LEST ANYONE DOUBT that restaurants are among a city’s most vivid characters, let them try to argue that Metropolitan Grill isn’t an aging football hero with a desk job in finance, or Tilth a winsome fine-arts major with a collection of vintage garden trowels and a Pomeranian in her purse.
Seen this way, the brand new Frank’s Oyster House and Champagne Parlor is a sexy ’40s starlet with an endearing quirky streak. There she is now, a gorgeous blonde Carole Lombard with an unexpectedly wicked wit, gliding into Frank’s bar on the arm of some swain and alighting at one of the white tufted-leather bar stools or velvet settees. He would order her a flute of Nicolas Feuillatte rosé, perhaps, or a Spanish cava or extra-dry Italian prosecco—this is a Champagne parlor—and there she’d tipple all evening, between elegant slurps of Kumamoto oyster with gin and Lillet mignonette, her offbeat ripostes ricocheting nicely off the strange plywood—yes, plywood—walls.
The work of designers Jacob and Lucas Mihoulides, the gentlemen responsible for the interiors at Tavolàta and How to Cook a Wolf, the walls were meant to convey the warmth and pedigree of wood paneling, except with the cachet that these days can only come from reclaimed materials.
From the swiller’s-eye view, the walls lend the right oddball levity to a lounge that might have otherwise seemed too swish to be in a neighborhood—in this case, Ravenna. Up the street a block or two is Pair, the other enterprise of Frank’s impresarios Felix and Sarah Penn. Pair also trades on its looks, spinning a country French fantasy out of rustic farmhouse decor, but it’s awfully earnest. Frank’s, by contrast, with its throwbacky menu of underpriced nostalgia food, winks broadly at every turn.
All around us were fresh-out-of-college professionals seeking swank date venues with comforting food, comfortable prices, and come-hither cocktails.
And so we settled in a private booth, surveying the menu by the light of groovy retro globe sconces and glimmering votives, going back and forth between the deviled eggs overstuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with paprika oil (sinfully creamy) and the mini Maine lobster rolls (starring thick, toasted, butter-drenched breading) and Parker House rolls (Really! Served warm and sweet in parchment paper!) and Dungeness crab Louie lettuce cups. This last turned out to be a fanciful DIY way to wrap the ingredients of the midcentury-era staple in a lettuce leaf; a sort of homage to all-American cookbook queen Fannie Farmer by way of Ho Chi Minh.
“Didn’t grandma used to make a salad dressing like this?” asked Carole Lombard, forking a hunk out of her Bibb lettuce salad with roasted tomatoes and thick chunks of fine bacon lavished with a feisty green goddess. All right, it was my niece. And I’m no swain, but she’s a gorgeous Generation Y blonde with a wicked wit who was becoming more of a ringer for a screwball comedienne the emptier our cocktail glasses became. Hers, the Air Mail, was a flute of sparkling wine, golden rum, lime, and honey. “Now this,” she pronounced sagely, “is a party in my mouth.”
My niece represents one of Frank’s most natural constituencies: fresh-out-of-college professionals seeking swank date venues with comforting food, comfortable prices, and come-hither cocktails. All around us such types sat dredging delicate housemade potato chips through schmears of herb feta dip and crunching exquisite thin-strip onion rings and popping chili-fired peanuts and slurping oysters on the half-shell—three kinds per night served with granitas and mignonettes, just $2 a pop and $1.50 at happy hour. “It’s like these people just rolled out of the Duchess”—the sporty-fratty bar up the street—“once they got real jobs,” my niece observed, glancing down at her empty flute. “So…what does a girl have to do to get another one of these?”