I made it to Fraiche last Friday. Yes, it was a fraiche evening and we left feeling very, very refraiched. OK, it's out of my system - I promise, no more bad puns if you're still reading this.
Place was busy, all tables still going at ~9 or so, so went to Bottlerock first for a quick glass 'o before dinner. We'd have done that anyway inside Fraiche, but we wanted to start with a change of scene. Bottlerock was a good choice to kill the 1/2 hour we had for Fraiche to cool down some - they are still doing well as it was pretty full inside. Go Culver City!
I am really impressed with what's happened in Downtown CC - lots of great new businesses like Ford's, K-Zo and now Fraiche, with more coming soon, all in a few block radius. I love it. These newer, tonier businesses blend well with the older spots like Giovanni's, Novocento and Grand Casino to give a really great level of choice. Anyway I digress.
One thing I'm really happy about at Fraiche, other than the room and the bar, which are both spaced very well, designed very well, and just plain feel good to be in, is that they've chosen to keep prices on the menu reasonable. We sat on the patio, which was nice and didn't feel too crowded at all. Apps are $8-$12, pastas $10-$13, and entrees are roughly $18-$23. Now that, for the quality and the emphasis on well done Cal-Med at that price point, is just what we need. A la Nook, and Opus, and others in the genre, with interesting, updated food. People opening restaurants are finally getting that in this city, spanning the space between neighborhood and higher end that was sorely lacking. That is a VERY welcome new trend in our fair city. Or loose enclave of distantly related though geographically close neighborhoods, as you prefer.
We had a few of the meats (merguez, speck and duck rillette) to start, and all were good. They came with just a little thinly sliced bread and a few olives which was nice because it allowed focus on the meat, not the starchy vehicle for getting it into the mouth. That was refreshing, and very right on.
Now something nobody has mentioned much which I was WOWED by was the quality of the wine list and the prices. The prices. The prices! From my gander at the list, which was brief given I didn't want to go off into wine list study-coma for too long as my friend was sitting next to me wondering what the heck we were going to drink already, they have chosen to stay at ~ 1.3 X retail for very high end (> $100) and ~ 1.5X retail for mid priced wines. They also have good range - starting in the $30s for good drinkers and going up from there. Now THIS is sorely needed, and fantastic, and wonderful. It's like policies found all over in Italy without the bad Euro exchange rate. What they are doing is encouraging you to buy wine (Yay!) and providing great bottles you won't find all that easily which go well with food and will improve the overall experience because they are good, and interesting, will make you very happy and won't give you regrets because you paid $120 for wine that sells for $32. Can anyone tell how happy I am about this? I expect the list will grow a bit over time, but they have great, well thought selections like Carlisle Zin (mmm), some approachable Brunellos that will drink well early, and CA Pinot like the Dunah Estate we had (at $65, that is 1.5X retail, on the nose). This caught my eye quickly so I didn't look too hard at the Spanish section, which I was told is packed with good wines.
Mains we had, at the rec of the server, were the brasied lamb in a tomatoey, savory braising sauce, with a few light and great gnocchi - very nice main and rocked like a jam band in a meaty part of a song with the juicy Pinot we ordered. Great combination - well thought out and really well done, sort of a light braise that works in springtime, especially given the airiness of the gnocchi. And my buddy had the steak frites, which was also really, really good. It was hanger steak, and really nicely done in a light reduction, shallots maybe (?). Quantity was good too - I had been to Nook a couple weeks back and feel the portions were just a bit larger at Fraiche, which was welcome.
The server was nice, knew the food, and service was good. They are working a few things out, in that they forgot a pasta (!) we were going to split between the salumi and the mains, but the wine was good, we were well into the bottle and we didn't care that much at all. I guess, maybe, that's another good reason for pricing wine well and serving early and often - your guests are FAR more forgiving during the meal, especially over time... We were, that's for sure.
They were still going later into the night when we left at 12. Another very welcome element in Culver City as it is handy to be able to go out later sometimes. I think the folks on this board are really going to like this place, and we'll soon need (and get, by the looks of things) another like it. Probably around the corner. And that'd be just fine. "Waiter, more like this, please."