Owner Tom Schmidt and executive chef Justin Keimon didn't reinvent the wheel when they opened Franco late last year in Soulard's stately old Welsh Baby Carriage Factory. The menu fits squarely into the lightly French-accented modern bistro mold so beloved by the city's better restaurants. Though you might order sweetbreads, foie gras or frogs' legs, even the most conservative palate will find something to love: steak frites
, braised lamb, steamed mussels. Yet Schmidt, Keimon and their staff pull off this tried-and-true formula with élan: The utterly beautiful dining room has a cosmopolitan sparkle, servers understand your surprise and joy to see something like sweetbreads on the menu, and if Schmidt himself doesn't deliver your dinner, he'll probably stop by your table to say hi. In a year when so many new restaurants were either too timid in their offerings or too concerned with the PR push behind their launch, Franco is a bracing reminder of what makes dining out so enjoyable to begin with: It's a celebration of good food, good wine and good company.