Review: Sophie's French Bistro - Phoenix (w/ photos!)
One of the things I love about Phoenix is the number of restaurants that have taken over spaces that used to be homes and residences. There’s Pizzeria Bianco and Circa 1900 in Heritage Square. There is Coup des Tartes on 16th Street. And, there is Sophie’s French Bistro on 24th Street and Osborn, with its white twinkle lights and inviting exterior that just screams “adorable.” With all of those places, there is also a sense of romantic fine dining with a hint of flair and, hopefully, a killer menu that will send one’s palate into orbit.
It was another installment of one of the “date nights” that J. and I live for, that wonderful chance to just go out, enjoy a meal and look into each other’s eyes and fawn over each other. (You can stop making those wretching noises, Madge!) We had 8 PM reservations at Sophie’s and I had been looking forward to finally getting around to this place since it really does seem like quite the romantic venue.
We arrived amidst a driving monsoon rainstorm, parked in the back and hustled our way to the front entrance. The flashes of lightning gave an eerie glow to the place every few moments. We entered the safety of the restaurant and were quickly greeted by one of the servers who took us to our seats. I have to admit that I was rather surprised when they tried to seat J. and I at a table on the outskirts of the dining room next to two large trays overflowing with dirty dishes. My audible protest had the server suggesting a table by the window, which we accepted. We took our seats and were handed menus and a wine list.
As we waited for our server to appear, a member of the bus staff appeared and took the empty wire basket off our table and disappeared, reappearing moments later with the same basket, but this time harboring two rolls and a ramekin of butter. As we reviewed the menus and watched the busser fill our glasses with water, we snacked on the rolls. They were piping hot and had a delightful soft feel to them. They were yeasty in flavor and the unsalted butter was a welcome treat letting the taste of the bread shine through.
Our server appeared and took our drink orders. I had the Diet Coke ($2.00) and J. had the bottle of Ginger Peach Tea ($3.00). Upon his return, we were ready to order. I thought the Magret de Canard aux Famboises ($25.00) would be a great dinner choice. J. was having a hard time deciding and asked for recommendations from our server. J. ultimately chose the La Coquille Saint-Jacques ($29.00). Each entree came with a salad. For our starters, I was drawn to the Pate du Chef ($10.00) and J. had the Le Brie en Croute ($11.00).
While we waited, we peered out the window at the driving rain and the lightning. We then surveyed the inside. The interior was decorated with bright white walls and various art works on the walls, mostly featuring various French landscapes. White lace curtains adorned the windows and the mix of tables were dressed with white tableclothes, a small vase of flowers and a votive candle. While the interior was certainly contemporary, it really did not give the feel of a French bistro, and the proximity of the tables made us feel very cramped at times. J. and I discussed this and we thought a lot of it had to do with the bright white foundational color that the interior held. It seemed rather sterile at times and made a space that could be “cozy” come across as being cramped.
About 15 minutes passed and our appetizers arrived. J.’s Le Brie en Croute was a large plate containing a sizable wedge of Brie in a pastry wrapper served with a cranberry and nut chutney and plenty of slices of baguette. The Brie had been fully melted and the mix of the cheese with the pastry and the chutney was really quite good. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Brie was very hot and had a nice contrast with the cold chutney and the room temperature bread. J. also liked the Brie a great deal. I was also pleased with the portion size and the quality of the ingredients.
My Pate du Chef was a pleasant presentation of a molded duck liver pate with a thin gelatin shell. It was served with baguette slices, dijon mustard, cornichorns and a small serving of dressed greens. The pate was delicious and I loved the hint of Cognac and truffle. The mustard was flavorful, but not overpowering and the cornichorns were tart and crunchy. This was an excellent starter and J. agreed with my assessment that this dish didn’t need any improvement. I was also pleased that there were plenty of bread slices on our plates. I never quite understood serving a spreadable dish with only a few pieces of bread or toast.
After finishing our appetizers and waiting about five minutes, our house salads arrived. They were simple presentations of assorted filed greens topped with dried carrot curls and a light vinagrette. A small piece of garlic-flavored toast accompanied the salad. There were no complaints here. The greens were fresh and crisp. The dressing was tasty, but not dominating. The carrots were interesting in that they were both crunchy and chewy. They didn’t add much taste to the salad, but the texture was an interesting change that I enjoyed.
Our entrees arrived minutes after we finished our salads and J.’s plate of diver scallops looked very good. Five large scallops had been pan seared and then served in an emulsion of capers and olive oil. Topping the scallops and emulsion was a generous portion of arugula, pieces of fennel and homemade spaetzel. J. said the scallops were very fresh and had a good taste, but the big winner on the plate seemed to be the spaetzel with the caper and oil dressing. It all looked very good and J. was happy to clear the plate, but knowing J. as well as I do, I knew that the dish, while “good,” was not stellar.
My plate of raspberry duck was an interesting mix. The duck breast had been cooked to allow the skin to crisp up and was then served in a raspberry sauce with a few fresh raspberries thrown on for good measure. It was served with a parmesan and saffron risotto cake and some sauteed vegetables. The duck breast was quite flavorful. It was a shame that it came out rare instead of medium like I had requested. I could live with the rare duck breast, but I like to have it cooked a bit longer to render the fat and make the skin even more crispy. Still, it was quite good and the raspberry sauce was a nice break from the traditional cherry sauce.
I am still, however, scratching my head over the risotto cake. Why would you do that to risotto? My first bite turned me right off to it as the risotto had become hard on the outskirts and it wasn’t until I got to another side of the cake that I actually tasted something other than plain rice. Whether it had been sitting under a heating lamp for too long or was simply a dish the chef didn’t put much heart into, it had no business sharing a plate with the duck and raspberries. I did like the vegetables, though, which were sauteed to tender crisp and had a pleasing butter sauce drizzled on top.
After finishing out meals, we were presented with dessert menus but really saw nothing that stood out to either of us. Instead, we decided to end the date night with a trip to Arlecchino’s for gelato.
We requested our bill and the total was $87.01 including tax. Served with our bill was a plate containing two chocolate truffles. The truffles were dense and semi-sweet and dusted with cocoa powder. We found them to be very good and a good send off from our meal.
The service was professional, but rather stoic for my taste. We paid our bill and departed.
As we got into the car, I turned to J. and asked if there was something missing from the meal. We couldn’t quite put our fingers on it, but the big “oomph” that would push a dining experience from good to great never materialized. I have tried to figure it out, and perhaps it was ultimately a combination of things.
I am not sure I wouldn’t recommend Sophie’s, but it really left me wanting more. I really couldn’t understand several minor things that should have been handled - but never were - from the cramped quarters to the entrees not fully capturing our palates.
Sophie’s has such a wonderful space to work with an old home converted to a restaurant. But it really does, in the final analysis, need a few home repairs.
Sophie’s French Bistro
2320 East Osborn Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Upscale Casual on up.
Notes: Parking available behind the building.
Hours: Lunch served Monday through Friday, 11 AM to 2 PM. Dinner served Monday through Thursday, 6 PM to Closing and Friday and Saturday, 5 PM to Closing. Closed Sundays.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
It sounds like Serg (the owner) was not "on duty" that night. He is normally manning the host spot, and would never have ushered you to the far reaches of the main dining room. Also, he would have inquired on each course, and the duck would have gone back for a searing.
The whitness works best with some of the abstracts that are hung in other areas - by my aesthetic sensibilities. Without them (the abstracts), one might find the room too open.
I've had most of what you mention (save the risotto), and all have been very good. Since they opened, I've had the pleasure of dining there for lunch, or dinner, maybe a dozen times. In all of those trips, the only complaint that I, or my dining partners, have ever had, regarded the wine list/service. For me, a meal without wine is like a meal without Diet-Coke for you. I cannot imagine it. The list is too short and the wine service belies that it is not on the level of the food service. I have spoken of this a few times, but can understand trying to fit the wine list to the majority of the diners.
I know what you are referring to with the "oomph." There could be a bit more wow-factor. I'd rate Sophie's as very good (your duck should have been at THAT level), but not Great. That doesn't mean that Serg will not, or cannot achieve that level, but it will take the clientele for him to push the kitchen to its limits.
Oh, that you were able to actually park in the back is an accomplishment! Parking is a real problem, as it often is with refurbished older homes in semi-residential neighborhoods. Besides the wine list, I'd like to see Sophie's find more parking space.
Thanks for the review - well done, as always,
re: Bill Hunt
I think your assessment is very fair, Hunt. I understand your position vis-a-vis the interior. It was my perception (and J.'s too) that it really was the difference between discomfort and cozy. Perhaps a happy medium would be to take one or two of the two-tops out and space the tables out a bit.
I also agree that Sophie's could be great, but it does need that final shove to get it over the hump. It wasn't mediocre (as the Brie and Pate indicated), but there were enough minor pitfalls that firmly placed it in the camp of "good."
Sadly, I think you are correct about the owner because the only people we saw in the dining room were three different waiters and the bus staff. I would chalk that up, perhaps, to the possibility that the owner was on holiday.
Wonderful review, as always. Thank you. I had lunch at Sophie's a few months ago with some business associates. We were the only people in the restaurant for most of lunch. I think you and Hunt both hit it on the head. The meal was fine, but I didn't walk out thinking I had to get my wife, and go back for dinner. I prefer Vincent's, Christopher's and Zinc Bistro.
I've been curious about Sophie's for a long time. Since I work in the area, I decided to stop in for lunch with a colleague. After a few moments, we were seated at a table (two two-tops pushed together) just inside the half-empty dining room. The half of the table we settled into was wobbling, so we moved over to the other table.
The lunch menu was varied enough to provide something for everyone-- soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees. Also featured is a quiche du jour and crepes du jour. My dining partner selected the quiche. I was going to order the cassoulet, but since he ordered the quiche, I decided to go with the crepes.
I wasn't happy with the wine list-- both in its selections and mark-up (Clos du Bois Merlot at $9.50 a glass?), so we drank water.
After placing our order, the plates came out very quickly. Unfortunately, both had terrible texture. The crust on the quiche was soggy, while the filling was warm on the outside and cold in the middle. My crepes were very gummy and seemed prefabricated. The side salad was very nice-- as Seth describes above. Frankly, the food quality was something I'd expect at the food court at the mall-- not in this setting.
To add insult to injury, the service was also terrible. By the time the waiter first returned to the table (after having served the food), we had already finished. I noted our displeasure with the meal and the waiter said he would share our concerns with the chef. Additionally, he offered complimentary dessert. We declined-- choosing instead to adjourn to the Gelato Spot.
i love sophies to death, but its a bit stodgey if you sit on the inside..i prefer to sit outside, even in winter..they have ambient heat, so it stays toasty...it seems much more relaxed that way. i think the crowd inside might not be so receoptive to my usual tattooed dining posse, but outside its relaxing and beautiful.
love the pate, love the coquille st jacques, and go for the foie gras when they have it as the special..deee-LISH :)
if you sign up for their mailing list, they send out notices for all sorts of fun special events, and usually have prixe fixe menus for just about every holiday..
just my 2 cents :)