The food at Frances changes daily. It reflects what chef Melissa Perello gathers from local markets, farms, and purveyors with whom she's developed personal relationships. Because of this ever-changing nature, the menu here is truly simple—it's broken into only four categories: appetizers, entrees, sides, and bouchées (small, tapas-style plates). In the past, the entree section has listed everything from Monterey black cod to chicken roulade with brown-butter vinaigrette.
Frances' beverage director, Paul Einbund, blends all of the restaurant's house wines at a nearby winery before bringing them over in kegs and serving them on tap. The staff then delivers them to tables in elegant 16- or 20-ounce carafes, which are marked in 2-ounce increments so diners only pay for what they drink. A word of warning: don't get too attached to any one house wine, as Paul's blends change frequently to complement the menu and season.
Tucked away in a residential slice of Castro, Frances squeezes every bit it can out of the space it occupies. Less than 50 seats are available, and most are on a bench that runs along the outer wall. There's also a 10-seat countertop in the bar section that’s available on a first-come, first-served basis. To separate these two areas, a partition, which doubles as a functioning wine rack, divides the restaurant down the middle. Such limited space means that the largest party Frances can typically accommodate is four.
Bigger isn't always better. Just ask Ashwani Dhwan, the Sliderbar owner who prides himself on creating all-natural beef burgers that, while small, pack a serious punch. But beef isn't the only meat on the menu at this gastropub; other sliders call for housemade pulled pork, chicken and garlic patties, and balsamic-marinated portobello mushrooms. Joining this delicious lineup of snacks are barrel-poured craft beers and specialty cocktails.
Your senses seem stronger inside Samovar Tea Lounge. Warm sunlight streams through tall windows and hushed conversation mingles with the sound of tea flowing from nubbly iron kettles, their contents perfuming the air with hints of herbs, smoke, toasted rice, flowers, and revolutions in Boston. This is owner Jesse Jacobs' vision, what he describes on his website as "an escape from the overflow of information" into an intimate space for human interaction, carved out by the global ritual of sharing tea.
This global emphasis inspires an artisanal menu of small plates and sandwiches that could conceivably be served during tea services in India and Morocco, or, in a playful turn by the chef, the Paleolithic era. It is the tea, however, that enables guests to get acquainted with international terroir without sneaking small shrubs through customs. Small, family farms in countries including Kenya, Paraguay, and Nepal, many of them organic, send their whole-leaf brews to fill Samovar's carefully curated collection. Each of its three locations serves the entire menu, which is comprehensive enough to classify oolong and pu-erh separately and boast vintage blends dating back to 1989.