Number 32: Panisse Frites From Frances

SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition

If the era of gorgeously simple Bay Area cuisine ushered in by chefs like Judy Rogers and Paul Bertolli has taught us anything, it's that nothing is too humble for us to lavish attention on. We have become a city of cooks and diners trained to appreciate the radishes perched among the leaves of a simple salad and the 17 different textures a beet can take on, depending on how it is cooked.

And at a restaurant like Frances, whose chef, Melissa Perello, is steeped in that tradition, the small dishes — roasted cauliflower with olives, a Little Gems salad with grilled asparagus — are often the ones whose refinement surprises us the most. We wouldn't be shocked to spot Peril cooking with a jeweler's loupe strapped to one of her eyes to inspect each ingredient as it cooked.

And so while SFoodie has fond memories of Frances's bavette steak, it's the panisse frites that we've never been able to shake from our minds. The chickpea-flour bricks are cut so precisely they look like you could build a fort with them. Just out of the fryer, their gold surfaces have a fine, sandy texture, and they crackle a little if you pinch them too hard. But then, just past that crackle, the frites' solidity evaporates. Swab one through a green-garlic aioli and bite in, and you find the steaming insides are as creamy and soothing as 12-hour polenta. It's an astonishing metamorphosis. Isn't this supposed to be just a pre-dinner snack?

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