I became an admirer of Franck Peissel’s cooking long before I ever knew the man. During his time at New York City’s Park Bistro, I developed a pretty serious habit for his slow-roasted pork. It didn’t hurt that my apartment was a mere two blocks from the red velvet-enhanced bistro where Peissel'along with Tony Bourdain at Les Halles'labored on the front edge of the French bistro/brasserie storm that was about to overtake culinary America. Even after moving to Utah, I found myself returning to the Park Bistro during East Coast visits, where Peissel was the restaurant’s “chef specialitÃ©.” According to The New York Times, Park Bistro has “languished in recent years.” Well, I’m not surprised'because Peissel has been cooking here in Utah in recent years.
Despite periodic glitches in service, I was also a huge fan of Peissel’s most recent restaurant outing, L’Avenue in Sugar House. I don’t know that I can blame the demise of L’Avenue entirely on the Bush administration, but the jingoist culture of French-bashing and freedom fries didn’t help L’Avenue or other French restaurants in town. You’ll recall that L’Avenue, Au Bon Appetit and Dijon all closed their doors concurrent with increasing American hostility toward France'and everything French'and that country’s lack of will to invade Iraq. Anyway, I was sad to see L’Avenue go.
Aaron Ferer, who conceived and designed Peissel’s new restaurant, would certainly disagree with me about Bush. But we agree on one thing. “This kid is amazing!” he says affectionately of Peissel. Which is probably why he decided to call his new restaurant Franck’s.
And we have something else in common: We’re both passionate about food. Ferer'along with business partners Gary Francis and Mark Eaton'owns Tuscany restaurant, as well as having interests in a number of Bay Area eateries. In part due to Ferer’s passion and in part due to my own, I’ve managed to eat my way through the entire menu at Franck’s. But then, that’s not quite as hard as it sounds given the streamlined menu which perfectly fits the small but vibrant 50-seat restaurant Franck’s.
When you enter Franck’s'a lovely little country cottage across from the Cotton Bottom Inn'the first thing you see is the kitchen, and probably Franck himself. This is intentional. Aaron Ferer wanted to create a design layout which would allow Chef Peissel to greet customers as they entered his restaurant. So he put the kitchen in the front, where Peissel can converse with entering customers through a cutout in the kitchen’s brick wall. And if you happen to miss Peissel on your way in, you can watch him cook via a huge flat-screen TV that monitors the kitchen. Peissel’s English is pretty good, but with this much customer interaction he’d better quickly learn to answer the question, “What’s good tonight?”
The answer, of course, is everything is good tonight. The problem is, you probably won’t be able to try everything. So choose carefully and start with Peissel’s wild mushroom tart appetizer ($9.95), a thrilling mÃ©lange of roasted forest mushrooms in a not-too-tart Port reduction, lighter-than-air misting of truffle oil, and served with delicate micro greens. But also make certain your dining companion orders the cleverly named MÃ©nage a Foie, which is foie gras three ways'torchon, terrine and seared'served with homemade brioche, a blissful huckleberry gastrique and a sprinkling of fleur de sel ($14.95). The steamed, plump Prince Edward Island mussels meuniÃ¨re with pommes frites ($8.50); heavenly gruyere/emmentaler/Swiss cheese fondue ($12.95); calamari ProvenÃ§al ($8.25) â€¦ they are each outstanding in their own way.
But the one dish you mustn’t miss at Franck’s is his slow-roasted pork ($7.95). Sinfully fatty slices of juicy, slow-roasted pork belly are served with pumpkin gnocchi and an almost kinky Madeira-ginger-veal reduction. Sure, the combination of Peissel’s slow-roasted pork and an order of MÃ©nage a Foie would probably kill the heartiest Olympian. That’s OK; you’ll diet tomorrow.
The service staff at Franck’s is well trained'the cream of the crop from Tuscany and L’Avenue. Should you find yourself under the influence of too much wine and allergy medicine'not a recommended pairing'on an evening that you forgot your reading glasses, they’ll even interpret the bill for the most dimwitted of customers. I can testify to this.
But back to the food: Franck’s roasted natural chicken with wild mushrooms and herb jus ($20.95) is simply spectacular. But if it’s on the menu, chicken lovers should also sample Peissel’s Southern fried chicken. It’s out of this world'so simple, and yet the best fried chicken you’ll find this side of Wanship’s Spring Chicken Inn.
By now, you’ve probably come to realize that Franck’s isn’t about fancy French cooking and cuisine minceur. It’s all about the type of food that a great French chef might serve the family at home'French comfort food, I suppose. And there’s no better comfort-food candidate, French or otherwise, than Franck’s meatloaf. It’s a free-standing mound of slow braised chopped pork, chicken and veal, served with mashed spuds and tangy lingonberry sauce ($23.95). This dish is so appealing and straightforward, I think George W. would even like it. Just don’t mention the chef is French.
Special note for the ultra-gluttonous: Since Franck’s is located a few steps from Tuscany restaurant, diners get the benefit of being able to select beverages from Tuscany’s award-winning wine and cocktail list. Be careful though; slow-roasted pork and Pinot can become habit-forming.