When Fraiche first opened in Culver City a lot of hoopla ensued. Chef Jason Trevi, who had worked in some of the best kitchens in LA (from Wolfgang Puck’s to Gino Angelini’s) was the toast of the town. Approximately a year later he was out of the Fraiche picture for reasons unknown to me. The second location still opened in Santa Monica in the space that was previously occupied by Riva, a space that has actually been occupied by many establishments before, none of them successful, despite the prime Wilshire location in downtown Santa Monica.
As part of the dine.la week, Fraiche was offering a 3 course menu at the heavy discounted price of $34 so a friend and I decided to try. The hostess graciously honored the reservation I had made on Open Table for the wrong day (!) and we were swiftly seated at a table by the window. I am not sure how much sprucing up took place since Riva left but the room, an odd shape that feels smaller than it actually is, is nicely done in earthy tones, I suppose to better highlight the rustic French/Italian menu that is served.
The menu has something that will please everybody, from a seafood bar to a wide selection of very appetizing and creative pastas, with daily specials professionally recited by the heavily accented French waiter. If the 3 course meal is cheap the drinks are not, which is how every self-respecting restaurant will always get you. I ordered an interesting cocktail made with gin, eldelflower liquor, thyme and basil – served in a Martini glass, it was refreshing but, not accustomed to gin, it gave me a headache to remember ($14). The cheapest wine by the glass was $15.
My main course of monkfish was beautifully executed with the three morsels of fish lying on a bed of spinach (thankfully not marred by garlic) and creamy mashed potato and drizzled with beurre blanc. My friend’s shortribs were tender and juicy and laced with a hint of tomato sauce which gave them a comforting “stewy” finish.
Being my picky dessert self and dining with a fellow pastry chef, we poured over the extensive dessert menu for a very long time. I always look for the unexpected knowing full well, from experience, that the unexpected never sells. People like their sugar in familiar guises even if I can’t look at another lava cake for the rest of my life. We settled on a “Torta della Nonna” because we were curious to see if a deconstructed version of the Italian staple would be served. The original is a pate brisee filled with pastry cream and pine nuts and dusted with powder sugar.
What arrived was an individual tart with a cakey base, topped with delicious pastry cream and pine nuts nicely arranged to cover the top. It was served with excellent caramel ice cream and apples roasted with a hint of rosemary – hands down one of the best desserts I have had around town lately.
The service was attentive but not too fussy and it was nice to see the room filling up on a boring Wednesday night. The chef, Saul Garcia, is obviously capable of making the seasonal ingredients shine even if nothing is too adventurous. There was one special we nearly ordered – short ribs ravioli. The server told us they had a slight gamey taste and the filling was made with the addition of bourbon….it just left me wondering. Guess who is boring now?
312 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica 310 450 1429