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 roasted bone marrow and steak tartare around the table next to a long, open kitchen. Everyone in this bustling compound seems to be shouting, both with their voices and their outfits.
The scene is Southern France by the sea, but it feels peak Scottsdale. Or maybe like a Miami nightclub, depending on what you're drinking. (Rum cocktails are full game.) Out on the wraparound patio where I managed to snag a table, the mood is a little bit calmer, though my view of the Scottsdale Fashion Square valet is markedly different than that of the breezy street cafes of the French Riviera.
I can see why, on a Saturday night, Francine is the spot to be. The food at this celebrated restaurant is just as attractive 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 fine dining as it did a generation ago. (Just across courtyard, people mill around for a table at the Scottsdale outpost of Nobu, a high-end Japanese restaurant.) But continental cuisine seems to be having a second heydey in Phoenix. Francine, as well as the newly opened Sottise opened by Restaurant Progress owners Esther Noh and TJ Culp, are pumping up the volume and bringing new energy to French cuisine.
Francine's menu is a collage of recipes from chef Laurent Halasz's mother, for whom the restaurant is named, skillfully put together by executive chef Brian Archibald. The cooking is vegetable-forward and light, made with olive oil rather than the butter sauces that Paris is known for. Everything is adorned with edible flowers and scatterings of fresh herbs.
What's on the menu at Francine?
Francine is a place where you can ball out with oysters and filet mignon or snack on a simple salad niçoise. Although it might have been an order more suited to lunchtime, I couldn't resist the charm of this salty, raw vegetable salad, which came draped with juicy slabs of seared ahi tuna and topped with boiled eggs that had a soft and unctuous yolk that almost dripped onto the cold baby potatoes.
An ahi tuna tartare arrived as a sharply molded brick of bright, briny flavors rounded out by a buttery avocado base. On top, a scattering of purple pansies and rips of fresh mint and a zippy ginger sauce that added an extra layer of freshness.
Pastas are made inhouse, but after these stellar starters, the truffled mushroom pasta was a let down. (Next time, I'll order the steak frites or rack of lamb.) The garganelli noodles from Sonoran Pasta Co. were a tad doughy and the sauce was a bit oily. That said, the mushrooms themselves, a mixture of cremini, black trumpet and maitake, were plump and tasty.
The $48 price tag may be a little steep for the portion, but I fell in love with the fruity flavor pairings of Francine's duck breast entree. They looked like beets and tasted like a jolt of cranberry juice, but the red circular slabs on the plate were actually roasted plums. The deep sourness was a perfect foil for the juicy duck, cooked to a striking rare and split in half to display its redness.
Pairing meat with stone fruit is quintessential to Mediterranean coastal cuisine. And this dish took me back to the sweet and savory juxtapositions of North Africa. Cooking like this will never be stuffy.
Francine shows that French cuisine can be anything it wants to be. It can be languid, it can be loud. It exudes a stylish confidence, both in the kitchen and in the dining room.
Where: 4710 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through 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; pastas $30 to $40; seafood dishes $32 to $48; mains $38 to $52.
Details: 480-690-6180, francinerestaurant.com.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Francine restaurant in Scottsdale: Modern French food and posh vibes