Cafe Reviews

Too Sexy for My Soufflé

It's finally happened. After almost 15 years of living in Scottsdale, I've become one of them. Not a yuppie, not yet, though I've decided that conspicuous consumption isn't necessarily a filthy term, but a pretty cool way of life.

Here I sit in a fabulous bistro at north Scottsdale yuppie-haven Kierland Commons, nestled coolly behind Crate & Barrel, within shouting distance of the Sharper Image, Sur la Table, Z Gallerie and Restoration Hardware. All around me preen fabulous folk, sleek in coordinated sweater sets and mock turtlenecks paired with blazers. The air hums with the tinkling chatter of sassy socialites and gentlemen fresh off the golf course who compare 401(k)s. I can smell the money, the perfume hanging in thick clouds over white tablecloths topped with butcher paper, bouncing off polished hardwood floors and echoing off gold sponge-painted walls hung with just a few sconces and elegant framed mirrors.

In my hand is a fabulous glass of Sancerre (Michael Redde, France, $9). On the table in front of me rests a fabulous plate of macaroni and cheese. Scottsdale macaroni and cheese, priced at a Gatsby-esque $12 for a plain white soup bowl full of elbow noodles. The cost is outrageous, yet I'm not even worried about it. Actually, I think it's all quite fabulous. My only regret -- I wish I could afford to do this all the time. And it's just one of the classy, comfortable, often compelling Parisian comfort-food dishes to be found at Scottsdale's new Zinc Bistro.

Zinc Bistro doesn't serve ordinary macaroni and cheese, but really, 12 big ones for what's essentially cafeteria food? It's got a fancy name -- macaroni gratin, if you please -- and it's dolled up, lavishly cloaked in ultra-rich cream, butter, Parmesan, mimolette (piquant French cows'-milk cheese), plus nubbins of smoked ham. But it's still just mac 'n' cheese. And the plate does little to dull the appetite: Even as rich as it is, a meal's going to require a greater outlay -- another $6 for a house salad, plus $11 for crab cakes, then we'd have a real supper.

I must have become one of them -- the dreaded, stuffy, addicted-to-excess Scottsdalites -- because I enjoy the extravagance so much I return for meals more often than I have to in order to get a fair representation of the restaurant.

There are some faults. Zinc Bistro is overpriced; it gives nothing away except crusty sourdough bread and butter. Most entrees are à la carte, with petite sides sold for $4. It's much more hip than upscale; though ahi steak au poivre demands $19, it comes with French fries wrapped in paper and plopped in a cute silver bucket. The kitchen doesn't always master a balancing act between producing classic, super-rich French cuisine and ordinary food that's simply swimming in enough cream and fat to induce sensory shock. Yet here I am again, with my nose buried in a dish that can't even be called pasta (no matter the glamorous accessories, it will never be elevated beyond the humble noodle ID).

The mac is chef Michael de Maria's noodle nonsense, which goes a long way toward making the affectation okay. He's the master behind Pinnacle Peak's deservedly pricey Michael's at the Citadel. The dish is the recipe of acclaimed chef Matt Carter, formerly of Christopher's and Michael's. The concept comes from cutting-edge restaurateur Terry Ellisor, co-owner of the groovy Merc Bar in Phoenix. With such a highfalutin partnership, it's not shocking that Zinc has been an instant must for the high-style crowd, those trendoids to whom money is no object when chasing something fabulous.

This, though, is the best part: Several local chefs have told me they hate the place; such green-eyed monster endorsement means Zinc Bistro is destined to be a hit.

Since opening ever so quietly two months ago, Zinc hasn't been following the rules. There's been virtually no marketing, barely any mention of de Maria's involvement, chef Carter's background, or Ellisor's savvy sense of combining food with a see-and-be-seen style. De Maria, in fact, is a temporary consultant, or silent partner, depending on whom you ask.

Just try to find the place, even knowing that it's part of the fabulous shopping mecca of Kierland Commons, the "new" Biltmore Fashion Park. There's a so-cool lack of signage leading to the cafe nestled on the skinny strip of asphalt snaking behind P.F. Chang's, the Cheesecake Factory and Morton's. Take a wrong turn, and risk being sucked in by the force field of another new restaurant in the commons, RA Sushi (many a happy evening has been spent at this Japanese gem, snatching bites of tuna tataki, tonkatsu and sesame sea bass).

The appeal evolves exponentially; Zinc fits many moods. A cool-cat supper alone, an evening out with friends, a productive business lunch -- the fare, ambiance and service suit all situations.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet