French cuisine is oddly one of the most difficult cuisines to find in Astoria, especially when it comes to table service. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that until last month, one solitary restaurant served a croque madame. Luckily the opening of Francis Café marks the second bistro in Astoria, presently open for lunch, dinner, as well as petite dejeuner, so I took a chance to swing by.
Francis Café is actually an outpost of Francis Staub — owner of Le Gamin in Williamsburg and Ft. Greene, as well as Staub cookware. So considering his famous association, I decided it would be well worth our time to see what he has cooking.
There is nothing particularly extraordinaire about the menu itself, beyond several classic French dishes, especially during breakfast and lunch — just simple sections with a few offerings under each. Breakfast dishes include a few varieties of omelettes, quiche, even a pain perdu. The success at Francis Café lies in the quality (and quantity) of each dish, as each is superbly executed as if to create a postcard to French cuisine.
Moules Frites are extremely tender. Crepes are exquisitely folded and tucked onto the plate as a culinary gift. Dry-aged steak frites is so juicy it falls apart at a prodding.
On one occasion, I made the mistake of ordering a croque monsieur accompanied by a side dish sampler of haricot verts, au gratin potatoes and a morel risotto. When the first of the plates arrived at the table, I gasped at the portion. But as I began to attempt to tackle even a fraction of each section of my meal, the food drew me in until suddenly there was hardly anything remaining. My will power faded, rendering me helpless.
Be prepared, as the cuisine here is actually that excellent. Desserts arrive and last seconds before they are devoured. There are glistening pear tarts, soufflés and brulees. Coffee is as excellent as it should be in any French restaurant.
The menu transition between lunch and dinner is profound, rendering dinner service an experience entirely unique to lunch. The sandwiches are dropped along with the quiches for rich, savory stews and dishes cooked over a span of time, like bouillabaisse or coq au vin. A pappardelle pasta one afternoon was exceptional, rich with rabbit ragout. It is the sort of restaurant where you want to try everything, and find yourself returning to do precisely that.
When you arrive, take a moment and focus on the menu as though you were going to devour absolutely everything on it. And then simply order one entrée, followed by a dessert and a café au lait. Trust me, you will not regret it. And then return again and again and again, as if each visit were your very first. Everything is truly that good.
35-01 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY 11105
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