Restaurant Review: FnB

Story and photos by Mark Sterling-Ogle, June 2015 Issue.

Hidden away in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, FnB (referring to food and beverage) has received local and national praise since its 2009 debut. Longtime friends Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic combined culinary skills and hospitality industry expertise to create a truly unique dining destination.

As you approach the historic Craftsman Court, built in 1955 by architect T. S. Montgomery, the building’s large glass frontage twinkles with warmth, due in part to the candles that bejewel each table. The two adjoining dining rooms are intimate, with only half a dozen tables each, so you will be well advised to make a reservation.

The dark wood floors immediately impart a homey, cottage feel, while distinctive light fixtures add a modern flair. As the sun sets, the stained glass accents above the bar area enhance the careful balance of paint and artwork, adorning the interior, with a warm glow.

Badman and Milic, the duo that brought this former working glass studio back to life, were inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame as “Best Restaurateurs” in 2013, and it’s easy to see why.

Badman has spent years cultivating relationships with the best local farmers, gaining the moniker “veggie whisperer” for her ability to lure the best flavors out of locally grown vegetables. Milic sought out top Arizona winemakers in his efforts to compile an exclusively Arizona wine list that perfectly complements Badman’s locally inspired cooking.

As recently as last year, Milic released his own wine label, Los Milics, in collaboration with noted Arizona winemakers Kelly and Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks in southern Arizona.

Since it was Milic’s day off of work, I boldly selected Pillsbury Winery’s 2013 Wild Child White to pair with our dinner. Located in Cochise County, with tasting rooms in Wilcox and Cottonwood, this winery has been making headlines for several years. Sam Pillsbury, owner and winemaker, has earned gold medals, some of the highest scores for any Arizona wines as well as titles that include Best Local Winemaker by Phoenix Magazine, Best Arizona Winery by Arizona Foothills Magazine and one of the rising stars of the Southwest by Wine Spectator Magazine.

Our server offered a wealth of information and answered our many questions, including our curiosities about the salbitxada that was listed with the Creekstone Ribeye – which we learned is a type of salsa with crushed tomatoes, chilies, garlic and ground almonds, reminiscent of a romesco.

Peruvian chicken rolls.

To start, we selected the heirloom tomatoes with black tahini, sesame seed, pita chips and ginger as well as the grilled asparagus with crispy polenta, fried duck egg and chiltepin. As we toyed with the idea of the Peruvian chicken spring rolls with i’itoi onion quark, our waitress enthusiastically cheered us on to add it to our meal.

The menu features a variety of vegetable side dishes – Badman’s area of expertise – and we had trouble deciding which of the wonderfully sounding options the “veggie whisperer” had put together. Although I was drawn toward the roasted carrots with spring onion bagna cauda and burrata, I deferred to my husband’s particular palate and let him pick his choice of spicy grilled broccoli with tangerine aioli and pistachio.

Halibut with snow peas over brown rice.

For entrees, I was certain I’d be enjoying the halibut with snap peas over brown rice. My husband, on the other hand, was torn between the Creekstone ribeye on purple barley with spring lilies and salbitxada and the braised half chicken paprikash and potatoes, but decided on the latter.

Our first dish, a large fried duck egg perched atop a mound of grilled asparagus and a wedge of lightly browned polenta, arrived shortly after the wine. As I pierced the egg, just enough of the rich, yellow, silken yolk was left undercooked and flowed over the greens, adding a luxurious opulence to the mouthfeel of the dish, and the outer crispiness of polenta was a perfect balance to its creamy center.

With just enough time to relish the after flavors of the first dish, the second was placed on the table. Two golden brown spring rolls were a beautiful contrast to the thick sauce, sprinkled with chive. The richly flavored chicken and spices inside the crunchy wrapper melded with the sauce with perfection. Quark, loosely translated from the German is “thick milk,” which reminds me of wonderful creamy cheese that’s similar to a mascarpone meets a sour cream meets a yogurt. Badman introduces i’itoi onions to the sauce and they impart a taste that harbors something between a green onion and a shallot. It was a prized onion introduced by the Spaniards to present day Tohono O’Odham. My bet is she picked these up from Crooked Sky Farms here in Phoenix, and my palate thanks them both.

My husband was eager to delve into his entrée: Paprika chicken is a popular dish of Hungarian origin, so named because of the ample use of paprika. Although the menu stated there was half a chicken, only a leg quarter was presented. Swimming in a rosy and aromatic broth and topped with a healthy dollop of sour cream, the meat fell off the bone, as promised.

Spicy grilled broccoli.

It is said that the eyes eat first, and mine certainly did with the halibut. Criss-crossed with dark grill marks that peeked out from the spray of radish sprouts sitting atop brown rice, the fish was garnished with grapefruit supremes. As I began to explore the many components of the dish, I was most impressed with the diced sugar snap peas that brought an enchantingly sweet crunch. Dots of lemon mayo elevated the perfectly cooked, moist fish to a true flawlessness.

The spicy broccoli did not pale in presentation either. The waitress advised us that the tangerine aioli that accompanied the pair of sizable crowns would spoil us for any other. While I found it bewitching, it was a tad too unusual a pairing for my husband.

Although there were several dessert options recited by our server such as flourless chocolate cake and butterscotch pudding, we were quite replete. Experiencing the exquisite collaboration by Badman and Milic was treat enough, anyway.

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