December 09, 2009

Fraiche Santa Monica: A Beacon on Third Street

We've all had to take friends or family over to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade at one point or another in our lives, and the toughest thing to do there is to get a decent bite to eat. The area around Third Street Promenade has some good places like Border Grill, but often times chain restaurants are the law of the land. When Keith Fox and Amir Ohebsion, who along with chef Jason Travi and maitre'd Thierry Perez opened Fraiche in Culver City, it heralded a new era of dining in that area. Fraiche received acclaim from almost all media sources, including a 2 1/2-star review from LAT Critic S. Irene Virbila, as well as a "Best New Restaurant" designation from NYT Restaurant Critic Frank Bruni.

dining room at fraiche

Despite all this chatter about Fraiche in Culver City, I never had the chance to dine there. The team behind the original Fraiche opened Riva at this Third Street, Santa Monica location earlier in 2009 but flipped the concept to the tried-and-true Fraiche name when Travi and Perez parted ways with Fox and Ohebsion. The owners then promoted then sous chef Sydney Charles Hunter III to chef de cuisine. Hunter had previously worked with Chef Ludovic Lefebvre at L'Orangerie and Bastide.

I was invited to dine at Fraiche by owners Fox and Ohebsion while I was traveling in Asia, so I decided to venture here shortly after I returned to LA. I'd always been interested in trying out Fraiche, but never thought it was compelling enough to make the trek all the way to the Westside.

The dining room at the Fraiche Santa Monica went through a minor update, invoking some of the same elements of the Culver City location. The space is airy and bright, with generous sunlight from skylights and large windows. It might be one of my new favorite places to enjoy a long leisurely lunch in LA. My trusty dining companion Renee and I ordered a few cocktails, the Winter Sage and Yo Ho Ho, two seasonal drinks, to start off the meal. The winter sage is perfumed with a fresh sage leaf and comes made with gin and lime, much like a gimlet. The Yo Ho Ho was garnished with a sprig of rosemary. Both were crisp, refreshing, and properly shaken to an icy chill.

winter sage cocktailyo ho ho cocktial

A plate of fresh, warm bread came with fruity olive oil, a nod to the restaurant's Italian cuisine inflections. Generally, the cuisine at Fraiche wavers between Italian and classic French bistro elements. To start we had a burrata and roasted pepper salad, the creamy cheese molded into quenelles and placed over the sweet roasted peppers. I ordered the foie gras terrine, a simple but elegant presentation with a rectangle of tangy orange gelee. Both combined cool but creamy textures with an element of sweetness or tartness to cut through any perceived richness. And at only $12, the foie gras is an affordable was to taste this luxuriously prepared terrine.

foie gras terrine

burrata with peppers

Next Renee had the pork belly frisee salad, large flat pieces of deep-fried pork belly topped with a sweet fruity glaze. Though many claim pork belly's so 2009, I think it was a smart adaptation to a classic dish. I loved the ravioli, stuffed with creamy ricotta and topped smartly with triangles of prosciutto and sauced in sage butter.

pork belly frisee salad

ravioli topped with prosciutto

Since Renee had told me that he'd been wanting to venture into more fish dishes, I recommended the branzino, which came on a bed of crisp haricot verts and heirloom tomato wedges. The succulent fish was expertly seared, the skin still crisp from the pan. Renee was sold on the first bite, as was I.

I ordered the steak frites, decidedly a ho-hum dish on the spectrum of bistro fare, but this version might be one of my favorites at the moment. The flat-iron steak was perfectly medium rare and laced with a sweet-savory bordelaise sauce. The fries were also nicely crisp though at this point in the meal, I was too full to finish them all.

branzino w/ haricot verts and cherry tomatoes

steak frites

We finished the meal with a cranberry-pear crumble, a warm comfort dish topped with horchata ice cream.

cranberry pear crumble w/ horchata ice cream

Fraiche Santa Monica offers classic bistro fare that's very well executed. Not one dish had a glaring fault and almost all of them had some nice element that surprised me. Small things like the elegance of the bordelaise or the properly cooked haircot verts, or even the well-seasoned foie gras terrine showed me that Chef Hunter is maintaining a level of finesse. Despite the limitations of what the Third Street clientele might expect for lunch at a spot like this, I'm confident that he'll take the cuisine to higher heights during dinner. With a varied menu of bistro classics, charcuterie, and fresh shellfish, I think there's still room for some inventive fare on the plates that diners will latch onto. I hope to try them on my next visit.

312 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, California 90401
(310) 451-7482

Note: The staff did not know that I was invited by Fox and Ohebsion until the end of the meal, when they were notified and comped the meal.


Diana said...

I'm a huge Fraiche fan, but was sad to see Riva go. Their pizzas were becoming destination-worthy - especially the potato with rosemary.

Glad you had a nice time!

Lori Lynn said...

I've been meaning to try it. Great review.

Daisy said...

The interior architecture of the place, which emits bright lights, basically makes it a beacon of light- also applicable to the innovative dining experience that's a cut above rest.

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