Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 23

"If you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter!" - Eve Arden, as Principal McGee in Grease, 1978

"If you can't be a restaurant, be a restaurant supporter!" - The FGs, as hungry people, during Dine LA Restaurant Week, 2011

Episode 23 - We're Impressed with Fraiche

As the midwest and the Eastern seaboard were blanketed with record snowfall last week, four FG's gathered on a sunlit sidewalk terrace in the heart of Culver City's expanding restaurant row.    The hostess had kindly pointed out that the heat lamps were on in case we were worried about catching a chill.  To be honest, we were concerned, what with the slight breeze and the temperature only in the high sixties*.   Fortunately, our corner table was bright and toasty and well-situated at the edge of the patio.

Fraiche, at nearly three years old, is almost the grande dame of the foodie stops in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.   It was an early entrant into the market-fresh, California brasserie style of restaurant that is now, fortunately, running rampant around the city, and quickly became known for it's no-nonsense, artfully prepared Mediterranean food at reasonable prices.    Many, many people love this place, but I had never tried it**.   So when I noticed their Dine LA lunch menu, I knew this was just the thing for the FGs.

Friache DineLA Lunch Menu - $22 per person

Choice of Appetizers

Heirloom Beet Gazpacho
Goat Cheese Mousse / Balsamic
Arugula Salad
Chorizo / Manchego / Dates / Marcona Almonds
Baby Beets
House Made Ricotta / Orange / Pistachio

Choice of Entrees

Seared Scottish Salmon
Farro / Black rice / Tangerine / Arugula
Gnochetti Sardi
Wild Mushrooms Bolognese / Pecorino Romano
Vialone Nano Risotto
Porcini / Arugula / Pine Nuts

Choice of Desserts

Chocolate Pot de Creme
Candied Hazelnut / Creme Fraiche
Caramel Budino
Vanilla Mascarpone / Sea Salt
Pistachio Creme Brulee
Rosemary Cookies

The place was nearly empty when we sat down just before noon, and while we all intended to have the prix fixe lunch, it was hard not to salivate over the regular lunch menu.   FG16 pointed out the best part:  "You gotta love a menu where the desserts are in the center column!"  And, where are there more dessert options than there are salads.   We agree; we are inclined love this place on that basis alone.

Eventually***, we put in our order:  two beet salads, two arugula salads, one salmon, two risottos, and one gnochetti.  And of course, one of each dessert, with an extra caramel budino.   We sat back, very pleased with how we'd handled that, and began swapping stories about Ireland (FG16 had been, FG14 was going soon), the burgers at the other table (should we have ordered that?), and reality TV (it's fake).

When the first course arrived, we stopped talking****.  This food was gorgeous!

F14 and F16 had the baby beet salad.  I don't even like beets, and I was wild about this salad.  The housemade ricotta was marvelous...silky and rounded and just a touch salty.  The mix of this with the sweet, tender beets and the tangy citrus...wow!
The arugula salad that FG15 and I had tasted just as good as it looks.  The crunch of the almonds, combined with a bright, lemony dressing, peppery greens, bits of salty chorizo and cheese and the sweet surprise of dates, made this one of my favorite salads in recent memory.  I could have gone home happy after this.  But then, the second courses, too, were wonderful.

FG14's salmon was perfectly seared, nearly rare on the inside, just how she likes it.  The faro was also done right, with a nice toothsome bite and the zing of the tangerines offsetting the richness of the fish.   The plate was so beautiful we almost didn't want to eat it.  But we got over that pretty fast. 
Did you know..."bolognese" does not automatically mean "meat sauce"?  We were surprised, too, as this version was 100% vegetarian, made with a bevy of wild mushrooms in a robust tomato sauce.   It was earthy, rich, and satisfying, but didn't send us into raptures.
The risotto, on the other hand, did.   The rice was creamy and light at the same time, the porcini mushrooms adding depth and heartiness, with just a hint of bitterness from the greens.   The cheese and pine nuts were definitely there but did not overwhelm the dish, as so often happens with risotto.  All the flavors just sang.  Fantastic!!!

A couple next to us, just ordering, sought our advice on their options.  We were quick to endorse their choice of the beet salad and the risotto.  The restaurant had slowly filled, and we became aware that we were having what could be construed as the FG's first "power lunch".   People were stopping by to pay respects to an Oscar-nominated producer, then nodding to other vaguely recognizable faces in the crowd.   The formerly tranquil terrace was buzzing and hopping with studio types enjoying the weather, each other's company, and the excellent food.  Getting into the spirit of the thing, we decided to do a little negotiating with ourselves over who got to eat which dessert first.

The pistachio creme brulee was an off-putting shade of bright green, and was far too sweet.  The first true dud of the day.  We did love the little rosemary shortbread cookies that came on the side.  To make something like them at home, click here.
The best part of the pot de creme was the garnish of caramelized hazelnuts.  The chocolate custard itself was under-flavored and a little runny.   Not worth the calories.  We recommend you pass this by in favor of...
This.  Caramel budino, also known as heaven on a spoon.  With a sprinkling of salt for good measure.  Good thing we ordered two, huh?

Overall, the meal was one of our favorites, and a true bargain at $22 for all three courses.  DineLA definitely came through for the FGs, and we will definitely come back to Fraiche.

FG Final Verdict?  Fraiche is ON the list!
Pricing Information:  The regular menu prices are right in range for a "nice" lunch place:  Starters $8-10, salads & sandwiches $10-15, desserts $8-12.
FG Value Rating:  The dineLA menu was a steal!

* Because we're spoiled that way here in February.  Go ahead, mock away.
** Two reasons.  First, it is in Culver City, which is a schlep from my house.   Second, if I ever do go to Culver City, I proceed immediately to Honey's Kettle Fried Chicken for a combo meal.  I can't help it.  Even after eating this delicious lunch, I dragged the rest of the group down the street to visit Honey's, and FG15 walked out with a family pack for dinner that night.  It's not just me!!
***  The word "Eventually" here should be your clue as a reader that our waitress' pace verged on the glacial.  She had also perfected the fine art of avoiding looking our way whenever we needed something like bread or our check.  Fortunately we were not in a huge rush.
**** For like a minute.  It is a FG lunch, after all, and animated conversation is a big part of what makes these meals so much fun.


  1. Sharon, lunch looks divine! I'll have to try Fraiche when I'm over on the west side. I love your reviews!!

  2. Oh, do let me know how it is for you! I hope you go soon...and if you have any suggestions for good places for us to try out your way, let me know!