I parked my car on Carlisle and looked at the dashboard clock. It said 8:55pm. My destination would only be open for another hour and five minutes so I hurried to the turquoise eatery, hoping they would still serve me despite the late hour. I looked for obvious signage to make sure I was outside the right place and found none until I caught small, faint white lettering spelling out “Frenchish” marching across the bottom of the windows. I walked in. The interior of Jennifer James’ new Nob Hill restaurant was large and open with a sort of natural-industrial theme: concrete was topped with live daisies, recessed lighting drifted over an artistic bundle of twigs next to a shiny metal wine cooler. I was greeted by a waitress in a flannel button-up and sat at the bar.After a quick glance at the menu, I went for foie gras ($20), whipped Roquefort ($7), a carrot dog ($8) and a glass of pinot noir ($11). As I waited for my food, I was given a glass of water and … popcorn? Random, surely, but it was perfectly cooked and had just the right amount of salt. Plus, it went just fine with the pinot—a 2014 Laforêt Bourgogne from Joseph Drouhin—which was light and dry with berry notes. In no time at all, my three comestibles arrived on an array of mismatched dishware. The foie gras was seared and sat atop two pieces of moist, dense, grilled bread pudding, and the whole affair was drizzled in golden bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. Upon my first bite, I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back in my head—it was that good. Like French toast for grown-ups, the savory animal flavor of the foie gras melded with the rich, sweet, bourbon-y maple syrup to a heavenly effect. Mix in the complex flavors of the wine and you’ve got a recipe for a serious food-gasm.Wrenching my fork away from the foie gras, I dove into the whipped Roquefort, served with half a caramelized pear, oat wafers and garnished with a honey-like sauce around the edge of the plate. And yes, yes, I know, in French cuisine cheese is supposed to be the dessert but this is America, so when in Rome … you get what I mean. Anyway, the volume of cheese was about equal to that of the pear—so a heck of a lot of really strong blue cheese paired with a fruit known for it’s delicate flavor. Hmm … I smeared a crumbly, herb-specked cracker with cheese, topped it with a chunk of pear and took a bite. Roquefort. I tried again with way less cheese and way more fruit. Roquefort. Balance is everything, and while Roquefort is certainly a tasty note, this dish was a one-note song.Next up was the carrot dog, which I ordered for the pure whimsy of the thing. The bun was buttery and fluffy, the carrot was perfectly cooked, the slaw was creamy, but in the end it was still just a carrot in a bun and eminently forgettable. I finished my meal with a glass of mousse au citron ($6). With the first bite, it hopped up to share the winner’s podium with the foie gras. The lemon mousse was garnished with “lime caviar” and a slice of blood orange. The “caviar,” actually the pulp from an Australian finger lime, floods your mouth with zesty brightness when it pops between your teeth. So, a spoonful with all parts involved was like dropping into a fluffy, sweet lemon cloud and getting hit with tiny little crackles of sour lime lightning before being swept up in a lush, juicy blood orange rain. It was awesome.On my next visit, I arrived at a much busier but more sensible hour. My companions and I ordered a variety of items including a N.Y. strip steak ($32), bouillabaisse stew ($32), duck with wild rice ($29), four-cheese macaroni gratin ($6), grilled carrots ($4), and a three-course prix-fixe meal ($25) featuring a small fillet of beef, fries, a simple salad and a chocolate pot de crème. The food took much longer to arrive on this busy night—about 35 minutes.Bad news first: The bouillabaisse—a shallow puddle of brown broth with mussels, potatoes, tomatoes, celery and a hunk of black cod sitting in the middle—was served with a “grilled crouton,” aka crunchy toast. As soon as it was set in front of me, my head was enveloped in a steamy, noxious cloud of fish—not the crisp, brine-y ocean smell of fresh seafood, but the stink of a dirty aquarium. I paused, visions of rotting shellfish dancing in my head, then squared my shoulders and took the plunge. The broth was thin but fine. The fish tasted normal. It had to be coming from the mussels. I struggled through a few more bites before I pushed the dish away. I just couldn’t handle any more. The pungent smell was making me feel ill. It took a few tries, but finally I got a waiter’s attention to remove the offensive dish from my nose’s realm of sense.Now the good news: The macaroni was delicious, creamy, cheesy and just gussied up enough that I felt justified in ordering it at a restaurant. The petit filet and the N.Y. strip steak were tender and cooked to perfection. Their sides, French fries with a luscious garlic aioli and grilled radicchio with a Roquefort butter, respectively, were flavorful, and the radicchio in particular was an interesting accompaniment.The duck was supple and pink and brought to a high note by a bright, sweet red fruit topping. It was served with wild rice, which unfortunately just tasted like rice. It would have been pleasant to have a few more flavors to elevate the grains or the addition of a vegetable to do the same.Finally, for dessert, I ordered a sherry ($7) and breading pudding with caramel sauce ($4). My companions ordered the special baked Alaska ($10). The sherry was of a sweet, honeyed, nectar-like breed. It was lovely and paired well with the rich bread pudding. The chocolate pot de crème that came with the prix-fixe meal was tiny, thick and definitely chocolate-y. However, the baked Alaska stole the show. While certainly a bit odd looking—being covered in toasted meringue nipples—it tasted divine. The pool of chocolate sauce, the melty mocha ice cream and the marshmallow-like meringue combined for a lesson in all things creamy, decadent and sensuous.So while Frenchish certainly has some balance and flavor (and smell!) issues to work on, they also definitely have some dishes to be very, very proud of. As with all things in life, it’s a work in progress.
Frenchish3509 Central NE(505) 433-5911frenchish.co/Hours: Tue-Sat 5-10pmVibe: Natural vs. IndustrialAlibi Recommends: Seared foie gras, baked Alaska, mousse au citron