"It's as much a reflection of the Lower East Side as it is of Spain," said head chef Ryan Bartlow of Francesca, the latest offshoot of the Frankies Spuntino empire. He actually lives just a few minutes away from the new Basque tapas bar, located in the former Frankies 17 space on Clinton Street. Before working for Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo (a.k.a. the Franks) at Frankies 570, Bartlow had spent two years at a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Sebastan, Spain.
"It was when I was hanging out with friends late at night, eating and drinking at pintxo bars, that I picked up on all the flavors." Francesca's menu focuses on pintxos, the snacky bar nibbles of Northern Spain and specifically the Basque country, along with small plates (slightly larger than pintxos) and raciones (more meal-sized). The menu continues to evolve; look for daily chalkboard specials, often inspired by that morning's Greenmarket trip.
"There's no cutsey way of eating the pintxos; it's kind of like a New York slice," said general manager Brian Jacobs of the piled-high egg salad and tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers balancing on the toasts. Thankfully they have napkin dispensers stocked with those thin, waxy, cheap napkins, the same ones you'd find at the pintxos bars all over Spain. "Seriously, just throw them on the ground, we don't care."
All of the dishes are very sharable, and intended to be that way. "You only got one bite and need another, or you see a different pintxos walk by and have to try it," said Jacobs about the freestyle ordering at Francesca's. The menus are always sitting on the table in case you need to place follow-up orders after the first round.
And what would drinking food be without the drinks? Prime Meats's cocktail whiz Damon Boelte developed this sherry-centric bar menu with sherries from the Jerez region of southern Spain available by the glass, in cocktails, and even as a flight of four. They're also pouring Spanish wines like Tempranillo and Txakoli, as well as Basque sidra. And see that porron vessel sitting on the bar counter? They'll even let you drink from it. (See animated gif.)
It's a cozy 60-seat space inside but, if it's nice out, snag a chair in the backyard garden. On our visit both Franks were lounging back there, soaking up the sunshine.