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A plate of heaven-sent smoked salmon follows, featuring feather-thin slips of fish rolled between tears of light-as-air herbed crepe, alternating with nibbles from a mound of peppery watercress, shaved cucumber and grape tomato in a bath of lemony crème fraîche. The plate looks as pretty as it tastes, basking in the sparkle of mirrors behind the bar, its image reflected among the glittery liquor bottles stocked along chophouse-style dark wood shelves.
What's next, but an entree of one perfect pork chop, the Niman Ranch specimen roasted to a garlic-glazed edge, topped with a single crisp curl of lardon (French bacon), speared with a sprig of oregano and served choucroute, nested on a sauerkraut of juicy soft caramelized cabbage licked with honey and thyme.
Sides beckon, with fluffy, truffle-infused mashed potatoes; crisp asparagus in silky béarnaise, haricot verts (slender green beans) tossed with lemon and shiitakes; robust ratatouille; or pommes frites fleur de sel (salted French fries).
15034 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: North Scottsdale
Croque monsieur: $8
Pork chop choucroute: $18
Cassoulet of duck confit: $16
Moroccan lamb: $17
Chocolate soufflé: $5
Tarte tatin: $5
Zinc is ripe for singles, joining for communal feasts, like me, at the bar or a centerpiece table topped with tall candles sprouting wax drippings as wild as Medusa's hairdo. One fellow to my left is starting to wear on me, chatting incessantly over the soft jazz music. But I've patience enough for coffee, strong and clear, served from a French press that, in a charming touch, is left next to my cup for refills. And nothing can turn me away from Zinc's profiteroles, three flaky pastry pillows oozing with tart, fruit-chunked lemon gel, dusted with powdered sugar and dipped by forkfuls into a pool of crème drizzled with caramel.
I have enough energy later in the week to bring along a companion for animated conversation. Zinc matches our upbeat mood with a server who seems delighted we've stopped in; even more delighted that we're delighted with our dinner. And why not? It's difficult to fault Zinc's tart Alsacienne, a comfy mattress of buttery pastry overstuffed with rich creamed leeks, chunks of salted bacon, and a cap of frisee and red pepper.
Is this massive bucket of mussels an appetizer? Many people order it as an entree, our server says; they gorge on the almost two dozen black crustaceans steamed with a decadent broth of white wine, garlic and parsley under a towering mound of crunchy, salty twig-thin potato sticks. However it's consumed, this seafood is one of the best versions I've had in ages (when I run out of bread for sopping broth, I use an empty mollusk shell as a cup).
I'm pleased with the first bite of my cassoulet of duck confit, though wondering why I can't discern the promised thyme-garlic sausage, smoky white beans or, for that matter, the duck. Then I realize I've been brought the vegetable cassoulet instead. It's good if overly greasy, this pot of al dente artichoke hearts, squash, rigatoni, chopped kalamata, capers, red pepper and eggplant in a buttery stew, but the duck is better, complexly flavored and better harmonized.
The French love omelets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Zinc has a deft hand with the fluffy eggs. Fillings change daily, and my favorites include creamed leeks with roasted red pepper, or asparagus and smoked salmon. Presentation is dramatic, too, topping the plate with a leaning tower of crispy straw potatoes. And what self-respecting French bistro would neglect to offer croque monsieur? Zinc has an admirable model, stacking thick, hard-crusted French bread with complementary portions of slab-sliced smoked ham, Gruyère and béchamel (add a fried egg for a "madame").
Dessert tonight is a wicked tarte tatin, served in a petite skillet piled with sugary, caramelized fat apples over thin pastry and capped with sugar-chunked cinnamon ice cream. The soufflé is a puffy confection spooned open to expose hot chocolate lava, but it requires 30 minutes advance ordering, and it's too difficult to plan how hungry we'll be at the end of the meal.
Still, Zinc isn't always as clever as it pretends to be. Escargots are so-so snails, plumped in a little pot pie of puff pastry, stuffed with haricot verts and roasted red pepper in an uninteresting garlic butter and parsley sauce. Artichoke and celery root salad swims in an offbeat, gritty mustard rémoulade spiked with salty walnuts and grape tomatoes. I've got no use for très boring wood-fired chicken -- there's no flavor of olive and rosemary or even bird, just a cloying garlic jus. I can't figure out what's Moroccan about a so-described lamb, either. It tastes just like big, soft, fall-off-the-bone stew meat to me. Grilled Atlantic salmon is dull, unimaginatively paired with haricot verts and a milky béarnaise sauce. The tuna steak is flabby, while a side of mustard Dauphinoise just doesn't work -- cream and strong grain mustard aren't proper substitutes for cheese in this potato casserole. And this is a French restaurant, with a waitress who pronounces "foie gras" as "foy gras"?
Not that most of Zinc's clientele will care about such culinary and linguistic slips. They're here to take in the atmosphere -- the most popular item on the menu appears to be the basic Zinc burger, glammed up with a grilled onion, arugula and Roquefort or Cheddar. Every table's got one, both at lunch ($9) and dinner ($11).