Monday, February 6, 2012

Off the Map: I'm Gonna Hook You Up, Jersey-Style

French Onion Soup -- Zinc Bistro, Scottsdale, AZ
Zinc Bistro

Like moths to a flame, New Jersey natives always seem to find each other, even in the most non-Garden State of locations.  This magnetic attraction is how Vodka ends up being BFFs with our Zinc Bistro waiter.
When in Arizona, Do as New Jersey Would
"Ooh, it smells like a bar in here," Ginger notes as we enter our Scottsdale lunchtime location.  Looking remarkably similar to a combination of Balthazar, Pastis, and Parc, Zinc Bistro is clearly going for French ambiance, evidenced by the Eiffel Tower sculpture and the proliferation of alcohol.
Parlez-Vous "Cocktail?"
Before we can so much as glance at the menu (read: cocktail list), our waiter, who practically breathes "originally from New Jersey," whips our white napkins off of our table and replaces them with black ones.  We look at each other quizzically and then consult our friend as to the meaning of this obviously Phoenix-specific behavior.

"They give you dark napkins when you're wearing dark pants," she explains without affect.

"WHO does?!"

"Nice restaurants," she answers.

"No, never, uh uh," we protest.  "That has never happened to us before."  Instead of being impressed by this color spectrum service, we are so confused that it has manifested as outrage.
NapkinGate 2012
Again, before we can continue our debate over whether or not such napkin-to-pants matching is normal practice, our waiter is back in a flash to card us, even before our drink orders have been placed.  And this is when our waiter figures out that he has found some East Coast compatriots.
The Best Geographic Bonding Happens Over Liquor
We order a La Fleur and a Parisian Mule, while our Southwest colleagues stick with a teetotaling Arnold Palmer and French Press coffee (this is the price one pays for being our chauffeur).
This Is Also Why We Don't Drive
It soon becomes apparent that we each have our own variety of "drinking beverages" issue: Ginger is insistent that she receive a straw for her water, because she doesn't "like when the ice touches my face," and Vodka is sipping her cocktail at her typical snail's pace because she's a "slow drinker, or else I feel like I'm drowning."

Our waiter seems to share such neuroses (maybe it's an East Coast thing), as not only does he provide a straw for Ginger's water, but a full bushel of straws for every beverage on the table.
A Hootenanny of Straws
When Jersey (as the waiter will from now on be called) returns yet again, we order the Best Thing I Ever Ate French onion soup (or, in pretentious menu terms, "onion soup gratinee"), as recommended by Beau MacMillan on the CHEESY episode.
You Say 'Gratinee,' We Say 'Give Us Cheese'
We also choose to split a Zinc house salad, while our friends order the mussels.

"Get the French fries, too," Jersey insists.  "They're amazing."

"No!" Ginger, who seems to be into putting her foot down quite a bit today, answers him.  "We're gonna be too full.  We have a lot of eating to get to."  But when Vodka and friends, once again, perform a majority vote towards getting the French fries, Jersey sticks his tongue out at Ginger in a show of one-upmanship.
Jersey Has Won the Battle, But Not Yet the War
Perhaps as a peace offering, Jersey comes back immediately with a bread basket and whispers in Ginger's ear, "I hooked you up, Jersey-style.  Everyone else has to ask for bread.  You guys just get it."

Please take note of this bread service, bartender at Pizzeria Bianco.
A Slightly Dull Bread Basket is Better Than No Bread Basket At All
Ginger finds a heart-shaped slice and begins carb-loading, while Vodka is overcome by the BLT Steak-like provided salt shaker.
The Key to Vodka's Heart Is...
...Salt, Jersey-Style
Before we can consume enough yeast for our liking, our boiling hot bowls of French onion soup arrive, and Vodka, seemingly not afraid of drowning via soup consumption, dives in.

And she nearly burns her face off.
Note: Soup Served in a Witch's Caldron Is Indeed Hot
It is, therefore, especially telling as to the tastiness of the soup that Vodka still finds the first spoonful, and every subsequent one, delightful.  Supremely salty broth, bite-sized onions, and oodles of gruyere cheese combine to form some of the best onion soup we've ever tasted.
Non-Minced Onions For the Win
Unlike many lower-scale versions where the cheese performs full lift-off upon the first spoonful, this cheese lasts through each and every bite of the soup.
The Cheese of Our Lives
Vodka manages to splatter half of our order across the paper table cloth (thank goodness for her black napkin), which Jersey makes a big show of mopping up for her.
What Would We Have Ever Done Had Our Napkins Been White?!
Yet despite all of these obstacles, Vodka believes this soup, like the waffle dogs, is 5 stars.

Ginger thinks it is not.

Never before in the history of this tour have we shared less compatible opinions.
Is This Not Evidence of a 5 Star Dish?!
Putting the empty soup caldrons aside, we move on to our salad (which Zinc Bistro has been kind enough to divide onto separate plates for us).  The greens themselves are heavily dressed - nearly soaked.  And while the taste of the dressing is pleasing enough, we'd prefer a bit more crispness.
Lay Low on the Dressing Next Time, Jersey
The accompanying crostinis are smothered heavily in soft goat cheese and chives, which is strong in flavor if a bit overbearing.
This Meal Is Becoming a Bit Over-Cheesed, Even By Our Standards
Our friends' mussels are some of the largest we have ever seen and are accompanied by a dose of "string things" (the highfalutin culinary term for "fried potato strings"), all of which is quite lovely.
In Arizona, Mussels Come Supersized
Our Aptly-Named "String Things"
And the much fought-over French fries prove to be the perfect dish to round out or Paris-by-way-of-Phoenix experience.
Oui Oui, Jersey
Jersey comes bounding over to our table with dessert menus in hand.  "Can I interest you in some -- "

"Just the check," Ginger interrupts him.  And for just an instant, one could almost assume that she, and not Vodka, is the one at this table with no-nonsense New Jersey blood running through her.

Zinc Bistro's French Onion Soup: 4 stars

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