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The entrees, however, are where the kitchen really shines. There's nothing very complicated about the formula: good ingredients and skillful preparation.
Duck a l'orange is a bistro staple. But it's not always everything it's quacked up to be. Too often, the duck turns up fatty, chewy or dry. Not here--this duck is darned near perfect, boneless, sliced breast meat fanned across the plate, coated in a citrus sauce that's not too cloyingly sweet. The rest of the platter is just as impressive: wild rice flecked with pecans in a maple sauce, sweet baby carrots and crisp green beans. If you weren't in love when you came here, this dish is the remedy.
Coq au vin is a pullet surprise. Presented in a huge ceramic bowl, the fall-off-the bone poultry is simmered in a red wine sauce, teamed with pearl onions, baby carrots and green beans, and served over fettuccine. At $21, it's no bargain, but no one will complain about being shortchanged on flavor.
8900 E. Pinnacle Peak Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Region: North Scottsdale
Fish fans will also find joy. You'd think a French restaurant would be able to spell bouillabaisse (as well as several other French words) correctly on the menu. Fortunately, the cooking is better than the copy editing. Bistro Provence's version of this southern French fish stew comes heavily stocked with two big prawns, several juicy sea scallops, mussels, clams and hunks of assorted fish, in a vibrant fennel- and saffron-accented broth. At many restaurants, salmon can be incredibly boring. But the chef here crusts a filleted slab with potato, adds sides of basil-tinged yellow squash, asparagus and olives, and coats it all in a lightly seasoned tomato sauce. Monkfish, too, gets careful treatment. Several meaty hunks come gilded with olives and capers, and bathed in a fetching lobster-coriander sauce.
Carnivores aren't neglected. The grilled veal chop is as good as any I've had recently, almost impossibly moist and tender, served with a wedge of potato gratinee, mushrooms and asparagus. It doesn't take much more than a cutting glance to get the meat to fall off the braised lamb shank, robustly paired with mashed spuds and wild mushrooms. And if you're a steak-and-potatoes guy, you won't be disappointed with the beefy New York sirloin, crusted with peppercorns, accompanied by potato gratinee and mushrooms.
Desserts don't have quite the intensity that the entrees do, but they're worth hanging around for. Stare deeply into her eyes, and maybe she won't notice you're eating more than your share of the tiramisu, a light, creamy confection. A warm apple tart, drizzled with caramel sauce, also brings the meal to a happy conclusion. A fudgy raspberry chocolate mousse cake will probably release some of those brain chemicals that tell her she's having a good time. And the chocolate-coated black cherry ice cream, set off with raspberry sauce, delivers uncomplicated pleasure.
Death and taxes aren't life's only inevitabilities. Neglect to romance your sweetie on Valentine's Day, and death and taxes are going to seem like pleasant alternatives. Bistro Provence can't make February 14 go away. But for those of us with XY chromosomes, it can make the day easier to get through.
Provencal frogs' legs $10.00
Duck a l'orange 25.00
Apple tart 7.