First Bite: Frances, Plain and Simple
There are some restaurants that just fit into a neighborhood seemlessly, like they have always been there. Last Thursday, Frances--the month-old solo venture from Melissa Perello--felt like one of those spots. A group of four men sat beside us, chatting up co-owner and wine expert Paul Einbund before paying with a black Amex card. Two women flanked us on the other side, ordering snacks, appetizers and wine. My table of four handily worked our way through the entire menu, which is compact: just four entrees, five appetizers and four bouchees (smaller than appetizers, they include such treats as apple-wood-smoked bacon beignets and clams steamed in white wine and green garlic).
The small space feels cozy and clean, with a cream and brown color palette that evokes Pottery Barn. In the bathroom, a trough of paperwhites spill their heady fragrance. Tables are close together, so close that by meal's end you'll likely be talking about your dessert choice with your neighbors, who will feel disappointed that they didn't try the irresistible "lumberjack cake," a date-enriched, coconut topped wedge that comes with a scoop of Humphry Slocombe's maple-walnut ice cream (their choice, the panna cotta with huckleberries, is just fine but nothing exceptional).
The food at Frances isn't risky, but it is satisfying and well-executed. While there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about a roasted beet salad with tangerine, fennel and lemony ricotta, that doesn't diminish the pleasure of eating it. A chestnut soup, studded with pancetta and roasted cipollini onions, may be classic, but it's a classic that became one for good reason, and here it's faithfully executed. A chunk of slow-roasted beef, shredding with the touch of a fork, is set on mashed potatoes and surrounding with glossy braising juices, simple and straightforward. It is all good, all satisfying and, notably, all $25 or under.
Also worthy of note is the wine list, masterminded by Paul Einbund, which is full of affordable bottles of all stripes. It's a pleasure to find a fine list with plenty of options for $40 or less, and it makes choosing one a fun, rather than agonizing, process. Also fun is the house white and red wine on offer, which is sold by the ounce and served in a carafe engraved with hash marks--drink as much (or as little) as you want and you'll be charged accordingly, $1 an ounce. Our group of four went for that option--we found the white a little thin, but the red an easy-drinking companion to our food. We drank our fill and only spent $16.