Wednesday, August 29, 2012

franco (3) - st. louis, mo
1535 south 8th street
st. louis, mo 63104

while i have never been thrilled with a meal at franco, my two lunches and one dinner there have all been very solid meals at a reasonable price point. with the majority of our dining money now going to fund our frequent trips to chicago (and the occasional st. louis favorites) i really assumed that with three visits now behind us there would never be a need to dine at franco again. luckily for the restaurant i had at one point signed up for their email list and received an email detailing a special dinner that sounded too good to pass up. the event was a collaboration between franco and st. louis based brewery 4 hands featuring six courses paired with beer for just $65 per person. i was immediately sold on the deal and extended an invitation to my parents and brother to join carrie and i for what would hopefully be a terrific meal.
foie gras mousse, grapefruit marmalade, toasted brioche
prussia berliner weisse

to get things started we were served an amuse of foie gras mousse on crisp brioche with a grapefruit marmalade. the most prominent flavor here was of sweetened grapefruit, however the smack of the liver did shine through in some bites. this offering was a success for me and the prussia berliner weisse proved to be an excellent companion for the dish with its sour notes working well with the marmalade.

notes from the brewery - the name prussia originates from frederick the great. frederick was trained to brew this very delicate style of beer and later became the king of prussia. our interpretation of the berliner weisse style is very traditional. prussia pours a hazy straw hue with a nice clean tart finish. enjoy alone or with flavored syrup.

fried pig head, poached egg, arugula, grain mustard
single speed session

for the meal's first proper course we have fried pig head with a poached egg, arugula, and grain mustard. upon breaking open the quivering egg and having a taste i was met with disappointment as it was quite cold. i next sampled the pig head and luckily it was of proper temperature and was very enjoyable with its perfectly crisp exterior giving way to savory meat within. as for the grain mustard, i was about halfway done with the dish before i tasted it in a single potent bite but then did not detect its flavor again.

notes from the brewery - our american blonde ale is brewed with elderflower, red wheat, and three different varieties of hops. elderflower adds a soft floral element that accentuates the red wheat. single speed pours straw in color with floral undertones.

roasted pork belly, english pea smash, caramelized white chocolate
reprise centennial red

and now for the show stopper...roasted pork belly with english pea smash and white chocolate. when i first read the email regarding this dinner it was this dish that peaked my interest as i was curious as to how the white chocolate would be used. expecting something more subtle, i was surprised when this dish arrived and the white chocolate was very prevalent and every bit as rich and sweet as you would expect if it was served in a dessert. mixed with the rich and fatty pork belly this was a real treat and was elevated even further by the mint in the pea smash which added another layer of nuance. without question this was the best course of the evening and would not seem out of place at a restaurant much nicer than franco.

notes from the brewery -  the centennial hop is the centerpiece of our american red ale. reprise pushes the limits of a single hop with an amazing bouquet and stunning bitterness all the way through. the citrus character provides an experience you will want to repeat. reprise is crimson in color with aromas of citrus fruit and biscuit malt.

duck two ways: confit of leg, ipa-blood orange sauce, seared breast a l'orange, tokyo turnips, crispy skin
divided sky rye ipa

while not in the same ballpark as the pork belly, the duck a l'orange with confit leg and tokyo turnips was for the most part a solid dish as both duck components were well prepared and flavorful. my only issue was with the sauce, which was huge in portion and very sweet on the tongue, masking the duck's natural taste considerably instead of just complimenting it. i will say, however, that the divided sky rye ipa paired with this course worked well to cut the sweetness of the orange sauce.

notes from the brewery - this beer brings together tow of our favorite ingredients; hops and rye - serious hops up front provide a pungent, floral, and citrus character. we use centennial, columbus, and cascades in this hop lovers dream. the rye provides a slightly spicy flavor and a full mouth-feel. divided sky pours straw in color with notes of tangerine, grapefruit, and pine. drink fresh!

leg of lamb, blackberry-cuvee ange demi, confit fingerling potatoes, baby carrots
cuvee ange

next up was the most anticipated beer of the evening, the yet to be released cuvee ange. described as a dark saison, this brew has been aged in french wine bottles with raspberries and blackberries. this beer did not dissapoint, with huge berry notes on the nose and a taste that almost perfectly mirrored the scent. the lamb offering this beer was served with unfortunately fell short as my piece was tough and rather dry. the potatoes and carrots were both fine but did not make up for the sub-par lamb. i did enjoy the demi the meat was plated with, but that is little surprise as it was made with the excellent cuvee ange.

notes from the brewery - cuvee ange was inspired by the french oak wine barrels we used for this project that once housed all french wine varietals. fermented with wild yeast and aged in a combination of cabernet, merlot, and grenache barrels with raspberries and blackberries, cuvee ange is a fruity, tart, complex ale. cuvee ange pours a bright rose with aromas of fruit, funk, and wood.

malted brown sugar ice cream, hazelnut-candied bacon, dark chocolate truffle
cast iron oatmeal brown

for the majority of our table, the meals final course, a dessert made with malted brown sugar ice cream, hazelnut-candied bacon, and dark chocolate truffle, was a disaster. for starters, the ice cream arrived at the table almost completely melted. next was the bacon, something i actually enjoyed but the rest of the family did not. although presenting the bacon as a whole strip leads to a more dramatic dish visually, it was a sticky mess and was next to impossible to eat without using your hands. flavor wise it was actually quite tasty in my opinion, and i even ate some of carrie's. next up was the truffle which was deemed too bitter by my brother but i thought it worked quite well with the ice cream and perfectly mirrored the flavors of the oatmeal brown ale. overall, i liked the flavors of the dessert, but i think if the ice cream had arrived solid and the bacon had been more subtle (smaller portion and broken into bits perhaps)  it would have worked better for the rest of the family.

notes from the brewery - his is one monster of a brown ale! we use an obnoxious amount of chocolate malt and roasted barley to give this beer a cask iron backbone. our oatmeal brown pours a dark mahogany with aromas of dark chocolate and coffee.

given my dish descriptions above, it is obvious that my feelings regarding this meal are certainly mixed. most of the issues i had with the food were not in conception, but rather execution, with ice cold eggs, over cooked lamb, and melted ice cream being the most severe offenses. had this been a normal meal rather than an event dinner, there would be no excuse for these problems, and it is likely that some of the plates would have been sent back. i am pretty confident in saying that the root of the problem is that the kitchen at franco is simply not used to simultaneously serving the same dish to roughly 35 diners. problems aside, each dish had at least one solid component and the pork belly course was a true flash of greatness. while i would not consider the dinner to be a success overall, i do not regret going as the price point was very reasonable and it was fun to get to try all of the different beers. i will definitely be on the lookout for the cuvee ange in the future!

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