“Are you sure we belong here,” my Kim asked as we strolled along Kierland Commons, an upscale Main Street lifestyle center. “Of course, we belong here,” I replied just as a shiny, brand new Bentley parked in the spot we were walking past. We certainly don’t have that kind of money (not even close), but we have a great equalizer. Just by batting his brown eyes, our debonair dachshund The Dude had the couple on the Bentley clamoring to pet and stroke him, all the while uttering oohs and aahs at the softness of his fur and the sweetness of his smile. Whether you own a Bentley or a Hyundai, our Dude will own your heart.
Based on the adulation he received that evening, The Dude could have run for mayor of Kierland Commons and he probably would have won (unless Maricopa Country’s election shenanighans rig it against him). His peeps included the wait staff as well as diners at adjacent tables. Everyone wanted to meet our four-legged fur baby. Whether or not my Kim and I belonged among all the well-heeled, it was obvious The Dude makes himself–and by extension, us–at home wherever he goes.
Now, a little about Kierland Commons. To say it’s solely an open-air shopping and dining destination is to underscore how impressive this enclave in North Scottsdale really is. Specialty retail stores make this a wallet-emptying shopper’s paradise while chef-driven restaurants (such as Mastro’s Ocean Club, The Greene House, North Italia, Zinc Bistro, Tommy Bahama, and The Mission) are a gastronome’s dream. Visiting Zinc Bistro was an opportunity to learn if the realization of one particular dream lived up to my expectations. I’ve had Zinc on my radar for about twenty years and was really just looking for an excuse to finally try it. Christmas dinner 2022 was such an excuse.
Zinc’s website describes the restaurant as a “New York style Parisian bistro” “designed with contemporary sensibilities, yet returns the nostalgic ambiance of an authentic Parisian bistro.” “Round marble bistro tables and wicker chairs spill out onto the sidewalk, offering a kind of people watching one might indulge in along Boulevard Saint-Germain.” Whether your experiences dining in a Paris bistro or sidewalk cafe are vicarious (while watching a movie or being regaled with stories) or you’ve actually experienced that sublime joy, Zinc will take you back to those experiences. It’s probably the closest to Paris you’ll experience in the Southwest.
You probably don’t consider yourself a voyeur, but people watching in Kierland Commons is intriguing and fun. Not only do all the passers-by appear to be blonde, beautiful and age-defying, they dress to the nines. Their motorized conveyances are just as impressive. Not only did we espy that one Bentley, we caught sight of several high-end Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes Benz and Audis. Teslas seemed so pedestrian in comparison. One other sight of note is the presence of the legendary Shake Shack and its custom Angus beef blend, never frozen, no hormones or antibiotics ever, humanely raised and grazed in the USA beef.
The Dude-friendly patio was already almost full by the time we arrived for our reserved table. The hostess escorted us to our table, a process that always takes longer than you might think because The Dude has to meet his many admirers. Patio heaters were well-positioned to keep guests comfortable (you might not think heaters would be necessary in 60-degree evening weather, but when the sun goes down in Scottsdale, it seems cold). No sooner were we seated than our server ferried over a basket of French bread and butter. This is the staff of life at its finest.
More than any dish on the menu, the one we most wanted to have was Zinc’s legendary onion soup gratinee (traditional onion soup with bubbling six month aged AOP Gruyere). Renowned Phoenix chef and Food Network personality Beau MacMillan declared this enchanting elixir the best he’s ever had. Who are we to argue with the acclaimed chef? This classic soup is in rarefied air, one of the very best soups we’ve ever had. Venerable French chef August Escoffier may have said it best when describing the properties of soup that make it a comfort food favorite: “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.” Zinc’s onion soup gratinee accomplished all of that and more.
If you indulge in the art of ingredient and flavor discernment, you’ll have many opportunities with this soup. Shut your eyes and let other senses take over and you’ll discern not only subtle notes, but a fusillade of flavors competing for your rapt attention. There is, of course, so much Gruyere that it oozes and coats the bowl. Aged for six months, the Gruyere has a wonderful earthiness and complexity. Plunge your spoon into the pottage, bring it up to your eagerly awaiting nostrils then (and only then) take a slow, hearty sip. Sherry, red wine and even Worcestershire greet you along with a rich veal and chicken stock. Tangles of glistening, sweet onions, a soggy (in the best way) baguette slice and cheese swim in a broth that may elicit an involuntary swoon with each bite. Truly this is nirvana!
Though other appetizers–such as the roasted bone marrow (miso mushroom, sherried maple bacon, chive)–proved a powerful lure, my Chicago born-and-bred bride can’t resist pâté or foie gras. Yeah, she’s well aware that in 2006, The Windy City enacted a ban on foie gras, a ban predicated on the perceived inhumanity of the French delicacy of fattened duck or goose liver. You can’t always choose what you like (maybe that explains why she puts up with me). Zinc’s Pâté Maison (braided duck, pork, bacon, cornichon, frisée, gribiche) is spectacular (though we preferred it on French bread over the accompanying pumpernickel). Traditionally made with liver, and mixed with wine and spices until it’s cooked down into a spreadable texture, pâté is an overarching term for this slow-cooked, chilled chunk of meat. Zinc’s pâté was pleasantly coarse and rustic, wholly unlike some fine and smooth textured pâtés we’ve had.
While the pâté was spectacular, it’s never beyond me to fall in love with something intended more as a side to the named dish. In this case, it was the gribiche that really grabbed me. Sauce gribiche is a cold egg sauce in French cuisine. It’s made by emulsifying hard-boiled egg yolks, mustard and vinegar with olive oil. It starts off with notes similar to a sweet mustard, but progresses into tendencies reminiscent of hot mustard, albeit somewhat tempered. Zinc’s rendition should be bottled and sold. The cornichons were predictably superb: dwarfish, tart gherkins. You can never have enough cornichons. Nor is there nearly enough pâté of this quality to appease me.
You can never know for sure what you’ll get when you order diver scallops (a term which refers to the method of harvesting. Instead of being dredged, these scallops are harvested by hand by actual divers). I’ve always though that because of their inherent qualities, diver scallops don’t need a lot of amelioration. Still, curiosity got the best of me in reading the menu’s description of diver scallops (manchego, corn and chorizo risotto, crispy rock shrimp, charred scallion, red pepper, shaved fennel, lemon vinaigrette). That litany of ingredients could easily have overwhelmed the sweet scallops had they not those ingredients been so perfectly proportionate to the magnificent bivalve mollusks. The corn and chorizo risotto served as the base for a crispy rock shrimp and a juicy, tender scallop, a surprising textural contrast of two seafood favorites. If fault can be found in my Christmas dinner entree, it’s that I could have devoured an entire bowl of the risotto and a dozen or so of the succulent scallops.
One of the qualities (among so many) I love about my Kim, it’s that if she doesn’t like a dish, she’ll send it back. Even at a restaurant like Zinc. She ordered the ten-ounce Linz prime New York Strip sans sauce (sauce béarnaise, au poivre or red wine madeira) and didn’t find it tender enough. It pained me to see our server ferry away a charcoal grilled steak I would gladly have devoured. As any husband knows, it doesn’t pay to dredge up such facts as how my Kim loved the Linz prime filet at Fat Ox just two years ago. Fat Ox is another restaurant helmed by the superbly talented Matt Carter, the mastermind behind Zinc. All steaks are served with Zinc fries.
It’s not every highly regarded restaurant that lives up to advanced billing or that meets my expectations. Zinc Bistro is truly in rarefied air and one of the very best French restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining in.
15034 N Scottsdale Road
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LATEST VISIT: 25 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chocolate Soufflé, Diver Scallops, Pâté Maison, Onion Soup Gratinee, French bread and butter