While there are worse things in life than redundancy, I also felt the occasion itself called for a different perspective. In keeping with the tradition of my full disclosure and "Honest Abe" mentality, the reason my friends and I were dining at Fraiche on Saturday night was because at some point in the past year, each of us had received "Review of the Day" for the esteemed Culver City eatery on Yelp.com. We decided to commemorate our shared "achievement" with a celebratory dinner which I dubbed "Re-Fraichement."
According to TheFreeDictonary.com, "refresh" can be defined as "to revive with or as if with rest, food, or drink; give new vigor or spirit to." I chose to take the dinner and its symbolic title quite seriously. Despite my adoration for the dishes I had already devoured within the pristine walls of the restaurant, I was going to revive my Fraiche experience with "new" vigor -- without regard to the potential effects on my stomach.
The evening of "Re-Fraichement" began auspiciously when the host directed our party of three to a corner table on the enclosed outside patio. On both my prior visits, I had been seated inside, which is noticeably louder and livelier. While I was buoyed by the "newness" it lent my dining experience, I would have preferred a table closer to all the action (and the bathroom).
After settling down in my (wicker) seat and perusing the one page menu, I immediately zeroed in on a single appetizer -- the pumpkin soup ($8) with a sage and marshmallow garnish. I had been craving really good restaurant soup since sampling my friend's carrot ginger at Nook restaurant, and I go weak in the knees for anything containing pumpkin (aside from pumpkin pie which I find bland and unappealing). When our charming waiter insisted that the soup wasn't "too sweet," and that he would eat it for me if I didn't like it, I was sold. Bye bye baby beets with luscious ricotta -- hello, gussied-up puree of pumpkin!
The sight of the gourmet marshmallow (this ain't from a Jet-Puffed bag), was slightly off-putting at first. "Not too sweet, huh?" I thought bitterly, as I dipped my spoon into the cup. I took a tentative bite and was immediately floored by the explosion of warm pumpkin pie-spiced flavors in my mouth. If my mom's pumpkin pie tasted like this bowl of comfort-laden goodness, I might actually come around to the uninspired Thanksgiving dessert. The sage leaves were a welcome accompaniment, as was the suspect marshmallow that melted into the soup like a decadent ribbon of whipping cream.
As the bold, spicy Barbera wine my dining companions and I selected took my senses captive, I finally began to relax. My concerns about not being as satisfied by the new dishes as I was by my old standbys began to disapate. The warmth of the zesty seasonal soup had calmed my neurotic nerves and nourished my stomach like a cozy chenille blanket. I was invigorated by the fresh experience and eager for more.
A busboy appeared to remove my empty bowl from the table, clean silverware was left in its place, and I savored the quiet moment before my taste buds would be "refreshed" once again.
My entree, the lamb spezzatino with ricotta gnocchi and gremolata ($24), won my affection at first sight. The tender cubes of meat were decadently draped in a tomato-based mirepoix (traditionally, a combination of carrots, onions and celery), and four sizable dollops of gnocchi oozed over the top. It was unlike any lamb dish I've ever had before. The lamb tasted like a lean short rib rather than a gamey-tasting animal that "bahs," and the stew-like presentation was inspired and comforting on the blustery fall day. While I would have preferred more gnocchi and few less morsels of the succulent meat (I like my carbs to be an equal proportion to my proteins to allow for a bite-for-bite pattern of consumption), the dish was an unequivocal success.
Because the dessert menu is always changing, I had no trouble choosing a different dessert from the ones I'd selected before. Without a moment's hesitation, I settled on the Banana Crepes ($10) served with honey ice cream, caramelized bananas and crunchy hazelnuts. Upon taking a bite of her dessert, my dining companion commented that she is always a bit surprised by Fraiche's offerings. She said she is used to restaurant desserts being sickeningly sweet and Fraiche's are almost savory in comparison. Digging into the refined crepes (layered and cut in the shape of a piece of pie), I could see her point. I am also accustomed to dessert landing in my stomach like a sledge-hammer, but this dish was decidedly different. Sugar seems to be used in moderation, allowing the other flavors to come through. While I do often prefer the sledge-hammer effect, it was "refreshing" to finish with something a little less impactful.
As I strolled out of the restaurant, a fierce fall breeze wrecking havoc on my curled hair, I couldn't resist conjuring up the image of my impending blog post. "It really was 'A Fraiche experience!'" I thought happily. And I truly did feel "refreshed" by the new dishes and flavors I had tried that evening. It only reconfirms my initial declarations touted in my Yelp review. Fraiche really is "as good as it gets" -- regardless of what is ordered.