We had the good fortune recently to celebrate the culinary fare at two popular San Francisco restaurants, Frances (3870 17th Street) and Range (842 Valencia Street). Both had imaginative menus and we felt so lucky being able to reserve a table on a weekend night.
Friday night we dined at Frances, a very small elegant restaurant, not too formal and not pretentious. The key for us is to test the chef’s skills with their small plates. So, we started with bouchées, as distinguished from appetizers. Our party shared the caramelized cipollini onion tart with dates and whipped blue cheese, and the grilled beet salad with toasted pistachios in a fresh horseradish dressing. While tantalizing to the eye—the tart was very tiny and the salad did not meet our high expectations. For appetizers, Frances upped their game with linguine & charred broccolini in a subtle anchovy garlic confît and the spinach and green garlic soup with spring onions and bits of parmesan. The linguine was homemade, and the garlic soup was definitely a winner—not overly creamy but with a delightful blend of vegetables and mild green garlic.
The entrees– Sonoma duck breast with farro, dried mission figs, capers, and walnuts and American red snapper with caramelized cauliflower in a black garlic pistachio cream were delicious and the duck breast was one of the best we have ever had. The fish was a bit overcooked and bland to our taste, but was prepared well for those who prefer very mild flavors. To us the fish looked more beautiful than it tasted. We ordered a side dish of charred radishes and baby turnips, brown butter, caraway and dill, that on their own were a sort of sad vegetables and we would not order it again.
For dessert, Frances’s signature Lumberjack cake of Fuji apple, coconut, and dates, with Muscovado ice cream that tasted like a very rich fruit bread, dense and spicy. We liked it but couldn’t say we loved it.
Saturday night we experienced the Range, a livelier ambience with narrow dining rooms, and started with a large steaming bowl of manila clams with spicy fennel sausage in a savory broth soaked in garlic toast. There wasn’t a drop left. Our entrees were olive oil poached Alaskan cod with artichokes, spring peas, Meyer lemon and arugula-pistachio pistou in a very light broth, California rainbow trout with melted brussels sprouts, black trumpet mushrooms, freekeh-encrusted with a green peppercorn sauce, and their renowned coffee-rubbed pork shoulder with creamy hominy and collard greens. All three were so good we couldn’t decide which we liked the best. And, because we are gluttons, we ordered the decadent chocolate peanut butter mousse cake with honeyed peanuts and salted caramel cream. One dessert like that is a killer—three spoons finished off a memorable meal!
So, gentle readers, I think if I had only one evening in San Francisco then Range is where I would want to eat a dinner away from home. However, if you are in the mood for duck, it would be very difficult to match Frances—even in Paris, I do not think their duck can compare!