Monday, April 4, 2011

My life in Frances

Last week I started getting really busy. Looking at my magical-fairy-themed office calendar (the only one that would fit on the bulletin board above my desk), it appears that I have like five choir concerts coming up before the end of April, and that's in addition to a paper that I really need to finish and a bunch of experiments that I need to get done (by telling my undergrads to do them) before we have our funding review a little over a month from today. Despite this I also found time to skiing in Tahoe on Friday with my lab. Our professor was out of town and we didn't know what work to do without him around.

And so with all this business I haven't really had any time to do any culinary adventuring; I've mostly been sticking to tried-and-true recipes, oatmeal, quesadillas wrapped around anything, lentils with soffrito (and now cardamom!), some grains that I can take for lunch or fry up at home. Tonight I made a kind of crazy hash with leftover vegetables from my fridge. It was pretty good except that I went crazy with nutmeg like Peggy Hill's Laotian neighbor.

Even when I've cooked for other people I've stuck to things that I know--Ian asked me to bring an appetizer for his dinner party on Saturday and I used up the rest of the cracker dough. Mitra had a "come as your dream job" brunch party for her birthday and I made some corn cherry scones from the Cheeseboard cookbook. This was only tangentially related to my dream job of First Husband. Seriously, how good does Michelle Obama have it? All she has to do is host parties, have her biceps admired, write children's books, and tell people what to eat.

So after this party I went back to Jeff's apartment and took a nap, tired from all my skiing, experimenting, and baking scones for Saparmurat Niyazov. Jeff had gone to Mitra's party as a retired person so taking a nap seemed like an entirely appropriate thing to do at that point. When we woke up we were both too tired to cook but not too tired to spend half an hour deciding where to go for dinner. Finally we settled on a choice between two places: a lovely tea room (this is not a euphemism for dive bar) and an Indian place with a very clear menu. Since both were located in the vicinity of the Castro we decided to get on our bikes and head down that way, assuming that one of the two options would strike us on the way.

On the way we passed Frances, the restaurant that once served me a dinner so delicious that I quit my job. For the past year it's been pretty much the hottest ticket in San Francisco; there have been days when the place is, literally, booked up two months in advance. So imagine our surprise when we passed it and there appeared to be two open seats at the bar. Since I was wearing a shirt befitting of a first lady and Jeff was wearing a shirt with a stapler sneezing out staples (I think there is also a tape dispenser telling the stapler "Gesundheit!"), he told me to go in and see if there was any room for walk-ins.

YES! There was. I went out and asked Jeff if we should really take the seats and he was like "WOOHOO!" So we locked up our bikes, praying that nobody beat us to the seats, and headed in. Let me say that it's often said that Frances's bar seating is cramped, and I want to dispel that rumor--it totally felt like I had a lot of room, unless I turned my head ninety degrees and noticed that I was sitting four inches from the lady behind me and her fabulous bedazzled shawl.

Frances seriously might be the best restaurant in San Francisco at its price point. We started with bacon beignets--infinity times better than mine--followed by fennel and chorizo soup and then duck liver. For my main dish I had bass, which is stupid because I don't usually even like fish that much, and let me just tell you--that bass was so good that I missed my BART stop on the way home because I was just sitting there dazed, staring into the middle distance thinking about bass and creamy risotto and roasted onions. I ended up in Orinda because of that bass.

Frances is so great. All of it is just food that you want to eat, that looks great, that's balanced in flavor and color and texture, with service that puts you at ease. You should make a reservation right away so you can go on June 5th. Better idea in case you're impatient--you should start looking for an apartment in the Castro so that you can try to get a walk-in every night.

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