Restaurant Reviews

Gauguin, Van Gogh and Franck?

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When I see paintings by Post-Impressionists like Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, I’m always struck by how their work got right “to the artistic point.” For these artists, painting came straight from their hearts with very little evidence of thought or theme, and with little reliance on tradition or history. All these artists took painting to a new level that made way for the likes of Picasso, Dali and Pollock.
I thought about painters like the Post-Impressionists and others when I went out to the restaurant reviewed in this issue.

When you dine at Franck’s the experience is very much like going to a museum. Franck is the consummate chef/artist, and each plate he creates is a masterpiece. Let me tell you about his food.

My dining partner at Franck’s was Brad Di Iorio of QSaltLake. When we arrived, we were first greeted by our waitress, who was about 8 ½ months pregnant. She is French-Canadian and I’ve met her before at French Club functions. Her knowledge of Franck’s food and wine pairings was excellent, and since each menu item is quite complicated she did a great job giving us suggestions. While we waited for our food, however, Brad and I decided we weren’t as satisfied with the décor, and we both commented on several odd choices: The light fixtures were reminiscent of orange Asian lanterns — round, and a bit weird. The chairs were also finished with an Asian cinnabar color which matched the lanterns. Why?

We started with some Chandon Blanc de Noir sparkling wine. It was creamy, full-bodied and just as good as I had remembered it. Our first dish was the very beautiful shrimp and veggie spring roll. The roll was cut in half on the diagonal with the point saluting upward. Drizzled around the plate was a semi-sweet carrot and coconut sauce with chanterelle mushrooms here and there. I loved the flavor of the roll and I loved the chanterelles, but I thought the carrot/coconut sauce was too sweet and did not add to the flavor. The dish was a very impressive undertaking, but, to me, it had too many things going on at once; Franck’s brush had too many colors on it and the result was a sort of sweet mud, unfortunately.

Our waitress had poured us a very gorgeous Chehalem Pinot Gris which was an excellent choice for the flavors in the spring roll — Brad and I really liked this wine. As a side note: Each menu item is accompanied by a recommended wine choice. I liked this idea and in most cases, I found the wine pairings quite nice but not very up-to-date. There were a lot of wines on the list that are old Utah standards, and I think, nowadays, that many of the newer and trendier wines would be great to add — especially in Franck’s environment.

Our next dish arrived and I think it was a special, because it isn’t listed on the menu. It was called a kind of “cannelloni,” but I thought it was more of a “strudel”— the “pasta” around the filling was more of a puff pastry than pasta or a crepe, the latter of which is also frequently used in cannelloni. The plating, again, was really superb. Two little square rolls filled with pork curry and topped with huckleberries and foie gras ice cream. Yes, you read that right. You know, I’m a chef, too, and never would I consider making ice cream with foie gras in it. Once upon a time I was in Gilroy, Calif. for the annual Garlic Festival where they served garlic ice cream. I didn’t like it, either. The ice cream was over the top for me and kind of ruined the flavor of the curried pork. The dish was ultimately beautiful and extremely creative, but not satisfying.

We were next served a huckleberry and crème fraiche soup. Its purple color was interesting and the smell was fragrant and inviting. At first the soup seemed, finally, to be a good choice of flavor marrying. But later, the finish was sweet and the huckleberry flavor overpowering. The soup was also said to contain violet essence, which, certainly was lost in the huckleberries!

I had brought a Planeta Sicilian Syrah, which was recently delisted by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. We drank it with our remaining plates and it was just delicious — smooth and velvety with soft baking spices in the finish. I was so glad I had brought it for us to try.

Briefly, I’d like to just copy the notes from the menu on our remaining tastings. We had the stuffed quail — with porcini, brioche foie gras — served with turnip, white bean puree and sautéed squash in a mushroom truffle sauce. And then, the famous meat loaf, a molded and mounded mixture of pork, chicken and veal, with mashed potatoes, banana squash puree drizzled with a berry and lavender sauce. And then, the slow braised beef short rib, also with the blackened banana with I thought was going to be a parsnip — what a surprise! The short rib was served on Israeli couscous, which was not at all like the typical kind, and also surrounded by a too-sweet orange and peppercorn sauce.
Our dessert was very nice — a lemon trio. This had a small triangle of Lemon Napoleon: layered crepes, nicely-made lemon sorbet and a lemon crème brûlée. Over all, it was light, refreshing and quite simple.

Franck’s food, as I’ve already said, is very much like art. It’s so creative, unusual, thought-provoking and filled with risk and talent. I so admire Franck in his quest to be “out there” as an artist. In fact, the whole experience and Franck’s is, for me, like going to a modern art museum and not really knowing if you’ll like it or not. I, personally, believe that there are way too many ingredients in his recipes, and, way too many flavors that don’t necessarily compliment one another. Also, Brad and I both noticed a penchant for an odd sweetness in his sauces. Call me an old fogy who may not be able to adjust to the new, but I’m devoted to my idea of French Cuisine in the Julia Child tradition. And truly, sometimes less is more!

For ingenuity, artistry and the avant garde, I applaud Franck and rate him a 95. But for understanding flavor, creating satisfaction and overall good dining, I rate Franck’s at 89.

Franck’s is in Holladay at 6363 Holladay Blvd. Most appetizers are between $8 and $12. Entrees are $25-$35.

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