deterrent for such a scheme.

I believe Frances was one of the first restaurants in SF to do wine by the ounce; they’ve been doing it since my first visit there in 2010 (at that time it was a really good deal at $1/ounce). I think I’ve seen it other places but the only one I can remember is The Morris, by the same wine director.

I’m not aware of any of either place running afoul of the law. I was curious so I did a quick search on the legality–this FAQ suggests it would be illegal to do it with distilled spirits, but perhaps not wine.

They also have a bottle list so it’s not like this is the only way to order wine at the restaurant if someone finds it strange or is worried about nefarious fellow diners.

I interpret this reply (from the above source) to imply that what Frances is doing is not strictly legal:

Q. 91. May wine be placed in decanting bottles by an on-sale licensee?

A. Yes. This may be done at the time of service to patrons for consumption on the premises.

To me, this means pouring from the bottle to the decanter at the time of service is OK, but not from the decanter to another decanter after primary customer’s service is completed.

FWIW Nitecap in Manhattan does or did(they opened in 2014) serve booze directly from the bottle to customers by marking the bottle level with a sharpie and charging based on amount consumed

I don’t see any problem with selling by the oz. , just with the reuse for sale of what the customer had in his possession but didn’t consume.

wow! This is some extreme germ paranoia!

No by me (and I don’t drink wine in any event), but health and safety codes tend to be based on worst case scenarios.

I was in the Castro on a sunny Saturday early evening and went to Frances for a very late lunch/early dinner at the counter right when they opened at 5 without a reservation. I was the only person in the restaurant for awhile but it was almost full when I left. In addition to their regular menu they also had a summer tasting menu option available (they don’t have this all the time apparently) that included an oyster and smaller portions of a few of the bites, two of the appetizers, two of the entrees, and two of the desserts, all for $65. This sounded like a good deal so I was in.

This was my first meal of the day so these impressions may be influenced by me being a little hungry.

Market Shot ($3)
The day’s market shot was made from melon, vermouth, Lillet, and maybe some other things? Nice and refreshing and a little boozy.

Started with an oyster (from Washington, but I forget the species) with a melon mignonette. Yum.

Next were a single panisse frite, which is pureed chickpea mixture formed into french fry like rectangle and fried, and a bacon beignet off the bites part of the menu. Two dips came with it - a red pepper and yogurt dip for the the panisse frite and a maple chive crème fraîche for the beignet. I have had both of these several times before and they are two of Frances’ signature dishes. Both were as tasty as usual.

Also off the bites menu - blistered romano beans, chorizo, sungold tomato, preserved lemon, almond. This was great! one of the highlights of the meal. Perfectly cooked beans, nice texture. Went great with the spicy salty chorizo bits, and the preserved lemon gave it a little citrus acidity.

Then came a couple of things off the appetizer section.

Spaghettini - tomato confit, sicilian chili, grana padano, castelvetrano, pangratatto
Also great! Nicely textured fresh slim pasta that I believe is made in house, a nice contrast with the crunchy bread crumbs sprinkled on top and the somewhat soupy sauce. There were also salty little bits of chopped up castelvetrano olives in there

Kale salad - basil buttermilk, heirloom tomato, macerated strawberry, crisp shallot
I’m not usually a big fan of kale but this was good. Lightly dressed in a tangy dressing. Nice ripe piece of tomato. It was topped with fried shallot strips that tasted like a fancier version of French’s crispy fried onions.

Then came portions of the main courses.

Five Dot bavette steak - sweet corn polenta, charred blue lake bean, sungold relish. Bavette is a little chewier than say a ribeye or NY strip steak. A good beefy piece of meat, cooked medium rare, on top of some creamy polenta.

King salmon - grilled potato and cucumber, brokaw avocado, yogurt, agretti. A small piece of perfectly cooked salmon that was good and rare inside with a crispy fried skin. On top of a yogurt sauce.

And then, desserts.

First dessert was a slice of the lumberjack cake with crème brûlée ice cream - as good as usual. Second dessert was a summery stone fruit sorbet. A couple scoops of light sorbets served with slices of plum, a few mint leaves, and a crunchy topping. The white colored one tasted like milk and was only slightly sweet. All very good.

Also had a carafe of the house white. This was a delicious meal and also a pretty good deal. My favorite bites were the beans and the spaghettini. The tasting menu, if they have it, is a good way to sample many of the dishes on the menu. I was stuffed. Frances is one of my favorite restaurants in the city.


$65 tasting? They still have a star right? This must be the cheapest * tasting in SF right now.