Francesco's gets a refresh that will make diners come back for more 2
Pizza fresh from the oven. Jeeves de Veyra
Food & Drink

Francesco's gets a refresh that will make diners come back for more

Going back to Francesco’s is like seeing an old friend who just got younger with the times.
Jeeves De Veyra | May 31 2024

Going back to Francesco’s is like seeing an old friend who just got younger with the times.

Francesco’s used to be that restaurant which was aspirational. It’s where you brought a date to impress with the restaurant’s fine Italian food and ambience. However, the reputation, dim interiors, and extensive menu could also be intimidating. It was that sort of place where one would visit once a year at most.

It was time for reinvention. Moreso because chef Francesco Rizzo, the kindly Italian chef who the restaurant was named after, had to return home because of the pandemic. The restaurant group then turned to chef Kalel Chan, who was already their consultant for sister brunch café Café Mabini. It was a logical next step as Chan was already in charge of the shared kitchen.

Owner Kelvin Yu, and chef consultants Chan and Francis Lacson transformed Francesco’s into a family restaurant where one can comfortably visit once a week.

Owner Kelvin Yu and chef consultants Kalel Chan and Francis Lacson. Jeeves de Veyra
Owner Kelvin Yu and chef consultants Kalel Chan and Francis Lacson. Jeeves de Veyra

The first thing that I noticed when I came in was how much light there was in the restaurant. Back then, the interiors were dim even during mid-day. The wall on the driveway had been torn down and replaced with large windows. There’s even a sense of irreverence where famous Italian paintings are snuck into the murals at the back wall.

Looking at the menu, the two chefs have drastically lessened the choices but have made the menu friendlier with pictures. They've made the portions more balanced and the prices more at par with other casual Italian restaurants. There are some classics that have made it in but there are also new and unusual dishes credited to Lacson.

Polipa. Jeeves de Veyra
Polipa. Jeeves de Veyra

An example of this is the Polipa, grilled octopus on cauliflower puree that Chan singled out as being too big in the past, particularly for a party of two on a date. The portion is by no means small, but not as "supermassive" as it used to be.

One section in the menu that has undergone significant pruning is the pasta section. Back then, they served both dry and fresh pasta. But since they had their own pasta machine in the kitchen, having two types was an unnecessary complication. The machine even has brass dies that give the noodles that rough porous surface that pasta connoisseurs look for. This gives them flexibility to make pasta in all shapes from tubes to noodles, to flat sheets. They even hint that they may be selling these to take home since they can produce so much of it.

Franceco's pasta machine allows it to offer fresh pasta.
Franceco's pasta machine allows it to offer fresh pasta.

They have not lost their touch for indulgent sauces such as the ones found in the Duck Ragout Pappardelle and the creamy Rigatoni Tartufa.

One unique dish is the White Lasagna which Lacson described as a bolognese without the tomato. It’s not exactly cream-based but it is tasty and quite filling.

Duck Ragout Papardelle and Rigatoni Tartufa. Jeeve de Veyra
Duck Ragout Papardelle and Rigatoni Tartufa. Jeeve de Veyra
White Lasagna. Jeeves de Veyra
White Lasagna. Jeeves de Veyra

The pizza is also very different from what I remembered. In the past, it was more of a thin crust cracker-y crunchy pizza. Chan changed the dough to take advantage of the woodfire pizza oven’s high temperature to get a crust that’s a little thicker and chewier that is somewhat like Neapolitan pizza, but not exactly. Lacson took care of selecting the toppings like the Peach & Prosciutto and the fully loaded Francesco’s pizza.

Peach & Prosciutto Pizza. Jeeve de Veyra
Peach & Prosciutto Pizza. Jeeve de Veyra

The chefs also found recipes to bake in the woodfire oven. For seafood lovers, the Steamy Vongole Al Forno is a must try. These are clams in white wine cooked in a clay dish under a pizza dough. The briny aroma just comes out when the dough is ripped out. Pretty clever as other variations of this dish have bread to have with clams, but in this case it’s pizza dough like pita that can be used to sop off the sauce underneath.

Steamy Vongole Al Forno. Jeeves de Veyra
Steamy Vongole Al Forno. Jeeves de Veyra

Perhaps the best dish to represent Francesco’s transformation is the Braised Short Rib on Truffle Risotto. This used to have beef cheek instead of short rib which was much more expensive and less familiar to diners. The short rib braised in wine is excellent with the meat so tender that it just falls off the bone. The truffle risotto was always there and since it worked, they retained it as part of the dish.

Braised Short Rib on Truffle Risotto. Jeeves de Veyra
Braised Short Rib on Truffle Risotto. Jeeves de Veyra

For dessert, they’ve got blueberry panna cotta and the tiramisu which is fluffier and more coffee-forward from what I remembered.  Perfect with a strong cappuccino to wake up to after lunch or a boozy limoncello to wrap up the day.

End your meal with a Blueberry Panna Cotta and Tiramisu plus limoncello or cappuccino. Jeeves de Veyra
End your meal with a Blueberry Panna Cotta and Tiramisu plus limoncello or cappuccino. Jeeves de Veyra

They have transformed Francesco’s from a once-a-year restaurant into a family friendly once-a-week restaurant. And yep, that’ll keep people coming back for more.

Francesco’s is located at 863 A. Mabini St., in San Juan and is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.