Shame on me for eating at FnB on its opening night. Condemn me to hell for eating there on opening night with the secret intent to write about it here. Clearly, I’m showing my amateur status. I’ve never been to a restaurant on opening night and expected a litany of service hiccups and culinary screw-ups. It doesn’t matter that FnB is owned/managed by Pavle Milic, the charismatic consummate professional with a Rain Man-like knack for remembering names. It doesn’t matter that the small kitchen is the domain of Charleen Badman, who has enough laurels that she could rest on them indefinitely if she wanted. And it doesn’t matter that schmooze-mistress Marianne Belardi is working the room. The fact is: it’s opening night. Stuff happens.
Yet, remarkably, stuff DIDN’T happen at FnB on opening night.
Pavle Milic was in his element, tending to his new creation and keeping an eye on every move…quick to greet patrons as they entered. His wife was there also, introducing herself and expediting food from the kitchen. (Should we tell CPS that mom and dad were both working and the kids were locked in the walk-in freezer?!) Chef Badman was calm and cool, working in concert with Sous Chef Sasha Levine.
The room isn’t dramatically different from its Sea Saw and Digestif incarnations, but it has warmth that was previously absent, as well as a tad bit more space. The tile on the floor is spectacular, clearly a product of Milic’s perfectionism. The lighting is soft, and the space feels more “New York City neighborhood place” than “Scottsdale hipster hangout.” That’s a good thing.
And then there’s the food. We are talking about a restaurant, right? We started with Benton Farm’s Country Ham, Cheddar and Pickled Vegetables. Simple, clean flavors. Great to nosh on pre-meal. We also had the Crispy Rock Shrimp & Jalapeno Tartar. I love rock shrimp, and these flash-fried crustaceans were light, flavorful and completely lacking any trace of oil from the fryer. The Jalapeno Tartar had a nice burn to it, which I loved. I wasn’t as crazy about the Sweet Squash Ravioli with Horseradish and Almonds, but I’ve already heard many raves about it. Kudos to the Chef for the interesting pairing of horseradish with the ravioli; the combination worked well but I didn’t feel dazzled.
The star of the starters was the Fried Green Tomatoes with Green Goddess Dressing and Feta. Okay, so I’m a sucker for anything with “Green Goddess” on it but, the fact is, this was absolutely delicious. The tomatoes were firm and bursting with tomato juiciness, and the dressing had a slightly tart flavor that played nicely with the saltiness of the feta cheese and the acidity of the green tomatoes. Order this appetizer.
The four of us ended-up ordering each entrée on the menu. I had the Braised Lamb Shank with Chickpeas, Couscous and Pickled Turnips. The pickled turnips were an absolutely brilliant addition to this dish. Their tartness cut some of the richness of the lamb shank and resulted in an absolutely perfect entrée. The slightly Mediterranean flavor and preparation seemed a bit out of place on the menu and I almost hesitated ordering it, but the end result was truly spectacular and definitely one of the better lamb preparations I’ve had in recent memory.
I can’t speak to the other entrees because I did not try them, but the Roast Jidori Chicken with Spaetzle, Wild Broccoli and New Garlic (as opposed to old?) was deemed very crispy yet still juicy and flavorful.
My wife, who makes trout often at home, loved her Boneless Trout with Sunchokes, Caramelized Onions and Dill…and the portion was gargantuan. The Flatiron Steak with Radish Salsa Verde and Fingerling Potatoes was deemed very good and I noticed many of them leaving the kitchen. My only critique: offer more bread with the entrees, because the sauces would be great for sopping up with some good, crusty bread.
We skipped dessert and headed over to The Sugar Bowl. Granted, I’m not much of a dessert guy but nothing excited us enough to stay for dessert and, besides, it was nice to get outside and enjoy the cool evening.
FnB has amazing promise. Like Noca, it can be a destination meal, or a great place to nosh at the counter and have a drink. There were several little touches that I liked: the selection of magazines and newspapers at the entrance, making it inviting to solo diners and giving it a “neighborhood” feel. Orders were taken by hand, on paper. While seemingly insignificant, it says to me that they care about getting you order right and, besides, there is a certain quaintness about it.
FnB is an enchanting concept: homey, comfortable, warm…with a little something for everyone. I would expect that the small menu will expand a bit as the kitchen and servers get into a groove but I sure like the idea of a lean-and-mean operation with a focus on quality food and sincere hospitality.
7133 E. Stetson Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
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