ye ne sais quoi It is a French term It means something attractive that cannot be described in abstract words; It’s deep. In contemporary eating, we may experience this reaction through the food, the experience of eating itself, or both. At Spokane’s Française, we find this French-inspired gloss on display all the time.
The entrance to a restaurant, for example, is not something you would expect. However, in the Française you can open the door and walk through an assortment of live plants in copper pots and white ceramics, some hanging, all flourishing in the light-flooded vestibule.
Functionally, the greenery defines the space and directs the guests towards the welcome station. It also provides a great view while dining, framing the entrance and exit of other guests. The plants, though, feel well from the deep end…these are vibrant living things that are also welcoming and familiar.
That’s by design, says Adam Heigstedt, the region’s nationally known chef, entrepreneur and culinary industry leader whose Française this spring and opened in June by Eat Good Group.
“We want to make it feel like it’s been here for 100 years,” Hegsted says, noting that the restaurant’s décor intentionally includes “things you might have in your home or might be familiar to you.”
The building that houses the Française is actually 112 years old, the last 10 years of which has been the property of the recently closed Southern-style Casper Fry restaurant, with a distinctive aesthetic including exposed brick walls, dark wood flooring, and 13-foot ceilings.
That appealed to the Eat Good team, says Hegsted, who worked with Eat Good’s chef and operations officer, Aaron Fish, as well as general manager Francis Nicole Bronquema to highlight the venue’s appearance. They kept the rustic Casper Fry tables with industrial metal bases and the spartan bar in the back of the restaurant, but they incorporated a soothing blue and gray color scheme, eclectic artwork, and soft touches like the linen curtains.
Française commissioned a mural of the Eiffel Tower by northern Idaho-based artist Alexandra Usopp for the brick wall of the long and narrow space. The opposite wall is covered with Art Nouveau wallpaper in light blue and cream. Over them hung the beginnings of a “gallery” of mirrors with gold frames of various sizes and French art prints.
“Basically, I buy a bunch of stuff, and then everyone will say, ‘It looks like this is going to be really ugly,'” says Hegsted, who thought about graphic design in high school before committing to the culinary industry.
Although Hegsted laughed as he described this process, it works. Plants, drapes, faux furnishings and other decor combine to create a distinctive ambiance that is familiar but unexpected within the Française.
hegsted often takes a similar approach For menu planning, with its contemporary or culturally inspired style of familiar comfort food.
The dishes on the Française menu, which lists both French and English titles, feature classic French dishes such as Bat de Campagne or Country Pate ($8) served with traditional grained mustard, Cornish pickles, and walnuts, and Confit de canard a l’orange Or the slow-cooked duck with orange sauce ($22).
For a cozy fare, go for the gnocchi with truffle cheese sauce and sautéed mushrooms ($14). Or for a lighter meal, order the Lyonnaise Salad ($11) with fries, escarole, crispy pork belly and hard-boiled eggs, or a charcuterie ($22) with a cocktail like Boulevard ($13).
For dessert, try the beignets ($8) or the luxurious strawberry and rhubarb custard ($8) called Cream bowl au fraises.
The Française menu also reflects Eat Good’s penchant for meat, potato and egg dishes served in various variations. (Fun fact: The company’s initials spell the word egg.) That means a burger ($17) topped with sticky Swiss cheese called racletteplus scrambled eggs ($11) with hard-headed caviar and fresh cream.
“There are certain things we’ve tried that we know are helpful,” Hegsted says, and he and Fish have written about 50 recipes for Francis. “A lot of things we don’t know.”
The vegan and gluten-free Walnut Pie ($11) may not be a bestseller, Hegsted says, despite it tastes like a traditional liver dish. So they might say See you soon to pâté or any of the roughly 30 other dishes on the menu, which continue to evolve, Hegsted says.
FRansize is still in its inaugural phase, having first appeared to the public in mid-June. Soon, guests can look up Chef Kayleigh Wytcherley (formerly Bark, A Rescue Pub, Craft & Gather) to put her stamp on the menu, including adding brunch, brunch, and seasonal items.
For now, though, Wytcherley is focused on making sure “everything goes as smoothly as possible,” she said.
Bronkema is also fine-tuning its yard, which includes in-house operations and a wine list, says the French-speaking general manager who studied winemaking at Walla Walla Community College.
Adds Bronkema, who came out of semi-retirement when she heard that Eat Good was working at a French-inspired place. “So it really becomes a collaboration as you create the space and see it evolve.”
Building a strong team is critical to the Eat Good Group philosophy, adds Fish, who oversees internal operations such as hiring.
“I felt like Kayleigh was the most authentic person in the group of people we met,” Fish says. “She had the skill set, leadership and experience building and maintaining teams.”
Wytcherley says her team has been pumped.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had employees as motivated to work as my own,” she says.
That’s what they’re striving for, Fish says, a culture in which employees enjoy coming to work and want a long-term career from an admittedly challenging industry.
“I think that’s kind of our ethos, and it’s coming from the top,” Fish says. ♦
Française • 928 S. Perry St. • Open daily from 3 to 10 p.m. • francaisespokane.com • 509-315-4153