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Frisson - CLOSED

New Chef, Same Hot Room

Since its opening in 2004 in SF's historic district, Frisson has become a go-to spot for dinner or drinks in a swanky, mid-century modern setting. The warm orange interior, dominated by a giant domed ceiling paved in lights, calls to mind a trendy nightclub in the middle of a stylish Scandinavian airport. Never mind that I've never been to Scandinavia…What I have done is sample the relatively new menu of Executive Chef Sarah Schafer, installed in February 2005 to replace Daniel Patterson.

Schafer comes to San Francisco from New York's Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern, two branches of Danny Meyer's upscale restaurant empire. Her menu could be described as skilled haute cuisine rife with comfort food gimmicks.

Take, for example, her pigs' feet appetizer ($11). Where I come from, pigs' feet are served whole with tongs from a room temperature jar the size of a breadbox. At Frisson, the pigs' feet are braised into an unrecognizable pile of smoky, gamey shredded pork, which is then fashioned into precious triangles and fried until crispy. Served on a bed of fork-mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and frisee with a bacon vinaigrette, the triangles are hilariously reminiscent of the squares of scrapple I've avoided all my life. Scrapple is Southern, and if you fear that hot dogs contain everything but the squeal, you don't want to meet scrapple. Regardless, it's a good dish, and now I can say I've eaten pigs' feet.

My dinner companion and I enjoyed a number of other starters along with wine pairings thanks to the management, which consists primarily of SF restaurant industry veterans. Replacing former Chef Patterson's preoccupation with flavored foams, the menu boasts attention-grabbers like a foie gras PB&J ($14) and cook-your-own Wagyu beef in a maiitake mushroom broth ($11).

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich concept was executed surprisingly well; a cylindrical tower of seared Sonoma foie gras, spicy candied peanuts, apricot-Sauternes chutney and something bready cut into circles made a fine accompaniment to a little glass of Sauternes dessert wine. As for the Wagyu beef, the meat was chewier than we'd hoped, although I was totally tickled to be eating maiitake mushrooms after having just heard about them for the first time on the short-lived, empty calorie of a TV show, Fox's "Kitchen Confidential".

We tried a couple of main courses, both of which were light and yet fulfilling in the way that you always hope your $25-$30 haute cuisine entrees will be. The seared Alaskan halibut ($25) had a nice heft to it, but was browned so lightly that it did not detract from the subtle cipollini onion broth in which it was served along with edamame brandade and chive oil. One bummer was that someone thought it would be a good idea to sprinkle piment d'espelette all over the fish, which approximated a subtle, unwelcome dash of low-grade paprika.

The chestnut honey-seared duck breast ($26) was a total delight. There were brussels sprouts. Love those. There was a black olive and huckleberry emulsion. Not satisfied with one sauce, the chef saw fit to include another, a robust roasted chestnut puree. This was appreciated by all parties. Other main course offerings included a sweet mustard-glazed king salmon, herb & pancetta-wrapped monkfish, an oven-roasted ribeye, and butternut squash risotto. Entrees at Frisson are notably less gimmicky than the starters.

Not so with the desserts ($10). While the chocolate dessert with hazelnut ganache, vanilla-malted pound cake, and warm hazelnut foam (foam!) was fairly normal, the apple lasagna was something else. Delicious, actually, but odd, considering that the cylindrical tower (towers!) of daintily sliced apple was accompanied not only by a brown butter financier and maple ice milk, but also by a sprinkling of bacon dust. I was excited to learn of the bacon dust, and I was more than excited to eat it. It was a great dessert. One of the most interesting I've ever had; I recommend it.

Frisson is one of those places where you can feel comfortable wearing your fanciest heels and that super hot dress you save for the third date. That said, on a recent visit, some patrons seemed just as comfortable clacking away on their miniature computers ("hidden" on their laps), sporting the most casual of business attire. In fact, one of the gentlemen seated next to us was wearing a caftan and specs befitting the leader of a technology cult. Most folks, though, were of the mojito-drinking, luxury denim demographic, and they seemed happy to be sipping (or pounding?) cocktails as the lounge area was transformed into nightclub "lite" by the resident DJ's easy-pop dance tracks.

California Cuisine
Jackson Square