I am rather late to the appreciation of French food.
To be fair, however, most of it isn’t my fault. Phoenix has never been - nor will probably ever be - known as a center for French cuisine. Growing up, I still remember the times when the old Cafe Casino at 24th Street and Camelback was about as authentic French as you could get without driving to Los Angeles.
But, Phoenix has come of age and we have some wonderful French restaurants in the Valley. I am even more happy that I got to return after a two year absence to one of my favorite restaurants: Coup des Tartes. The last time I was there was Valentine’s weekend in 2005 when J. and I celebrated the anniversary of our engagement. It was a superb evening with votive candles, white tablecloths and rich French food.
I have no idea why it has been nearly two years since I returned, but J. was up for a repeat visit. So, we arrived for our 8:30 PM reservation and the place was packed with patrons waiting in the tiny lobby area. We gave our names and were told it would only be a few minutes. It wasn’t a long wait at all before we were taken to a table in the main dining area. As fate would have it, it was the same table J. and I had on our previous visit. It was situated near one of the corners of the room and the table was long and narrow but they were kind enough to have the table stationed so that we sat on the long side and were, therefore, much closer to each other than at a standard table. It was comfortable and intimate and the warmth of the charming interior only made it that much better.
Our server arrived with menus and a cheery greeting promising to be right back. We reviewed the menus and I mentioned to J. that I wanted to make sure we didn’t overdo it on the appetizers and entrees because I was determined to have dessert. Unfortunately, out of the four times I had been to Coup des Tarte before, I never made it to dessert. J. was fine with my decision and we decided that the best place to start would be the Interesting Cheeses ($16.00) platter.
Our server returned and took our drink order. We had brought a bottle of wine and she invited us to help ourselves to the corkscrew and glasses ($8.00 corkage fee per bottle), but we also ordered a bottle of Hildon Sparkling Mineral Water ($4.00). She left to get our water and we debated which entrees to have.
Our server returned in less than two minutes with small glasses and a frosty bottle of Hildon Sparkling Mineral Water. She poured our water and then took our order. We ordered the cheese platter and then our salads. J. went right for the Mozzarella & Tomato ($10.00) while I chose the Taleggio Salad ($9.00). This would be followed by the Pork Tenderloin ($25.00) for J. and the Chicken ($21.00) for myself. Our server departed and I had a sip of the water. Unfortunately, my glass had a broken lip that exposed a sharp edge. I brought it to the attention of the server who profusely apologized and said she would remove the water charge from the bill. That certainly wasn’t necessary or expected (just a new glass would have been more than sufficient), but a very nice gesture. There wasn’t much to say about the water other than it was bubbly and cold. We were happy with it.
We waited about ten minutes before our Interesting Cheese platter arrived. J. and I both were in heaven at the sight of the plate that contained Spanish San Simon, French Triple Creme Brillat-Savarin, California Cypress Humboldt Fog, and Petit Basque Sheep’s Milk Cheese. These were served with slices of apple and pear, dried apricots and cranberries, almonds and walnuts, and a small side dish piled with slices of toasted baguette. All of the cheeses were wonderful. With the exception of the Humboldt Fog, I hadn’t had the other cheese, but each was distinct and delicious.
The Spanish San Simon had the texture of a Gouda or Edam, but the smoky flavor was incredible. The Humboldt Fog had a buttery texture and a lemony aftertaste that was grand. I was pleased they cut it so that you could see the vein of black ash running down the middle. The Petit Basque Sheep’s Milk Cheese was semi-soft and had a floral taste. I liked the taste, but not as much as the others. My favorite cheese was the Brillat-Savarin. It was sublime. Exceptionally soft and creamy, it spread like room temperature Brie but had a more pronounced sour taste to it that was a nice contrast to the creaminess. J. and I were enthralled with the platter and loved the accompaniments, the best being the sizable serving of toasted bread rounds. About the only thing we didn’t like on the platter were the apples. They seemed to be lacking flavor. They also were borderline mushy which was a turn off. Still, the platter was a success.
We had just finished the cheeses and our first glasses of wine when J.’s Mozzarella and Tomato Salad arrived. It was gorgeous with luscious red tomato slices lying next to several slices of fresh mozzarella. The entire presentation had been drizzled with 16-year-old balsamic vinegar. J. said the tomatoes were “perfect” and they were. Organically and locally grown, the tomatoes were firm and flavorful. I think they would have shined a bit more if they had had a bit of Kosher salt sprinkled on them, but that was a personal preference. The cheese was perfect. Slightly soft, but with plenty of body, the mild taste was a great way to play off the acidic side of the tomatoes. J., however, was in love with the balsamic vinegar, which was the sweet catalyst that brought everything together.
My Taleggio Salad was a mix of organic greens, fresh raspberries, chunks of apple, red onions, and sugared pecans all dressed with a prickly pear vinaigrette. The ensemble was then topped with a piece of toasted bread with warm Taleggio cheese melted on top. This salad was superb. The mixture was excellent and they were conservative with the vinaigrette which could have made the salad sickeningly sweet had it been abused. The treat was the Taleggio. The aroma from the cheese was quite pungent and could have easily brought tears to my eyes if I inhaled deep enough, but for taste purposes, it was excellent. This salad was a keeper and J. commented on how fresh it looked.
Along with our salads, a basket of artisanal breads was served. The basket contained two types of bread: a white and a whole wheat. Both were rustic and earthy. We were very pleased with the bread, but rather displeased that it was served with rock-hard butter.
There was a quiet intermission between our salads and our entrees. After pouring out the last of our wine in anticipation of our entrees, J’s Pork Tenderloin arrived. The scent was intoxicating, especially from the bacon and brandy that composed the sauce. The pork was a sizable piece of the tenderloin that had been herb encrusted and then topped with a sauce of bacon, pear, brandy and cream. The pork was fork tender and the complexity of the sauce almost overwhelmed the pork, but was just far enough back to let the pork and herbs shine through in their own right. This was a great comfort dish. J. raved about every aspect of the pork and sauce. J. also loved the Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and the green beans with toasted hazelnuts.
My Chicken was quite different than I expected. I expected a stuffed chicken breast with a drizzle of sauce and the side dishes. What I got was so much more. The chicken, like the pork, had been coated in herbs. It was then stuffed with smoked ham and Gruyere cheese making it an ultra-rich Chicken Cordon Bleu, Coup des Tartes style. The chicken breast was then smothered in an arugula and cream sauce. Wow! Amazingly rich, delicious and a wonderful treat. The chicken was moist and tender and the combination of flavors had my palate dancing. The sauce was very satisfying but rather understated in taste. The mashed potatoes and baby green beans were very good, but paled in comparison to the starring attraction. I was quite pleased with my meal.
J. and I used the last of the bread to mop up our sauces. The entrees were spectacular. Thankfully, I still had room for dessert, but J. suggested we split one dessert. That was a wise choice. We were given dessert menus and it didn’t take us more than a few moments to decide upon the Pumpkin Tarte ($9.00) for our selection (although the Pear Hazelnut and Chocolate Raspberry Mousse tartes were also in the running).
We had our dessert in record time. The Pumpkin Tarte was a large slice from a full-sized tarte. The crust was thick and substantial. The pumpkin filling was fantastic with a strong use of pumpkin pie spices and heavy use of cream. This was like eating a piece of pumpkin pie on steroids. A flourish of whipping cream and a shortbread cookie were added for show, but the tarte was everything I had hoped and more.
The bill was requested and the total was right at $100.00 including tax. The service was gracious and friendly without being overbearing. This was a wonderful meal and J. and I were pleased that Coup des Tartes hadn’t declined in any way from our last visit.
We made our way home and summed up our experience with small talk about how this was becoming one of our favorite restaurants in Phoenix.
It certainly is in my Top 10.
Coup des Tartes
4626 North 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Business Casual on up.
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday - 5:30 to 10:30 PM; Closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Notes: A charming room is available for private parties. BYOB. There is a free corkage fee coupon at their website.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com