Oh, So French
Bar Frances brings Parisian sensibility to Freret Street
Bar Frances' roast chicken and beet root tartar
Sara Essex Bradley
In May, Bar Frances became the most upscale addition to the thriving dining and nightlife scene on the once barren Freret Street corridor between Jefferson and Napoleon avenues. Located in a newly constructed building with chic retail build outs downstairs and, presumably, equally chic living spaces above, Bar Frances is a collaborative effort between Mark Latter of Tujague’s and area wine expert P. J. Rosenberg.
With an open dining room and bar space in shades of white and steel with marble accents and a garden wall, and outdoor garden terrace seating overlooking the street scene over and nearby Gasa Gasa music venue, this place manages a New York City vibe without losing its New Orleans personality.
French-trained Executive Chef Brendan Cahill carefully composed a menu of items to share, charcuterie, small plates, full entrées and a selection of unique local vegetables that achieves a careful balance between hearty and light dishes with a contemporary European sensibility. Most welcome of all, vegetables aren’t treated as an afterthought, but celebrated and, in addition to dessert selections, a variety of cheeses may be ordered for those who prefer to end the meal on a savory note. Latter and Rosenberg nabbed Cahill from the celebrated Parisian bistro, Poulette.
I shared a charcuterie board of pork rilletes, country terrine and saucisson sec before moving on to a selection of small plates. The Beet Root Tartar, creamy with aioli and zesty with mustard seed, was pressed into a round mold and served with crisp sweet potato chips. The crave-worthy Snapper Crudo left the paper-thin slices of screamingly fresh fish to speak for themselves with only the lightest accents of grilled lemon, scallions and shaved raw fennel. Add a glass of crisp white wine or rosé and the Shaved Summer Squash with cashew purée, pecan oil, and fennel pollen could be a perfect summer lunch, as beautiful as it is flavorful.
Shishito peppers may be ordered à la carte as a vegetable. I have never seen this offered locally and welcomed the vibrant peppers, served blistered and lightly scattered with sea salt, as a light, unique addition to the meal. Cahill’s French influences are on full display among the entrée selections. The flavors accenting the Grilled Snapper were decidedly Provençal: blistered cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and grilled lemon. Roasted Chicken was served with tomato vinaigrette, shaved radishes and grilled Little Gem lettuce. The perfectly grilled Hanger Steak was served with bitter greens and pommes frites.
For dessert we had the Chocolate Crèmeaux. The small, intense rectangle of chocolate was accented with cherry confiture and, brilliantly, candied fennel. Once again, the flavors played beautifully against one another, and the colors on the plate were a feast for the eyes.
I have plenty of company in my affection for chef Scott Craig and his delightful restaurant, Katie’s Restaurant in Mid-City. It is one of those perfect New Orleans neighborhood eateries that are becoming increasingly rare despite our ever-growing restaurant scene.
When I visit Katie’s I go in looking for one of his daily seafood specials, perhaps some of his excellent Char Grilled Oysters or the Scottie’s CNN Jalapeño Blackberry Ribs. His Lasagna is also top notch, and the Seafood Beignets (an overstuffed beignet filled with crawfish, crabmeat, shrimp, jalapeno peppers, onions and cheese is fried and then topped with a jalapeno aioli), gooey with Provel cheese the chef has shipped in from St. Louis have been a part of every meal I have ever enjoyed at Katie’s.
I would never think of ordering pizza at Katie’s, but my husband recently did while I sat there wandering “Why?”
Never again will I wonder; I’ve been missing out. This is excellent pizza: thin-crusted, New York-style and topped with mozzarella and Provel cheeses (the chef’s secret weapon). The Boudreaux features cochon de lait, roasted garlic, fresh spinach, red onions, scallions and a garlic butter cream reduction. It was pretty unforgettable.