Francis’ Asian Bistro4796 Caughlin Parkway, Suite 101
Reno, NV 89519
It’s rare that I walk into a restaurant and gasp a little in surprise. I’m usually greeted by what I expect, accompanied sometimes by moderate interest and other times mild disappointment. The sensation Charlie Bucket must have felt upon stepping into Willy Wonka’s candied Eden is one that generally eludes me.
Francis’ Asian Bistro, based solely appearances, is lackluster. It’s set in a strip mall that houses pet stores and tanning salons. The bland lettering, nondescript building and inconspicuous door don’t promise any thrills inside. However, if you pass this place by because of its uninspired exterior, you might be passing up one of the most inspired new restaurants in Reno.
When I stepped through Francis’ tinted glass door, I whispered, “Wow,” then refrained from speaking to my friend Bob for at least a minute as I took it all in. First, there was the oyster bar and the sweeping, curving, wooden counter of sushi-bar dining. Beyond the bar were tables set with elegant flatware and wine glasses and, beyond those, that breathtaking panoramic view of Reno seen from the heights of South McCarran.
Eating at the off-hour of 2 p.m., we found Francis’ relatively empty. Our server led us to a table overlooking the city. He was professional and friendly but not the least bit sycophantic, as waiters sometimes are in middle-to-upscale establishments.
Sushi and noodles are two of my favorite Asian food options, so I thought I’d try what I know. I ordered chicken pan-fried noodles ($8.95), and Bob and I shared a Godzilla sushi roll ($7.95)—tempura fried hamachi (yellow tail) with green onions and a spicy sauce. As an appetizer, I got the garlic cucumber salad ($4.95). Most cucumber salads I’ve tasted have a sweet vinegar dressing. I like that particular sauce, but it doesn’t hold up against Francis’ cuke concoction of garlic, ginger, Chinese parsley and chili marinade. The quartered cucumbers were marinated just long enough to have a hint of being pickled. This combination of delicate and vigorous would be perfect paired with steamed rice for a light lunch or used as a cooling introduction to a hot and spicy main course.
The miso soup that came with Bob’s chicken shogayaki ($13.95 for sliced chicken breast in a delicious ginger sauce) is worth a paragraph of praise itself. The flavor was buxom and centering, unlike every other fairly bland and watery bowl of miso soup I’ve had before. As soon as Bob tasted it, he said, “This is instantly my favorite restaurant.” I totally agreed. Everything following the soup was just extra frosting on an already textbook cake.
The presentation of the food was gorgeous. Rectangular tableware gave all the dishes a clean look that enhanced the artful arrangement of the food; the sushi was particularly striking. The crisp, darkened edges of my pan-fried noodles extended to the plate’s boundary. The pile of chicken in the middle was not just slopped over the noodles but carefully mounded over the center. Impressive appearances were just the precursor to impressive taste. A combination of textures and sweet, salty flavors made the noodles hard to resist even after I was stuffed. Portions are quite generous.
I haven’t gone out of my way to tell friends and family about a great new restaurant in a long time. Francis’ is inspiring in so many ways.