My 22 verse Haiku Review of Kaito Sushi (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/647346) has thoroughly depleted my creative juices. Nearly three weeks ago I had an incredibly good meal at James Porter’s new restaurant, Petite Maison, yet I haven’t been able to muster-up the finger strength to write it up. Which is a shame, because Petite Maison is a major departure from Porter’s cuisine at the sprawling Tapino, which was shuttered several months ago, and one that deserves some serious accolades.
Take the setting, for instance. You might as well pull up in a Citroen 2CV, because this place actually feels French without being contrived. Once Baby Kay’s, the space is tiny and exudes a homey, comfortable feeling. Much of the handiwork was done by Porter himself and Earl, his dad. Instead of the often-imitated (but never duplicated) brasserie feel of Balthazar in New York City, Petite Maison is just that…a small house with a miniscule kitchen that pumps out some great food. The roof even leaks in the rain. Perfect!
Complicated food it isn’t, and that’s what makes it great. French food often gets a bad rap for being fussy, but the essence of great French food lies with fresh ingredients and simple recipes prepared with love and passion. We told our server to “bring us what’s great” and left the rest up to him. Starters included Escargots en Croute, Foie Gras, and Steak Tartare. The snails, a source of frequent disappointment for me when dining locally, were plump, garlicky, and topped with a simple puff pastry. My only criticism: accompany it with some crispy bread for dipping into the rich, buttery sauce. The Foie Gras was exceedingly rich, and the fat was nicely offset by the acidity of the pickled grapes. And then there was the Steak Tartare…C’est Magnifique! If you’re not afraid of raw beef (and you shouldn’t be), order this appetizer. You will not regret it.
I rarely order chicken and usually feel that I can do a better roast chicken at home than any restaurant can do. So I was a bit disappointed when our server arrived with two entrees: Poulet Roti and Porc et Lardons. Both were entrees that didn’t jump out at me as my first choices when I first read the menu. Yet the chicken was cooked perfectly; juicy, oozing with goat cheese…and it actually tasted like chicken. I generally profess that the thigh is the most underrated part of the chicken and I despise flavorless chicken breasts, but this one defied all negative stereotypes. If Porter can get me to like a chicken breast, then he’s accomplished something. The Pork was equally surprising, and pleasantly so. I enjoyed the celery root and red wine gastrique almost as much as the meat itself.
On a subsequent visit, I tried the Brandade de Morue (crispy salt cod fritters), Steak Frites, and Cassoulet d’Agneau. Anyone that knows me has heard about my annual – and very costly – attempt to make an authentic cassoulet. The cassoulet at Petite Maison was not a traditional cassoulet from Toulouse, but the lamb chop was rich and flavorful. I’m hoping that Porter moves towards a heavier, more traditional cassoulet as the weather cools off. It’s a heavy dish, but – done right – has the ability to astound.
As with many restaurants that I love, Petite Maison is more than the sum of its parts. The atmosphere is nearly unbeatable, and will be even better once the weather cools down and the patio is usable. The food is fresh, comforting and well prepared. The service is friendly and genuine; much of the staff seems to have followed Porter from Tapino. And there are no gimmicks. Despite James Porter’s heavy involvement in the locavore “movement”, you’ll see no reference to that on the menu. It’s just good food, plain and simple. Although slightly modified for American tastes, it’s how the French really eat. (I don’t think many French nationals that regularly flambé their food at home.)
Petite Maison is the right restaurant, with the right menu, in the right location and – most importantly – at the right price. Not a single entrée exceeds $32, and that’s for the Poisson Entier that feeds two. Everything else is $18 or less. The wine list is equally approachable; there is one bottle at $73 but most are between $20 and $30. It's a smart formula.
The French have suffered enough bashing from the Americans in the last decade. Freedom Fries? Tariffs on Roquefort? Enough already. I, for one, am joining Porter’s new French Revolution.
Photos can be found at www.ericeatsout.com
7216 East Shoeman Lane
Scottsdale, AZ 85251