Modern French cuisine and chic atmosphere
Francine is a beautiful restaurant filled with even more beautiful people. Dressed in stilettos and sequins, they sip flutes of sparkling champagne at the brightly lit palm tree bar. Heavily bearded in their three-piece suits, they pass plates of roast marrowbone and steak tartare around the table next to a long open kitchen. Everyone in this bustling complex seems to be screaming, both with their voices and their outfits.
The scene is the south of France by the sea, but you can feel the peak of Scottsdale. Or maybe like a Miami nightclub, depending on what you drink. (The rum cocktails are complete game.) On the wraparound patio where I managed to snag a table, the vibe is a little quieter, though my view of Scottsdale Fashion Square’s valet is markedly different from that of the windy street cafes of the French Riviera.
I can see why on a Saturday night Francine is the place to be. The food at this famous restaurant is just as appealing as the atmosphere, and dare I say it, even more compelling.
Francine is one of the hottest tables in town
France may no longer dominate gastronomy like a generation ago. (Just across the courtyard, people jostle for a table at the Scottsdale outpost of Nobu, an upscale Japanese restaurant.) But continental cuisine seems to have a second heydey in Phoenix. Francine, as well as the Newly opened foolishness opened by Restaurant Progress owners Esther Noh and TJ Culp, increase volume and bring new energy to French cuisine.
Francine’s menu is a collage of recipes from chef Laurent Halasz’s mother, after whom the restaurant is named, skillfully put together by Executive Chef Brian Archibald. The cuisine is vegetable and light, made with olive oil rather than the buttery sauces for which Paris is famous. The whole thing is adorned with edible flowers and scatters of fresh herbs.
What’s on the menu at Francine’s?
Francine is a place where you can feast on oysters and filet mignon or nibble on a simple niçoise salad. Although it might have been a more lunchtime order, I couldn’t resist the charm of this savory raw vegetable salad, which was draped in juicy slices of seared ahi tuna and topped with boiled eggs. the hull which had a soft and unctuous yolk which almost ran on the small cold potatoes.
An ahi tuna tartare arrived as a heavily molded brick of bright, briny flavors topped off with a buttery avocado base. Plus a scattering of purple pansies and fresh mint tears and a tangy ginger sauce that added an extra layer of freshness.
The pasta is homemade, but after these stellar starters, the truffled mushroom pasta was a disappointment. (Next time I’ll order the steak frites or rack of lamb.) Sonoran Pasta Co.’s garganelli noodles were a little mushy and the sauce was a little oily. That said, the mushrooms themselves, a mixture of cremini, black trumpet and maitake, were plump and flavorful.
The $48 price tag might be a little steep for the portion, but I fell in love with the fruity flavor pairings of Francine’s duck breast entrée. They looked like beets and tasted like cranberry juice, but the red circular slices on the plate were actually roasted plums. The deep acidity was a perfect foil for the juicy duck, cooked to a rare and halved to show its redness.
The combination of meat and stone fruit is the quintessence of Mediterranean coastal cuisine. And this dish took me back to the sweet and savory juxtapositions of North Africa. Cooking like this will never be stifling.
Francine shows that French cuisine can be anything it wants to be. It can be languorous, it can be noisy. It exudes elegant confidence, both in the kitchen and in the dining room.
Or: 4710 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Price: Salads $16 to $32; pasta $30 to $40; seafood dishes $32 to $48; sector $38 to $52.
Details: 480-690-6180, francinerestaurant.com.