Frisson - Jackson Street - San Francisco - CA
244 Jackson Street - San Francisco - CA - (415) 956-3004
Visit the Frisson Website Here
Date of visit: Saturday October 9th, 2004 at 11pm.
After spending most of the day at a picnic, it wasn't until about 10pm I got a little tiny bit hungry again. Fred was snoozing so I woke him up and declared I wanted to go out. He was game. Finding food this late in SF isn't a breeze, but it offered me the perfect excuse to suggest we try Frisson. Ever since Fred had taught me the French phrase, tu me donnes des frissons, I'd felt the need to check it out. I'd heard great reports about the drinks and decor with mixed views about the food, although the general consensus was that plates are really small. This was perfect for me, I just wanted a taster of something to take away the mild grumbling in my stomach, in a fun party atmosphere with a fabulous cocktail.
If this club/diner was in London, there would be a little red carpet outside, a velvet rope and a couple of snarly bouncers outside looking me up and down before refusing me entry on the grounds I am not an E-list celebrity. That's what I like about San Francisco. They let just about anyone in, just about everywhere. The doorman smiled, opened the door and didn't even ask for my id. (Uh-oh- that's not such good news, must be looking too old... argh!)
Once inside we stood a minute near the entrance, looking decidedly lost whilst we perused the scene before us with wide open eyes. The bar to the right was jammed pack and loud to boot. A quieter rounded central area capped by a UFO style domed ceiling speckled with pink lights stretched out in front of us. Curvy banquette seating edged the space which was only half full with diners. It reminded me of an airport. I think it was the carpeted floor. It's a funky space, fun but already dated by way of it's retro feel. I warmed to it but Fred didn't like it all. He doesn't care much for the retro trend, especially 70's style. I had to agree him, though, when he suggested the ceiling would be far more interesting if the lights were slowly undulating with changes of colour.
No one was there to greet us as they should have been. But after a minute or two a friendly chap with lots of wild fly-away hair, groovy sideburns, and wearing one of the jaunty staff suits that hark back to uniforms from the days of glamourous first-class airline travel spotted us and rushed to help. He quickly found us a great corner spot where we could sit next to each other and whisper about the assortment of fashion statements walking past with a clear view of everything else going on, from the bar right through to the kitchen.
The drinks menus were delivered first. I went straight to the cocktail list having heard they were good. A drink labeled Fountain Of Youth - 12, immediately caught my eye (I needed something youthful after my not-carded experience at the door!) I can't remember the cocktail's description exactly and it isn't specified on their website. As far as I can remember it was a blend of Vodka with kaffir lime leaves, cointreau, some kind of melon pulp and some cucumber. It came simply served in a taller, narrower version of a martini glass with a large, red rose petal floating on the top. This drink was amazing. Not too sweet, very strong and with the most refreshing, lingering aftertaste of cucumber. Wow! If I was being really pernickety, and with the experience of having consumed no less than three of these beauties, I would suggest they balance this drink with a little less cointreau, a little more vodka, but I'm talking mere whiskers of improvement here. This cocktail, close to perfection, was even well-rated by Fred who normally only drinks his liquor neat without any frou-frouery.
Onto the food. The menu sounds a little over-laboured, a little complicated, a little chi-chi, a little lacking in foods that might make us feel safe. But to hell with safety, it's time to be edgy, to be adventurous, to live dangerously, to take ourselves out of our comfort zones and try new things, be young and wild again, yes! Fred didn't look convinced. Every dish's description contained a little this or a little that, he didn't care for much. (I have to admit, I didn't care for many of the descriptions either, but I wasn't going to own up to the fact, after all I'd imbibed my Fountain of Youth, nothing was going to stop me from being young and brave tonight.)
See the Frisson Menu Here
foie gras terrine, fig-lime compote, cocoa brioche - 14
This arrived on a white rectangular plate. At one end, a petit slab of the liver pate. Dominating centre position, an over large cluster of the compote. Balanced, at the other end, a teeny weeny pinwheel brioche, crusted with sugar. Fred looked down at the dish in dismay. "Where's the bread?", he asked me, puzzled. "That's the bread" I said pointing at the little chocolate brioche. With out even pausing to think Fred caught the attention of the nearest waiter. "Eeeckscuze me, eez eet posseebull to get some reeyal bred pleeze?", he asked. The waiter graciously agreed and hurried to fetch him some less exotic carbs. I love bread, I love chocolate, but I don't like them together. Nevertheless, I was determined to try this dish as the chef intended, with my share of the foie gras spread on the brioche. It didn't work. I felt like I was being experimented on. Foie Gras works well with sweet things, but the crunchy granulated sugar coating the Brioche was too clumsy, too unrefined a sweetness, jarring with both the smooth texture and the gentle flavour of the pate. The chocolate added nothing more than further confusion whilst the compote was completely uninspiring. When I eat foie gras, I love to have a little of it linger on my tongue as long as possible. After this appetizer, unfortunately the only lasting recollection was of bitter cocoa from the Brioche instead.
yellow corn soup, leeks, chanterelles, huitlacoche - 8
As I hadn't been jolted into having furious hunger pangs by the bizarre menu, I chose to have just a soup for my entree. This beautiful, foamy yellow soup garnished with a little clump of mushrooms peeking out from under the broth arrived in a very stylish white ceramic bowl wearing a dainty ceramic lid that was removed for me by the waiter. At this point it should be noted that the menu heading "Small Plates" is a little confusing. This was a very large bowl indeed. Unfortunately it was only about a quarter full. The soup was very sweet, and predominantly corn flavoured despite the addition of the mushrooms which didn't seem to be adding anything extra to the taste as I'd hoped they would. Although the texture was velvety smooth, something about the taste wasn't. Maybe it was a spice, salt or the huitlacoche which I was told were a Mexican version of truffles. I couldn't decipher the cause, but for some reason this soup roughly caught the back of my throat, mouthful after mouthful, thereby distracting me from really enjoying it.
beef cheeks braised with orange, saffron and vanilla, olive oil crushed potatoes - 23
Fred uhmed and ahhed, ahhed and uhmed, before nervously choosing this, for him, slightly adventurous entree. He doesn't like sweet things and was worried about the dessertsy ingredients listed as part of the dish. As it happened, it wasn't the flavour, but the texture of the meat that stumped him. Beef cheeks can be, as they were on this occasion, meltingly tender when cooked in this manner. This textural softness unnerved him, and he couldn't finish the plate. He did make a point of telling me he really liked the potatoes, however. I tried the meat myself and thought it was very good and well flavoured, with the portion sized exactly right. Unfortunately I wasn't hungrier, otherwise I might have finished it off for him.
It amused me that Michael Bauer, the Chronicle Food Critic, was writing an article about the same restaurant as me, on the same day as me. His comment about Frisson "Yet this is a sophisticated, grown-up space, with two private dining rooms kept tranquil by a small, elegant Japanese-style garden..." particularly made me laugh out loud. I would paraphrase in my words, as "This Austin Power-esque playroom is an odd mix of maturer groovsters and bright young things intent on checking out the scene. The elegant Japanese-style garden is, in fact , a tiny concrete space between two buildings, packed full of smokers thankful they don't have to spend another night getting their kicks on a grubby public sidewalk."
I was people-watching from my prime spot in the dining room. Absolutely everyone was smiling and having a very good time. I will definitely return to this place. But, for me, it's the cocktails that are the real draw. Next time I think I'll stop for dinner elsewhere on the way and then finish the night at Frisson with a tasty nightcap or two, or three... Frisson - Jackson Street - San Francisco - CA