Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
rlm

Frasca Food and Wine

Recommended Posts

Despite the rough reports posted immediately above, I have to say, I had a pretty darned good meal recently at frasca food and wine. Here's an excerpt from my blog post. You can read the rest and see the pictures at the ulterior epicure.

To clarify - Fuji is the nickname I've given my dining partner.

**********

I’m sure I’d have no clue where Friuli Venezia Giulia is if it weren’t for Lidia Bastianich, the doyenne and ambassador of Friuli Venezia Giulia cookery in the U.S. Her restaurant, Lidia’s, in Kansas City, introduced me to this northeastern region of Italy when it opened about ten years ago.

I’ve shared a couple of meals with Ms. Bastianich; visited three of her restaurants (admittedly, two of which, Felidia and Del Posto, don’t have much to do with Friuli Venezia Giulia); own and have skimmed through all of her cookbooks a dozen times each; and have even recreated some of her dishes at home. Yet, I remain largely clueless about the food and culture of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The region’s close proximity to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire is apparent from the cuisine. Perhaps, this is why I take to it especially well. Sausages, beans, and whole grains, like the faro served with our quail, are popular. There’s stuffed cabbage and strudel-like pastries. Acid is put to good use - as the pickled horseradish was on our beef course – cutting a sharp, thin line through the richness of it all. And soups - brodo (or broths) - like ours, which came with soft strips of rabbit “conserva,” are stunningly simple and immensely soulful.  The onions in the hot soup all but melted away, the root vegetables were soft but sturdy, and the greens (baby spinach?) had become dark green ribbons of silk.

Frico is a word I know. Besides prosciutto di San Daniele, it’s probably the most popularized food item from the region.

I’ve made it at home. It’s a sandwich of sorts: two crepe-like discs of melted Montasio cheese stuffed with a warm, comforting mix of potatoes, onions, and, often, some other inspiring ingredient – I’ve witnessed sausage, crab and scallions, and even sautéed apples.

If you’re bad at making frico, like I am, the cheese discs turn out thick and clunky. They’re greasy and the edges can be hard, if not burnt. It’s a ploughman’s tuck.

Bastianich’s frico – the dozens of times I’ve had them - are thin and soft. They’re a shade between gold and bronze. Or, maybe, gold with bronze highlights? They’re terrific – rustic, but accomplished and presented with class.

MacKinnon-Patterson’s version is even more refined. He achieves a thinner layer of melted cheese – impossibly thin – which dissolves on contact, leaving only its full, rich flavor behind. This one was simply filled with sautéed potatoes and perfumed with herbs and spices. Instead of being served as a round, or a wedge of a round, it was neatly folded into a rectangular packet.

Like the frico caldo, all of MacKinnon-Patterson’s food is simply done and elegantly presented. It’s not haute and it’s not complex. But it is a departure from its peasant origins. It’s recognizably authentic without being entirely so.

The cooking at frasca food and wine is confident and refreshingly understated.  It’s spartan (the food looked almost naked on the plate), yet immensely flavorful. For the most part, it was flawless.

Ingredients were top-shelf (including the white truffles, which we had shaved over three of our courses). Proteins were cooked perfectly, which preserved moisture.  Saucing, therefore, is minimal.

The bone-in “Grilled Mississippi Quail Breast” and pasture-fed River Ranches beef, alike, were juicy, tender, and kissed with grill smoke. Flakes of “Butter-Roasted Wild Atlantic Sea Bass” unseamed at the drop of a fork. Stained scarlet with a just a touch of cranberry-brown butter sauce and garnished with pine nuts, the almost gelatinous fish was spectacular.

And the pasta, too, was a highlight.

Between the house-made pasta - which had an exciting bounce to it - and the smooth ricotta and La Tur filling, I’m not sure which was the more compelling part of the tortelloni. Either way, the plump buttons were such powerhouses - in flavor and texture - that I wonder whether the white truffle was wasted on this dish.  Though these white truffles were surprisingly pungent, the aroma took a backseat to the pasta, in my opinion. And white truffles, to me, are a jealous ingredient that are happiest when given the title role.  Or, maybe my sensory bandwidth wasn’t large enough to accommodate all that traffic at once.

The same might be said of the white truffles and quail pairing.  The grill smoke and juicy meat in that dish was sufficient to carry that plate through successfully without more.  But truth be told, the shaving of white truffles was rather stingy on this course - two landed on my plate - so the truffles didn’t make much of a difference anyway.  In fact, the smokiness from the meat overwhelmed what little truffle aroma there was.

Where the white truffles did shine - and shine magnificently - was on the cheese course. This was simply a wedge of Alta Langhe Brunet (Formaggio) topped with freshly shaved white truffles and accompanied by white truffle honey. The pairing was spectacular. The truffle honey wasn’t that slightly greasy, emulsified honey with truffle oil you find in jars at the more fashionable markets.  This milky white honey flecked with chopped white truffles shavings, which seemed to shimmer like bits of gold leaf, was heady and, by itself, could have been a wonderful dessert.

The prosciutto that kicked off our meal along with the frico (both under the banner of “antipasti“) wasn’t the prosciutto di San Daniele mentioned about. Instead, it was domestic La Quercia (Acorn Edition) prosciutto.  The ham came with matchstick-thin grissini that, unfortunately, were too dainty to hold up under the weight of the prosciutto.  That was a little annoying and senseless.  Wrapping the prosciutto around the grissini proving impossible, Fuji and I just went at it with our forks and knives, using the creamy horseradish sauce made from crème fraîche (garnished with chives and red onions) as a glue with which adhere the shards of grissini to the ham.

Despite its name, the “Warm Salad of Young Lettuces” was much more about the bacon and the figs than it was about the lettuces, though the lettuces made an excellent canvas on which to paint the flavors involved. The Montegrappa (Cow Girl Creamery), a slightly sharp and salty cheese, contrasted the sweet dried figs wonderfully. I feared that the bacon and cheese, together, would be too salty. It wasn’t. The salad was incredibly balanced and served slightly warm, which helped intensify the flavors.

The “crespella” for the “Maine Lobster “Crespella,” a supplement which Fuji and I split, was more like a cold wrap. The crepe was thick, a bit spongy, and slightly eggy.

The filling was akin to lobster salad: hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, a touch of crème fraîche and dices of mortadella. But it picked up a palpable sweetness from the mortadella and tiny dices of Braeburn apple, which also added crunch and tang. Where this fell on the authenticity spectrum, I have no clue.  But it wasn’t what I expected.

It reminded Fuji of “bad Chinese food.” I wouldn’t have described it that way, but I knew exactly what she was talking about. There was something about the way the egg and mayonnaise interacted with the sweet mortadella that made me think of Cantonese char sui sausages.

It wasn’t bad.  But it was the least compelling of all the dishes we tried (which further reinforces my belief that if you let the chef choose, you’ll usually get his/her best dishes).

The “Huckleberry Brioche,” a pillowy, soft pastry (actually, it was like very fine focaccia) paved with crème fraîche and warmed blueberries (which bled their berry goodness into the creamy spread), was a stunning and simple end. It was accompanied by a dip of house-made yogurt ice cream on a bed of white chocolate shavings. Tart, with a mellow, sweet middle note, this dessert was balanced and tidy and one of the ten best desserts I had in 2008.

The kitchen has a keen sense of portioning. I’m not just talking about the overall portion sizes of the courses, which, at nine plus a supplement, were perfect.  More so, I’m referring to the proportions of the ingredients on the plate.  At high-end restaurants, the last few bites of a dish leave me wanting far more often than they should - the best ingredient or an essential component having disappeared with the initial or second bite.

At frasca food and wine, there always seemed to be just the right amount of condiment or just the right amount of accompaniments so that every dish started and ended on the same foot. Without having to ration, the pickled horseradish lasted all the way until my last bite of beef.  There was just enough extra yogurt ice cream to account for the attrition due to melting - the scoop promised and delivered one last spoonful to accompanying my last bite of the huckleberry brioche.  This level of thoughtfulness (or luck) is rare.

So is the service here.  It’s spectacular. I'm sure that phoning in a request for a large tasting menu might have raised a flag on our reservation. But I paused between courses and noticed everyone else getting similar treatment around us.  But I can only speak of my experience.  Our service ranked up there with Jean Georges and le Cinq for one of the three best restaurant services I experienced in 2008.  Not since my meal at Charlie Trotter in 1994 have I witnessed such ballet-like movement among the staff.  Graceful, efficient, and elegant, we were greeted and treated graciously from head to toe.  The servers and service here are sharp and snappy.

I will admit that I was a bit unnerved by the fact that the staff assumed that we would want the white truffle supplement without asking or clarifying the issue at the table(the menus were pre-printed), or telling us how much the supplement would be. But, we didn’t ask and, ultimately, felt that the outcome was fair. The total bill came to $120 for the tasting, plus $60 for the truffles.  Together with the wine, supplemented Maine Lobster “Crespella,” tax, and tip, we were staring at a total somewhere in the neighborhood of $240 per person.  It wasn’t cheap.  But it was certainly a solid meal.

Wine service here is also very good. Complimentary flutes of prosecco were presented at the beginning. I asked for two half pours, specifying a red to go with my beef. Both selections were wonderful, especially the Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo (2006), which was juicy and dark in the best of ways.  It was perfect for the beef - especially in concert with the pickled horseradish - and even better with the white truffles and cheese that followed.

Watching one of the servers slice bread at a side station was like having a front row seat at the Olympics.  Like a lumberjack cutting a stick of butter, he buzzed through a crusty loaf with a bread knife in a matter of seconds, leaving a row of uniformly sized slices.  Beyond him, I caught glimpses of the kitchen between door swings.  It was like watching a French Michelin-starred kitchen - a row of mute toques working calmly and orderly.

...

Given the level at which frasca food and wine performs, the restaurant’s and Chef MacKinnon-Patterson’s success comes as no surprise.  The quality of the food - everything from the butter to the house-made chocolates that came with the bill (Manjari 64% bittersweet, to be pedantic) that Fuji and I experienced - and service earns this enterprise every bit of acclaim that it has received, including this enthusiastic post from my corner of cyberspace.  frasca food and wine deserved a spot on my list of the ten best meals of 2008.


Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I enjoyed your blog post and pictures, UE. As someone whose visits to Frasca now number somewhere in the triple digits since '04, I've never personally experienced a drop-off in quality as mentioned in some posts here. Yes, I've seen sous chefs and staffers come and go and all the twists and turns in the menu develop like any restaurant, but the bottom line is that Bobby and Lachlan run a tight ship and manage to deliver a superior experience in every aspect year in and year out. I turned into a regular because I was treated like one from the moment I stepped through the door (alone, mind you, without a reservation and not draped in Prada or anything resembling it). I'm super-critical and even a little snarky, yet they continually floor me with all the small details they have perfected over time that other places miss entirely. I never would have imagined that a place like this would have opened up so close to my corner of the world. The fact that they impressed me when their doors had barely even been thrown open for business and continue to do so surprises even me. My favorite musicians aren't even that consistent.


“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

anyone going to the Johnny Iuzzini dinner?


"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
anyone going to the Johnny Iuzzini dinner?

I'm on the fence about this since I'm not really a dessert person (unless it's foie and Sauternes or selections from an enormous cheese cart), so do you think it's a must-go?

Their guest dinners have always been amazing (Michelle Bernstein, Suzanne Goin, David Lynch, etc). They've already had a couple this year with Marc Vetri and Nate Appleman and they were fantastic (and included autographed hard-cover books). I must admit I don't know much about Mr. Iuzzini, so persuade me.


“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We hadn't been to Frasca since November of 2007, so we finally made up an excuse to go back last night. It wasn't as magical as our first visit, but it was still very good.

Some things that have changed since 2007:

1) It does indeed feel like they are trying to churn tables. We had an 8:15 reservation and our table wasn't ready for half an hour. This seems common based on the threads above.

2) Free wine when we got to our table. Maybe it's because we had to wait half an hour, as above, or maybe it's just a common thing now?

3) 4-course menu format. You're still able to get things individually, but you get a little discount if you get the full menu, which they really push.

4) Maybe it's because we are younger than the typical Frasca crowd, but it was hard to get any information out of our server. I asked about the sauce on a sausage dish, and she told me "it's a special broth." When I prodded further to ask what made it so thick and dark, she would only say "that's just the way they make it." I gave up. It was even sort of condescending. All in all, it was very tough to get any information about what we were eating. Another server that occasionally came by was more helpful in explaining the dishes, but he only stopped by twice.

5) No major complaints about the food overall. My wife's secondi course was a tuna dish that honestly tasted like a hamburger grilled over a grease-fire. I can't imagine that this was intentional, but we didn't say anything. The rest of the courses were extremely well-done. Dessert was good but not great.

The experience overall was very good, but for the price, it was no better or worse than what I paid for.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Frasca is a small restaurant with one early staggered seating and a late one. They are very good about knowing their customer base and gauging how long it might take for a particular table to turn when booking reservations. However, sometimes the early diners “camp out” and take more time than anticipated. Management can’t run over to their table and say, “The jeremyn party has arrived, so we need you to drain the rest of that Conterno as quickly as you can and leave NOW.” We requested a special table for my birthday once and arrived to find the early diners were long finished with their food but were still drinking and engaged in animated conversation and clearly weren’t leaving soon. We were offered a different table if we didn’t want to wait for the requested one, as well as a comped beverage, and felt like they were taking care of us the whole time. You mentioned there was free wine waiting at your table, so I’m assuming this wasn’t brought up as a complaint. :)

Co-owner Bobby Stuckey, who has an MS but doesn’t think he’s too good to bus tables and run out plates from the kitchen with his crew, clearly loves the hospitality business and wants every person walking through the door to leave happy. I see Bobby and his staff bending over backwards for guests time and time again, even if the guests are grumpy and look like they’ve just rolled out of bed and would be more comfortable at Wendy’s. In this post, you expressed concerns about your food and the service but indicated “we didn’t say anything.” I can assure you that if you had simply asked to speak to an owner or manager about your concerns that they would have made things right and your impressions would have probably been much different. Not all places are as good about this and sometimes it’s just better to cut your losses and leave, but Frasca continues to get my business because they do care.

There are a few dishes I haven’t been enamored with in the past (rice pudding on a set Monday night menu, a couple of soup experiments, a flavor of gelato that I felt overwhelmed a dessert), and they were for reasons of personal preference rather than how the dish was executed by the kitchen. In some of these cases my better half vehemently disagreed with my assessment, yet when a server would pick up on my visual cues that I wasn’t enjoying it or when I spoke up and offered my opinion, I’ve always been offered something else. I’m not suggesting, of course, that this gives anyone free license to almost lick their plate clean and then complain and ask for a replacement dish. If you know you don’t like the flavor profile of a dish or feel the kitchen has botched the preparation, you will know with the first bite or two. Speak up.

I don’t think being younger than the “typical Frasca crowd” means you will be treated somehow worse. Some of their staffers are and have historically been quite young. I sat next to a very young couple once all dressed up and sipping sodas, and even though they obviously couldn’t drink legally and would therefore have a much lower check average, they were doted on like you wouldn’t believe.

They have turn-over like all restaurants and I would imagine that sometimes it takes a while to get all the back waiters and servers (as well as the cooks busting their humps in the tiny kitchen) educated about the menu and working in concert. Think about when you have started a new job—are you perfect during your first month? However, even with all the changes I’ve seen over the years they seem to be able to roll with it better than almost any other restaurant I’ve encountered. I started this thread five years ago because I was so blown away by my experience. Even the bar stools I complained about in that initial post were quickly replaced with comfortable chairs (as sometimes not everything you ordered arrives on time when you’re trying to throw open the doors of a restaurant, and you just have to make do).

On one of my earlier visits during their opening year, I was mildly irritated with our server, but after encountering her again many times after that and receiving stellar service realized she may have just been having a bad day (and maybe I was as well, and this could have colored my perceptions, as well as the way I was acting towards her). Unless someone is overtly rude and incompetent, I try to take better care now in not making snap judgments about a server’s personality because I have been flat-out wrong before. Let’s face it—working with the public is a tough job. People in the hospitality business have illnesses and deaths in the family and financial crises just like people in other occupations, only they have to be “on” all the time and still take care of hundreds of people with vastly different preferences and dining expectations, even on days when they really need someone taking care of them.

There was a nice article in the Denver Post earlier this year about one of Frasca’s long-time servers:

Service with a Soul

There is an excellent article in the February issue of Sommelier Journal called “The Philosophy of Service” where a group of industry veterans including Bobby Stuckey of Frasca and Nick Peyton of Cyrus in Healdsburg share what they’ve learned over the years. I don’t believe the article is available online, but you probably can still order a back issue:

Sommelier Journal


“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have mixed feelings about this discussion--ie whether Frasca has lost any of it's edge or is still as absolutely wonderful a place as it was the first 4 years they were open.

I agree with you, Robin, that the attitude, service, feel, atmosphere of Frasca are every bit as good as they ever were--and those aspects of the restaurant are excellent. The place that I've been just slightly disappointed the times we've been in the past year (and we don't go in nearly as often as you do, but we have been 3 or 4 times) is the food. Mostly I have the feeling that they have lost sight of what makes them so distinctive. Lachlan has such a wonderful touch and feel for the Friuli influenced cuisine that I have become acquainted with through Frasca. Lately the menu items have seemed less distinctive--more similar to the types of items that are more common on the menus at other chef-driven restaurants like Fruition, Rioja etc. The food is still very good, and executed almost flawlessly, but it doesn't (to me) have the uniqueness it has in the past. The Zlikrofi, for instance, hasn't been on the menu lately, I don't mind the menu changing, in fact that is certainly part of it's appeal, but it's becoming more similar to other chef's menus, and that's a shame.


Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I respect your opinion and palate, Fred, and it’s fun to see a post from you here again. I wish I lived closer to your better half’s deli because it’s spectacular.

I do miss all the different spins on Zlikrofi (one of my favorites too). The last time I remember seeing it was last September. Ditto the Canederli and Toc. I’ve loved some of the newer items they’ve come up with though, such as the La Tur and Soft Ricotta Tortelloni that was a menu staple in the last year. I devoured delicious Rabbit and Root Vegetable Cjalsons from Friuli a couple of weeks ago when Joe Bastianich was in the house with his vino. Another spin on Cjalsons was on the February menu (Rancho Gordo beans and mortadella) and yet another in January (chicken and vegetables with brown butter, parmesan and pecans). I’m not sure where else in Colorado I can order Cjalsons.

How much is it that Lachlan’s menu has changed to be like everyone else’s versus everyone else’s menus starting to look more like Frasca’s? I would submit that dining in the Denver area and in most places across the country is so much better than it was even five years ago when they opened. There’s more of an emphasis everywhere on local/artisan products, and diners are becoming more savvy.

I would also imagine there are economic factors to consider. Transportation and food costs have sharply risen, so chefs have to walk a tightrope of what they want to include in a dish versus what the public in a relatively small town (as in the case of Boulder) may be willing to pay for it. When they first opened, their special Monday wine dinner menu was $25 and now sits at $45 (although it is four courses rather than the three they initially offered), and some locals whined about their prices even back then.

Are there certain dishes I miss and crave? Yes! The long-gone Peanut Butter Cup; the plain-looking yet utterly amazing BOWL of juicy shaved pork leg tossed simply with cherries or peaches or plums; various incarnations of fritta, especially the lobster; and on and on. If the past is any guide, I’m quite certain there will be many new amazing dishes I’ll have there in the future too.

This made me think of a quote from Terry Theise on Grape Radio about assigning a numerical value to wine, which might seem completely silly here but I like it: “As soon as you assign an absolute value to wine, which is of course a moving target itself and we also—we tasters—are also moving targets, you are misleading.” Restaurants change over time just as we the diners are changing with them. Chef Lachlan’s a dad now. He and Bobby are making wine in Italy. They’re traveling and doing more charity events and industry functions. They’re planning an expansion in a new building on the other side of Pearl. They’ve been on TV quite a bit (Mark Bittman, Martha Stewart, and now Top Chef Masters). Their hard work has opened up a world of opportunities for them which can hopefully only benefit the restaurant and we their guests. Dining there every month they’ve been in business has afforded me the opportunity to see all their peaks and valleys, and I must say their valleys are higher than the peaks of most. They have spoiled me rotten and I love them for it.


Edited by rlm (log)

“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...