Dessert First

Gâteau Chocolat at Zinc Bistro

For those looking to escape from Phoenix to Paris, Zinc Bistro is the perfect place to dine. The interior is complete with brass railings, ornate ivory ceiling tiles, a 25-foot zinc bar, and Magnum-sized wine bottles turned into wax-covered candleholders, bringing a touch of French charm to Scottsdale's Kierland Commons. Zinc Bistro has garnered attention nationwide from the New York Times, The Food Network, Zagat, and Food & Wine. While the French-inspired menu, particularly the raw oyster bar and sugarcane-cured ahi with truffle-marrow emulsion, is worthy of acclaim, there's still a lingering question about whether or not the desserts are as finely crafted as the savory offerings.

Of course Zinc Bistro has crème brûlée, and the eatery also serves the more challenging chocolate soufflé, made with Valrhona chocolate and paired with a Grand Marnier sauce. But the latest dessert to be added to the menu is Gâteau Chocolat with pistachio filling, caramel sauce, and peanut butter ice cream. While that's not exactly a French classic, it sounded as though it could be like the Gâteau Marjolaine at Christopher's only with an unusual flavor combination.

That was a poor assumption since this gâteau isn't nearly as decadent, awe-inspiring, or lovingly made as the one at Christopher's. However, that's not to say that Zinc Bistro's Gâteau Chocolat is all bad. Yeah, the first bite of cake tastes kind of store-bought, but after that, all of those flavors that seem like they shouldn't go together actually do. The pistachio cream, while light, helps the cake become a level or two above the standard chocolate, which is necessary since the cake itself is quite ordinary.

Paired with the pistachio-filled cake is peanut butter ice cream and a big pool of thick, buttery caramel sauce that's dotted with peanut pieces. Unexpectedly, the ice cream is the star of this show. The flavor is natural and pure without being too rich and heavy, a tough feat with peanut butter. Since the cake isn't exactly spectacular, the ice cream and caramel sauce save the dish.

The flavor combination resembles something that a child would throw together at the free-for-all sundae bar, but it's surprisingly enjoyable and is easy to wolf down just like the little kid inside all of us wants. If there was a candy bar with the same components -- chocolate, pistachio cream, peanut butter, and caramel -- it would probably fly off the shelves. That said, it doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the restaurant's charming French bistro fare.

All in all, this dish was satisfying, but it didn't live up to the high expectations that come when the words "French" and "dessert" are combined. The small portion does not justify the $9 price tag, but with a thicker slice of cake and extra scoop of ice cream, this would be a dessert worth ordering. For a sweet finish that's as good as the bistro's savory start, the chocolate soufflé is a better bet.

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Dominique Chatterjee