At first glance, The Franklin may appear to be another trendy, small-plates-meets-mixology spot. Butcher paper menus? Check. Stylish interior with art lining the walls? Check.
While it may have some of the trappings of a cookie cutter craft cocktail lounge, looks can be deceiving. The Franklin is committed wholly to its role as a bistro-inspired, classic neighborhood spot in a way that is refreshingly simple. While more trendy spots will come and go, The Franklin should remain rock solid.
The majority of the menu consists of small plates meant for sharing with a group over a round (or three) of cocktails. The atmosphere is convivial and cozy without feeling cramped, with the kind of sultry, dim lighting that at certain angles can make diners feel as if they're on the set of a noirish film. Tomato jam crostini is perfectly summery, lightened up by delicate bird's nest-style herb salad arranged atop each piece of jam-slathered crusty bread. The addition of burrata to the mix, however, seems overplayed. (A bite of hard Spanish cheese would add more depth to the dish.) Snails are the basis for one of the most playful, delightful dishes on the menu, presented as an "eclair" with fluffy blue cheese mousse that mimics pastry cream. (Another whimsical, savory play on a sugary classic — steak a la mode — features steak and rich foie gras ice cream.)
The Franklin boasts a robust and thorough wine list, with a knowledgeable bar staff that is patient and attentive enough to sort through the nuances of pairings and flavors with those eager to explore. The cocktail menu is equally thoughtful, with elegant twists on classic drinks and the kind of subtle nuances that allow drinkers to feel as if they've made a new discovery. One standout cocktail is the Kentucky Rifleman, a dark liquor-heavy concoction named for the Kentuckians who fought in the Battle of New Orleans. The drink — which doubles up on whiskey with both bourbon and rye — is woodsy and smoky, and black walnut bitters add an undercurrent of nutty sweetness. (I imagine it also would make a fine hot toddy when cooler weather rolls around.)
The shaved root vegetable salad is colorful and crunchy with a refreshing, zesty lemon yogurt dressing that serves as the perfect palate cleanser between opulent bites. A tempura-fried avocado half comes filled with a mound of lump crab and has the strongest texture profile of any dish on the menu, with the buttery texture of avocado and crabmeat well-balanced by crispy tempura batter. The steak tartare — which arrives plated with nibbles of strawberry and a raw quail egg — is an ambitious, unfortunate miss, with the complex flavors of the meat drowned by overly acidic balsamic and muddled by the strawberry.
Entrees at The Franklin are classically imagined and generally well-executed, with a European-influenced, bistro-style flair that speaks more to the winding alleyways of Paris than the restaurant's Marigny surroundings. The restaurant's French roots (proprietor Jason Baas' years spent managing Uptown bistro Lilette) are most evident in the rustic, straightfoward coq au vin, with chicken so wine-soaked, juicy and tender that even Julia Child would approve. The comfort food element of the dish is played up by the addition of a crunchy onion ring tower, and the rings come in handy as sponges for the dish's leftover jus. The seared pork loin is plated with traditional sidekicks — charred Brussels sprouts and blue cheese — but manages to distinguish itself with the kind of succulent, effortless luxury that makes the dish appropriate for a casual weeknight dinner with friends or a date night tucked away in one of the restaurant's shadowy nooks. Despite the pork loin's best efforts, the Brussels sprouts and blue cheese steal the show, with the creamy, tangy cheese arriving molten, turning each sprout into its own miniature gratin.
The Franklin's commitment to classic bistro fare with well-placed local touches will ensure that it's a favorite of those looking for well-coiffed comfort.