Black Hole Dining is a series about restaurants that have been around so long they've slipped into a media black hole.
It's an odd feeling to look over the menu of a restaurant you haven't been to for 15 years and spot a specific dish you remember.
I couldn't tell if the feeling was more akin to seeing Facebook photos of college friends with their tweenage children or spotting an old beau still trying to rock skinny jeans and unlaced high-tops. The pork tenderloin with onion-apple compote at Fringale did that to me -- though the pork isn't cooked confit-style, the way founding chef Gerald Hirigoyen prepared it all those years ago, I remember being very young, very underdressed, and very impressed with the dish.
Fringale, at Fourth and Brannan, is no longer at the edge of the known city. It no longer has Hirigoyen, either, who sold the place a few years ago to Jean-Marie Legendre, one of its waiters, to focus on Piperade and Bocadillos. Current chef Carmelo Lopez, long Fringale's sous-chef, approaches the menu with the respect of a man still in awe of his former tutor. Weighted with Fringale staples such as the onion tart, frisée salad, and confit with lentils, the restaurant straddles the border between dated and timeless. Yet there's a reason Lopez was promoted up.
A friend and I ate at the restaurant for lunch, where we shared the room with two businessmen, suit jackets removed for the occasion, and three women of the docent class. The prices ($16-$22) probably helped keep the restaurant emptier than it should have been in tech-moneyed China Basin, and so did the servers, who seemed to move as if they were on the 12th hour of a 14-hour shift. But the food almost merited a 90-minute lunch.
Though the duck confit had dried out as it was being reheated, the skin crackled each time we cut through it, and the lentils and bacon-red wine sauce were beautifully seasoned. The poached black cod had the most astonishing texture: Poaching had melted away the fat in the rich fish and left the meat with the texture of a well-whipped mousse -- I wondered at times whether the cod had been inflated rather than simmered in court-boullion. Underneath the fish, the piperade had the unity of flavor that comes from cooking the tomatoes, onions, and pepper slowly until you can't tell the ingredients apart. Had I eaten that dish in my early twenties, I'd have remembered it to this day, too.
Fringale: 570 Fourth St. (at Brannan), 543-0573, www.fringalesf.com.