Since Chef Ben Bailly took over the kitchen at the Culver City location of Fraiche last November, it’s become practically mandatory for food writers to weigh-in. While many bloggers have gushed over Bailly’s cooking (and social-media savvy), writers at more established publications have given Bailly encouraging, if more measured, praise. Earlier this month, Brad Johnson of Angeleno magazine awarded Fraiche two stars, writing on his blog, “desserts aside, the restaurant is definitely headed in the right direction again. Bailly has certainly turned things around.” Also this month, Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila doled out 1.5 stars, saying, “the food is getting better” and “the food is good, decent, fine — whatever you want to call it — but not particularly compelling.”
I had meant to get over to Fraiche sooner, but it wasn’t until I came across a Travelzoo deal recently that I finally made a reservation. The deal was a 5-course dinner for two, plus prosecco and coffee, for $89. Considering the below meal would have been $194, it was definitely a deal that I couldn’t pass up. Before I proceed, if you don’t get the reference in the above picture, drop what you are doing and watch this South Park episode now. Ok, now we can continue.
We were each given a simple but enjoyable arugula salad to begin. The sunchokes were a great addition, while the bite of the romano cheese combined with the tomato and pine nuts worked really nicely together. The dressing was light and didn’t overwhelm the fresh ingredients. The bread basket was also above average, but I could have used a slightly crispier crust.
The unmistakable smell of truffle butter announced that the next course had arrived. Each bite into the excellent agnolotti provided an explosion of cheese, butter and mushroom. It was truly a thing of beauty.
The risotto was a solid dish, but I was a little surprised by the decision to feature another dish with arugula and pine nuts. While the risotto was well-executed, it was hard to be excited about it considering the similarities to the salad. I’d skip this one in the future.
The gnochetti sardi was much more interesting. Everything just melded together so nicely, while the chives added a nice touch. I guess I could complain about mushrooms playing a central role in this dish as well as the agnolotti, but I love mushrooms so much that I won’t.
The salmon was nicely cooked, but it was the cauliflower that made really enjoy this dish. The under-appreciated vegetable retained its flavor, and its crunchy texture was a nice contrast to the creamy texture of the rest of the dish. The raisins provided some sweetness, the almonds provided a little more crunch, and this proved to be another solid dish. As Virbila suggests, Bailly is not exactly reinventing anything here, but doing a good job of executing what Fraiche has been aiming for from the beginning, ”rustic French and Italian” cooking “emphasizing market-fresh, seasonal ingredients.”
The use of lamb in this papardelle dish was a nice choice, providing an earthy, rich, and salty addition to the pasta.
At this point, my dining companion and I were quite full and hoping to get our desserts to-go, to enjoy later that evening. The dessert options for the Travelzoo menu were caramel budino and chocolate pot de creme, not exactly portable. The manager graciously offered to substitute the budino and pot de creme with a couple more portable options. The chocolate coulant and cheesecake provided a satisfying, if pretty straight-forward, end to a lovely evening.
The food, service, and decor at Fraiche provided a lovely evening meal. There were no missteps in the kitchen, but the menu creation for Travelzoo caused some confusion and disappointment. Arugula and pine nuts were featured in both the salad and the risotto. The agnolotti and gnochetti sardi featured too similar of flavor profiles. I would also like to see Chef Bailly become more comfortable experimenting with the menu, veering away from straight-forward “rustic Italian & French” cooking.
Besides these criticisms, there are plenty of reasons to go back to Fraiche. In addition to trying more wonderful pastas, I’m looking forward to exploring the bar menu and the much-discussed truffle burger. The Happy Hour menu looks pretty enticing as well. $5 smoked trout rillettes and eggplant caviar? $5 wine and cocktails? I’ll see you there soon.
Fraiche Culver City
9411 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232