September 9, 2007

Fraiche [Culver City]

My first encounter with Fraiche on OpenTable revealed a curious fact: tables seemed to be booked out a week in advance. Though it had recently received a favorable review from LA Times critic Irene Virbila, even restaurants that are heralded nation-wide aren't that hard to get a table at.

My impression was that the restaurant was a humble bistro, but I soon learned the reason for its liveliness: Downtown Culver City. As I walked from the parking lot to the restaurant (no valet, free 2-hour parking), I realized that even lesser known restaurants were brimming with people who worked only a stones-throw away.

I started with a pale Beet Salad that was visually off-putting. I enjoyed the beets' muted sweetness played against the mature bitterness of mache and toasted hazelnuts. The bed of house-made ricotta lent a lightness to the dish and formed a backdrop for the other flavors to shine.

The remainder of the menu is universally pleasing, though options err on the side of tried-and-true classics. Entrees and pastas encompass a wide variety of proteins and preparations, ensuring that there is something for every palate. Both AH and I opted for dishes on the heavier side with him choosing the Steak Frites ($22) and me, the Braised Short Rib Pappardelle (~$15).

Of the two entrees, the steak fared better with a succulent cut of flat iron that was perfectly seasoned, marinated, and grilled. It was well executed, though only exactly as you would expect for steak frites. The pappardelle had good texture and the arugula made for an interesting contrast in the ragu. However, it also added an unpleasant aftertaste that tainted the otherwise fine braised short ribs. The waitress warned me that the dish would be salty and while it wasn't that bad, it was somewhat one-dimensional.

For dessert, we followed the crowd and ordered the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta. The citrus granita and fresh raspberries punched up the flavors in the creamy panna cotta providing a crisp contrast in both flavor and presentation. Very good, highly recommended.

Overall, Fraiche is a good value, serving up solid food at reasonable prices, unseen in any restaurant that's located in a downtown. It lives up to its name, serving food with flavors that are simple, delineated and distinct.

9411 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

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