Franklin Southie

A popular chef's hangout branches out
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 1, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

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CREATIVITY POINTS: The grilled organic half chicken comes atop potato cubes and a curry-cumin-yogurt-coconut sauce that would be proudly served in any Indian restaurant.

Franklin Southie | 152 Dorchester Avenue, South Boston | 617.269.1003 | franklincafe.com | Open Monday–Friday, 5:30 pm–1:30 am; Saturday and Sunday, 11 am–4 pm and 5:30 pm–1:30 am | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | full bar | no valet parking | street-level access
The original Franklin Café in the South End won friends quickly with a unique combination of minimalist but inventive cuisine, comfort food like turkey meatloaf, an innovative wine-pricing scheme ($15 over wholesale), a terrific selection of draft beers, and the latest hours of any fine-dining possibility in town. One key set of customers are the other South End chefs, who gather after closing time. Next came the Franklin Cape Ann, in Gloucester. And now we have one more: the new, larger Franklin Southie, which opened in December and has kept most of the Franklin formula, adding a full bar and a more bistro-like menu, but holding to the $20-per-plate price line.

We began with a dense-crumb white loaf in slices with a fiery white-bean dip. The current soup on offer is chilled asparagus with a porcini flan ($8). It's a magical potion, rich and cold enough to transmute the sweetness of asparagus into something that evokes chocolate milk. The flan has the granular texture of gefilte fish, though the flavor is more the musky aroma of truffle oil than the woodsy richness of porcini mushrooms. And then there is a fried-onion flag.

Small plates (or appetizers) are still a strongpoint, with the creativity bonus going to warm zucchini matchsticks with toasted almonds and pecorino ($8). Beneath impossibly large sheets of cheese with balsamic dribbles is all this healthful stuff, which, thanks to the toasted- almond flavor and the crunch of the julienned zucchini, tastes like potato sticks!

Hand-made potato gnocchi ($9) has just one twist: spicy lamb sausage that somehow still tastes Italian with the very light gnocchi, crunchy English peas, and a bit of tomato sauce. (If they'd cook the peas a little more, I'd order two of these as an entrée.) "Short Rib & Five Lilly Wontons" ($9) are served in a Chinese bamboo steamer, even though the four wontons are deep-fried. Beef is an unusual stuffing — if it's too weird, just go for the homemade apricot "duck sauce," a genuine if spicier improvement on the standard item. House-cured salmon-and-cucumber tartare ($10) makes visual fun with five beet crêpes. The salmon has a bit of smoke in the cure, I think, but I'm not mad for this dish.

Of three salads, the baby arugula and crimini combo ($8) was superb, with just enough dressing and a scallop of crumb-coated warm goat cheese. The mushrooms were extra superb; you won't mind that the accompanying "shallot jam" is not so different from cranberry sauce.

For entrées, the comfort-food choice is probably prime sirloin steak ($20), an amazing piece of marketing and a bargain— or a loss-leader. It's not huge, but the flavor is all there, with an unexpectedly ripe slice of beefsteak tomato in June. The popover with it on our night was overdone and dried out, and the Worcestershire gravy wasn't right with it. But this is as superior a steak entrée as some at double the price.

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