Restaurants & Bars

SF: Thanksgiving at The Franciscan Crab Restaurant – frozen kustard

rworange | Nov 30, 200801:53 PM    

At least they are NOT serving krab.

That ‘k’ sums up the ersatz San Francisko that tourists see at Fisherman’s Wharf and other … uh …visitor-oriented … places like the Cliff House.

Most are not QUITE tourist traps. Just as some people like krab, it can taste close to the real thing, but it just isn’t.

I don’t dislike The Franciscan or one of that group’s other restaurants, The Dead Fish in Rodeo which has almost an identical menu.

Both are the type of place that please people who live in areas with nothing better than chains like Marconi’s Grill or Applebee’s or Black Angus … or any of the same sit down chain restaurants.

They are a step up. And to their credit, The Franciscan and company seem to try.

These restaurants use Acme for their bread. The loaf at The Franciscan was wonderful with a thick, crunchy crust. It is not Acme’s levain. I haven’t seen this bread at Acme so it might be a special bake for The Franciscan. They should sell it at the bakery, it is great.

If it is sourdough, it is tourist sourdough, the tang toned down. Still it is a far superior bread to the bake Scoma’s gets from Boudin.

The Franciscan tries. Unfortunately it is the type of place that won’t attract local foodies no matter what is on the menu. They tried putting burrata on the menu. Not there anymore. What tourist is really going to order it? What San Franciscan is dropping by FW other than with visitors in tow.

I’ve watched this at Dead Fish where each attempt to up the menu over the years was eventually removed because locals just didn’t order it … or worse yet … complained … the homemade limoncello, the excellent sandwiches with Acme’s pan de mie, the special cold cuts, etc, etc, etc.

The frozen kustard … according to their menu … is made in a special machine at the restaurant. It is fine, served in a huge frosted goblet ($6), but lacks the rich egginess of real frozen custard. For my tastes it was also a little on the sweet side.

The menu at The Franciscan is unfortunate. It is a 1/4 ‘cookbook’, actually catalogue, with pictures of every dish on the menu and one paragraph ‘recipes’ underneath that are really general overviews of what is in the dishes. It was confusing to my mainly ‘English as a second language’ group … so turkey dinner it was for all.

Thanksgiving dinner at The Franciscan was $29 which included clam chowder, salad, turkey, pumpkin pie, a crusty loaf of Acme sourdough and a view.

The clam chowder served in a tiny white tureen was good if not great. It is potato-based but with enough chopped clams and bits of celery. If that was really the recipe in the menu/cookbook all the trouble they go through to make it doesn’t translate to above average flavor. I couldn’t detect the bacon. The next day I had a very good clam chowder at the new Bistro 1491 in Albany, and it highlighted the difference good and very good.

This salad was better than expected, a nice mix of chopped butter lettuce and other such lettuces and a few quartered toy box tomatoes. It was dressed in a decent vinaigrette, and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.

A long oblong-shaped white plate presented the entrée in a straight line … three thick slices of turkey breast covered in gravy, ‘mashed’ potatoes, a scoop of stuffing and a little cup of whole cranberry sauce … more sauce than cranberry. It was ok and not offensive.

Given the uniformity of the turkey slices, I suspect they roasted breasts. The stuffing did its job. It was on the bland side with nothing to pep up the scoop of bread. The potatoes were more like twice baked potatoes. Tasty, but they reminded me of the year the Yukon gold mashed potatoes I made for Thanksgiving went wrong and were on the gluey side.

The pumpkin pie was as fine as anything Sara Lee makes.

Since wine by the glass was along the lines of Delicato white zin ($7) and since I was the driver I went with a cup of orange jasmine tea by China Mist Tea Company. The menu made it seem as if it was loose leaf tea. It was bagged in an expandable nylon pouch and decent enough

Both Dead Fish and The Franciscan have odd dishware and cutlery. At Dead Fish the heavy unwieldy knives look like something that would be found at a crime scene. The score of West Side Story always starts up in my mind when I look at that knife.

Here the cutlery had a fish motif. Like Dead Fish, they were difficult to use. The soup spoon was shallow making the soup difficult to eat.

Long rectangular green-tinted glass plates made for a nice presentation, but took up a lot of table space. There was lots of shuffling.

The restaurant is at the foot of the red and white fleet pier. From the three levels of tables and curved red booths there is a a nice view of Alcatraz and the ships on the bay … and tourists sitting on the dock eating clam chowder in sourdough bowls that they bought at the walk away fish stands. Elevate your eyes above the sidewalk covered with seagull ‘snow’ to focus on the bay.

I never knew there was an outdoor deck at the Franciscan.

Big thumbs up for the staff who treated visitors with respect. At some of the FW restaurants the wait staff almost seem to have contempt for tourists.

There is three hour validated parking at the FW lot.

After years of painful dinners with my S/O’s family where the likes of Yank Sing, Zuni, etc, etc were unhappy experiences and bliss was found at Hometown Buffet and Marconi Grill (you will really love this, it is one of those fancy restaurants you like) … The Franciscan seemed a good choice … a little nicer than most chains but still comfortable.

They loved it. Finally I was showing them the real San Francisco.

You have to know your audience.

Franciscan Restaurant
Pier 43 1/2, San Francisco, CA 94133

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