Fraiche – Los Angeles, CA
My recent meal at Fraiche with my friend Mike in late December could be best described as caloric suicide. Midway through our meal, the strangers seated at the adjacent table couldn’t help but lean over and ask how in the world we were eating so much food. At the end of the night, the thirty foot hobble from my table and out the front door -all while restraining myself from vomiting- required a herculean effort! I was barely two steps out of the restaurant when I slumped over a nearby bench, looked over at Mike, and between staggered gasps of air, briefly considered if I was going to die.
My curiosity with the restaurant was piqued in December when I heard Ben Bailly had recently left his helm at Petrossian to revamp the menu and serve as the executive chef of Fraiche’s Culver City location. Excited to see how Bailly would adapt from the luxurious caviar-laden dishes of Petrossian to the rustic cuisine at Fraiche, I called up the restaurant and had them specially whip up a nine-course tasting menu for us.
The meal started off tamely enough with two amuse bouches to whet our palates: a small bowl of green olives and a wild mushroom soup. The olives were nothing special: your typical bright and briny green orbs. Conversely, the mushroom soup, served in an espresso cup, was delicious– smooth, velvety, and loaded with an earthy woodsy flavor.
Following the olives and soup, Bailly sent out a seemingly endless string of hits starting with two light starters. A Hamachi Tartare with Shaved Turnip, Lime, and Espilette Pepper seemed like a contrast of textures and flavors in my mouth– crunchy turnip riding up against silky soft hamachi along with contrasting spicy and sour notes from the peppers and lime. Next, a salad of Belgian Endives with Duck Bresaola, Quince, Pecan, Goat Cheese, and a Truffle Vinaigrette arrived that was simultaneously feminine and masculine– light, almost creamy endives tempered the pungent musky flavors of the bresaola and truffles.
Two incredible pastas followed, starting with a glorious tangle of squid ink noodles topped with pieces of butter-poached lobster and studded with sweet roasted tomatoes. It was one of the best pastas I’ve ever had; less pasta and more a sweet, luxurious vapor inhaled so quickly that my only photo of the dish is a blurry mess.
Bailly’s second pasta offering, an Agnolotti with Wild Mushrooms, Mascarpone, and Truffle Butter, while not as remarkable as the previous dish, was still very memorable. Breaking the agnolotti’s supple skin resulted in an explosion of mushroom and truffles in my mouth, with larger than life flavors that seemingly jumped off the plate. This dish wasn’t an exercise in subtlety, and Mike and I proceeded to mop the sauce up with some bread. The photo you see further below is not of fresh clean plates being set on our table; rather, those are our used plates post-bread-mopup..
With the pastas out of the way, three substantial dishes descended upon the table. A Crispy Loup De Mer with Sunchokes Soubise, Crosnes, Salsify, Mushrooms, and Bordelaise arrived first, with its perfectly crisp skin giving way to a tender, juicy flesh.
Unfortunately, the fish signaled the end of Bailly’s remarkable dishes. Every single dish from here on out simply wasn’t good enough to finish. In hindsight, this may have been a good thing as we were getting full as each “tasting portion” up until this point was portioned like a main course: pastas were more than a few hefty twirls; the Loup De Mer featured an entire filet.
The downfall of dishes started with a dry, overcooked pork chop served on a bed of romesco, tomatoes, and chorizo that tasted like a jar of tomato paste. The steak frites that followed were tough, chewy, and flavorless despite the accompanying stick of herbed butter. A palate cleanser of gin lemon sorbet could double as a shot at your local watering hole: very heavy on the gin with a lingering syrupy, candy-like lemon flavor.
Two satisfactory desserts rounded out this night of excess starting with a Panettone Bread Pudding with Gianduja, Candied Hazelnuts, and Mascarpone Gelato. The gelato was fantastic, but the bread pudding was so sweet, dense, and rich that I only managed a few small bites.
A Chocolate Coulant with Toffee and Peanut Butter Ice Cream followed; this felt like a deconstructed Reese’s peanut butter cup, with the toffee brittle adding a nice crunch.
At the very top of Fraiche’s website is a quote by Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic of the New York Times, “Fraiche isn’t about pyrotechnics or lavish indulgences. It’s about abundantly flavorful food cooked with skill and sense and presented at restrained prices.” And if serving rustic and flavorful comfort food is what Fraiche is attempting to accomplish, it’s unquestionable that Chef Ben Bailly’s soulful and not-quite-polished cooking hits the nail on the head. Despite a few hiccups, which I’m sure will sort themselves out over time (after all, this was less than a month since Bailly moved over), he’s made the tranisition from Petrossian admirably, and for the most part, served us dishes that I wouldn’t mind eating over and over again.
Now if Fraiche could just work on their portion sizes. The amount of food we were served could’ve fed a small African country!