Thanksgiving for one at Franck's – Salt Lake City, UT
Hello to both of my loyal readers. It has been a bit of time!
I am afraid to report I have been a bad chef lately, and since there's not much dining out going on these days, I have little to contribute to this blog lately. When you teach until 7:30 and don't get home until 8, your will to cook, let alone cook anything worthy of a special post, is pretty low. And with the COVID-19 outbreak spiraling out of control all over the country, it was looking more and more like I wouldn't have much to report for a while. I even let my premium subscription on Wix lapse because I just wasn't posting.
Well, the semester has ended, and I find myself with two months off before we reconvene for spring semester classes. So, despite the warnings (I know, I know)* I decided to take a little trip for one (read: socially distanced), so that I could relax and study scores for the spring.
Utah has been particularly afflicted by the pandemic, but I couldn't leave it off my list for several reasons, not the least of which was the chance to see (from a vast distance and outside) my beloved Grammie Shirlee, now in her 90s, for Thanksgiving. I was surprised with a contemporaneous visit from my Utah relatives––uncle and aunt Keven and Kathy and their daughter (my cousin) Carly, and uncle Dave and aunt Ellen, accompanied by their daughter Emily and her husband, who I'd not yet met, and the most special guest of all: their little baby Hayden! What a peanut!
Of course, we all stayed about ten feet from our very fragile and precious Grammie (and each other) and bundled her up nice and tight so she could sit outside with us, secured our masks, and chatted for a brief time before heading our separate ways for Thanksgiving dinner.
Few places in Salt Lake were offering Thanksgiving dinner, let alone places with outdoor dining (brr!) but one in particular caught my eye––a place that had been an instrumental part of my evolution to foodie-dom while in high school and college. Tucked into some trees behind the stately estate that houses the immensely mediocre Italian restaurant Tuscany is a little brick cottage that is home to Franck's, a wonderful French fine dining eatery that was one of my favorite spots to visit when I lived in SLC. Franck's used to be helmed by its namesake, Chef Franck (his surname eludes me), who hailed from France and brought his French chops to progressive but comforting French cuisine in his intimate dining room. Franck has since departed (and, mysteriously, there's no mention of him on their website anymore...) but Chef Robert Perkins has seamlessly taken over, and I found his food to be just as inventive and meticulous as Franck' (in fact, looking at the timeline, I believe Chef Robert may have been at least in the kitchen alongside Franck while I was still dining here semi-regularly).
Now, I was not keen to dine indoors, particularly when Utah was doing so poorly with the virus. However, it was REALLY cold outside. Like, REALLY cold––fresh snow equals chill and humidity. So, I asked if I could inspect what they had inside, and they happened to have a corner table that was quite far from any other diners––at least 20 feet. Figuring that indoor dining is dangerous mostly because of the people smacking their lips and talking at your table, and seeing as I was one person, I said "ok fine," cracked the window behind me for air flow, and took my seat (and my chances––but the ensuing test was negative. Still undefeated!).
Franck's was offering a Thanksgiving dinner four-course prix fixe menu this evening, so all was set.
I brought a bottle from my Dominio IV wine club shipment that I figured would complement much of the menu––a tempranillo, one of their staples from their Columbia Gorge Three Sleeps Estate, called "The Tango." As can be expected, it was loaded with cherry and red fruit, with a fairly robust oak profile (they are a bit more liberal with the type of oak they use on their heavier reds, and include things like Hungarian and Minnesotan oak, which impart significantly more heft and toast than the softer, more common French oak). Still, it had the same gliding elegance that I so value in Patrick's wines, and as expected paired perfectly with two of the three savory courses.
To start, I was brought a slice of wagyu beef tenderloin tataki (a Japanese preparation usually used in tuna where the outside of the meat is quickly seared and then sliced, so the inside is still raw) with a pho vinaigrette, pho herbs, spicy and grain mustard, confit of green onions, and edamame. The pho dressing had the essence of cinnamon that I love in pho, and the flavors melded beautifully with the (rather large) medallion of beef. Add to that a perfect pairing with the unique oak profile in the wine, and you have a real winning course!
The next course looked so interesting on the page; interesting enough, in fact, that I wasn't sure how I was going to like it! I was reminded of some of Franck's more out-there creations I'd enjoyed in the past, such as his seared scallops in a white chocolate and wasabi sauce. Here a piece of grouper was glazed with citrus and miso and a "honey baked ham" risotto beneath, which included mouthwatering pieces of honey-brined pancetta and an orange vinegar. Atop the grouper was brown butter-caramelized onions and fried sage, and an "foam" of Sichuan peppercorns. The grouper was beautifully cooked, and the risotto delicious. I especially liked the caramelized onions (who doesn't?). The misses weren't necessarily negatives but rather just things that I couldn't really taste. I didn't get much flavor out of the glaze, and the Sichuan peppercorn foam really didn't taste like much of anything, and there was too little of it to get a sense of it. Added a pretty visual element, however!
The only thing I wasn't too excited about on this menu was that turkey was the only option for the final savory course. I find turkey to be an exceptionally lame protein, and don't think I have ever had a serving of turkey I can say I really enjoyed.
Until this one.
A young turkey steak was brined in apple cider for 96 hours. Atop were spiced brioche breadcrumbs cooked in wagyu fat (yummm), globe grapes, green bean tendrils, and spaghetti squash. Alongside were Robuchon-style potatoes (drool) and maitake mushrooms. The turkey was exceptional––it was moist, tender, and succulent, and had a magnificent skin that I saved for my last bite. The dish was composed well but with a few too many elements––the spaghetti squash didn't add much and didn't have much flavor, and the maitake was a bit of a mismatch and felt a shade undercooked. Still, I have never had a piece of turkey that was so good. Bravo, chef! Of course, the tempranillo was fabulous with this as well.
What is Thanksgiving dinner without dessert? This dessert spread was absolutely wonderful, and the star was a magnificent pumpkin cake with little dollops of vanilla bean buttercream frosting atop and surrounding. Next door to the cake was a round of white chocolate panna cotta and a few mounds of hazelnut ganache. Garnishing the plate were a confit of green apple, crushed hazelnuts, and sorrel leaves (for some reason…?). Added a glass of tokaji from Hungary, one of my favorite types of dessert wines, which contributed nicely to the pumpkin cake in particular.
I’m really glad that Franck’s has still “got it.” I enjoyed each course, and found the flavors inventive, just as I remember, and perfectly executed. Of course, my indoor dining will continue to be quite limited, but I did enjoy the opportunity to have a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, even if just by myself this year. In fact, it may be one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve had!
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* I want to assure everyone that I came to the decision to travel after a significant amount of deliberation and research. Traveling alone, as opposed to in a group, is obviously less risky, and the vast majority of the activities I’ve chosen involve few, if any, other people. I am not seeing friends, not dining indoors (with literally just this exception), and have made smart choices about flying (Delta or first class on other airlines exclusively––Delta is the only U.S. airline still blocking middle seats in coach and every other seat in first class, and all the first class seats I’ve booked on other airlines are “solo” seats, or the only seat on that side of the aisle). Moreover, studies have found that flying, assuming all onboard wear masks and given the HEPA air filters that replace almost all the cabin air every two or three minutes, is actually a safer activity than visiting an indoor store, particularly if you’re not right on top of someone in coach. It’s the airports you have to worry about, and I am making sure to stay clear of busy spots in airports. Additionally, I’m getting tested at least once weekly throughout my voyage. So, I suppose my point is, I am not being reckless––there ARE safe ways to do things you love and keep your morale up during the pandemic. You just need to be exceptionally careful and know your shit!
Be safe everyone!