Summary: Uneven food in close quarters still doesn't take the charm away from this San Francisco Restaurant.
We first went to Fringale many years and a couple of owners ago with my father. I remember having a great experience, with delicious food and a comfortable atmosphere. We did go back once, but then children and all kept us awake. Finally, a couple of weekends ago (February 2007), the kids were off with my parents and I was looking through Open Table for potential restaurants for which we could get Sunday night last-minute reservations. I saw Fringale there, and I thought I had to try it again. While I ended up having an imperfect meal; Mike was much happier and thought everything was very good.
We arrived at the restaurant early, but were promptly seated. Fringale is a very nice, small and very crowded bistro style restaurant. A comfortable place for a meal, with friends and strangers alike. The tables - especially those with the banquettes - are so very close together that you need to move the whole table for people to get in and out of the banquettes.
Fringale's menu was similar to the one found online, though it included a couple of specials of the day. I'd describe Fringale as French Basque meets Californian Cuisine; while some of the dishes may be French or Basque, many others could be found at any Californian restaurant. Dishes are reasonably priced, but entrees are small, so you'll probably want to order, or at least split, an appetizer if you're reasonably hungry. Plus that's the fun of eating at this type of place anyway.
Mike started by ordering the calamari with jalapeños and chorizo ($10). He loved the dish, so much so that he even ate the tentacles of the calamari, something he usually would prefer to avoid. But the sauce was that good. I tried the chorizo, and it was excellent. Just where do this people get their charcuterie?
I had the foie gras terrine with date paste served with toasted brioche ($16), or at least that's what the online menu says the bread was. Whatever the toasted slices were, they were too strongly flavored and the delicate pate just could not compete with it. The date paste similarly overwhelmed it. It was better with the brown bread served with the meal, but it really needed a tasteless conduit. I can't say I really enjoyed it all that much.
Mike followed with the “pork tenderloin "crepinette" served with cabbage & apples, grain mustard sauce” ($19). This consisted of sliced pork tenderloin in a magnificent sauce. The pork wasn't impressive by itself - it was rather flavorless in the center - but the sauce was divine and it infused the pork with all the flavor it needed. I think Mike ate every last bit.
I, once again, was less impressed. I had the special of the night, a hanger steak, supposedly with Bearnaise sauce, and sides I can no longer recall. The steak was OK, it was cooked on the rarer side of medium rare, somewhat of a problem given how tough this cut is. Still, it tasted good enough, like a steak. I would have liked it more if it had come with the advertised Bearnaise sauce; indeed that's why I ordered it in the first place, but it was nowhere to be found. I probably should have asked the waiter about it. The sides were, as I mentioned, unmemorable.
Mike, once again, was luckier with his dessert (all $7). He ordered the gateau basque, and it was delicious. I thought I recalled not liking this almond version as much as the one I've made at home, but it's been too many years since last time I baked one, and this one was very good indeed.
I had the warm chocolate gourmand, at the recommendation of the waiter, and it was good but nothing extraordinary. I do like flourless chocolate cake, so I'd have it again.
Service was... serviceable; competent to a fault but not particularly friendly.
All that said we did have a good meal, I enjoyed seeing Mike so much delight in his dishes. And despite the noise and crowded seating, we did manage to feel like we were on a date -which we were - and even enjoyed the quirkiness of our neighbors at the table.
I'd probably go back again, but I'd be choosier about what I order.
570 4th St
San Francisco, CA