Many years ago, I knew a fine lady in New York City who was the epitome of charm. She was an “old world dame” with a classic style and fashion sense along with a demeanor that just melted your heart. I was invited to her home for a party on a Saturday and told to dress formal. I put on my finest suit and tie and walked into another world.
Jane was a true delight and her Park Avenue apartment with a view of The Empire State Building was the stuff of dreams. Her party was filled with old money types and you couldn’t miss the fox stoles, blue eye shadow, and the captains of industry that Jane had met along life’s way. It was a fantastic party, with canapes, cheese puffs, little steak tenderloin appetizers, champagne, and talk about the days of Eisenhower and the Cold War. All through it, Jane pampered her guests and we chatted about her life working with the great fashion houses of Europe. It was a magical evening and one that I had hoped to replicate at least one more time in my life.
I was remembering that when I stumbled about trying to figure out where to take J. for a fancy dinner. I wanted something very different, very classy, and very old world. Doing some research on the Internets didn’t get me very far. Durants was an option, but J. had been there before and I wanted something as a surprise. French sounded good, but my research only turned up a few options. In the midst of my investigation, I turned up a name of a place I must have passed a few times. It was called Voltaire and it was on McDonald Drive in Scottsdale. My concern was that there was almost nothing written about Voltaire. One article from the restaurant’s own website was the only thing of substance I could find.
However, I decided that life is too short not to take chances and I booked an 8 o’clock reservation.
J. and I arrived, dressed up in our finest and wanting to make this a romantic and wonderful evening. I was exceptionally nervous because my fear was that Voltaire would be some cheesy dive with a Scottsdale facade. The parking was in the back lot and I was surprised because it was packed with cars and we got the last spot. We walked to the big double doors, I crossed my fingers, and we entered.
A small anteroom served as the waiting area and it was decorated like a small library in someone’s home. Books were on shelves along the wall and two wing-back chairs were placed next to them. The only thing missing was a fireplace.
The host met us at the entrance to the restaurant from the anteroom and took us to our table. The restaurant held about 20 tables and a bar spanned one wall. Wooden beams painted white were exposed and gave the place an airy feel. The walls were decorated with a subdued floral pattern and a lattice wood pattern separate various booths. Our table was in the center of the dining room and we had a bird’s eye view of everything. The tuxedo clad waiters, the crisp linen table clothes, and the mature clientel (J. and I were two of the youngest ones there at 33 and 42 respectively) completed the old world feel of the place. The only thing missing was Jane sitting in a booth in a corner enjoying a Pink Champagne Cocktail.
Our waiter approached rather quickly and welcomed us to the restaurant. He handed us our menus and asked if we had been to Voltaire before. We hadn’t and he explained the restaurant served classic French food. He gave us a few minutes and we perused the drink list. We both were, of course, in a celebratory mood and decided to have a glass of wine to start. J. was enticed by the house Riesling wine ($6.95) and I had a glass of the sparking house wine ($7.95). [Note: pricing is approximate, but the final bill total is accurate.] I also ordered a Diet Coke ($2.50).
While we waited for our drinks, we looked at the menu. It truly was the classic French items one would think of. There were plenty of choices to please even the most discriminating palate. We decided we wanted to try a bit of everything and set our plan of action into motion.
Our waiter returned with our wine. J. was thrilled with the Riesling. Slightly sweet, smooth and pleasant, J. found this a wonderful way to begin our meal.
My sparkling wine was dry with a good finish on the back of the palate. I was very pleased that they served it in a tulip flute glass instead of those tall, slender flutes that demand you all but toss your head back to get the beverage in your mouth.
At this point we placed our orders. We decided to have the Pate Maison ($8.95) as our appetizer. We also wanted to try the soups, so J. got the Cold Vichyssoise ($4.95) while I chose the Parisian Onion Soup ($5.95). For our entrees, J. loved the idea of the Duck L’Orange ($23.50) and I am always drawn to the Steak Au Poivre ($28.50). Both were served with a house salad.
We finished up our wine and talked about the menu some more as we hoped that our meals were as good as they sounded. We had a great time wondering if we should have ordered X instead of Y for each course.
Our Pate was brought out within a few minutes. The slice of pate sat on a white plate and was surrounded by cornichons, a small ramekin of a spicy stone ground mustard and crisp piece of toast. The pate was delicious, but J. and I both knew that this was not good for our bodies. We didn’t care as the taste made us forget our cares. It was salty, smooth, and a nice fatty edge to it all. When combined with the mustard, toast and cornichons, it was a fabulous mix of tastes and textures. My only regret was that we wished we had been given more of the toasts to accomodate the amount of pate.
With the taste of the pate still on our lips, we proceeded to our soups. J. had never really had Vichyssoise before but knew what it was. The cup of cold potato soup arrived and was decorated with a few snipped chives on top. J. was a bit concerned about the small cup, thinking that if it was really good, a bowl might have been better. The first taste put a smile on J.’s face. Cold, silky and bursting with flavor, J. loved the soup. J. noted that it was made with a significant amount of cream and, therefore, a cup of the soup was a perfect serving.
My soup was all but smoldering when it was placed on my charger. The small tureen of soup was still billowing steam and the cheese on top had found its way over the lip of the bowl and down the sides. I broke the cheese top in the middle to allow some of the heat to escape. I was finally able to get a spoonful of the onion soup to cool down enough to taste it. It was fantastic. The broth was made of veal stock and was bold, salty, with plenty of onion flavor and pieces of carmelized onions in the broth. A thick piece of bread was hiding just under the cheese and added some extra body to the soup. The best part, however, was the melted cheese that was delectable as well as gooey. As I finished the soup, I was scraping the bowl with my spoon to get every last molecule of the cheese. I would put this as one of the “top five” onion soups I have had. It was a classic and outstanding preparation.
With our soups finished, our waiter cleared our plates. Moments later, he returned with two house salads. These were simple preparations of Romaine lettuce pieces tossed in a shallot vinaigrette. It was topped with a few pieces of roasted beet and a small grating of goat cheese. For such a simple salad, the taste was excellent. The vinaigrette was tart and tangy and a nice balance against the bitter greens and the sweetness of the beets. The cheese only heightened the taste. We loved the salad.
As we were in the midst of our salads, our waiter brought out a basket and tongs and served us each a dinner roll. I was prepared for just your average dinner roll but was a bit caught off guard when I had to quickly place the roll back on my plate after picking it up. The roll was searing hot. Again, I was expecting the thing to be hard as a rock. When it had cooled, I broke it open and discovered that the exterior was ultra-crispy and the interior was soft and yeasty. I put butter on and got a great “crunch” from the first bite. A simple roll had become a great accompaniment to our salads and J. and I were quickly requesting more. Thankfully, our waiter was more than happy to fulfill our request.
Only a few minutes passed between our salad course and when our waiter brought our entrees. J.’s Duck L’Orange was beautiful to look at with its pleasing orange color and the orange segments that decorated the top of the duck breast. Next to the duck was a small serving of a potato gratin and some sauteed vegetables. J. said a very audible “wow” upon tasting the duck. J. insisted I take a taste and I almost wish I had gotten the duck. The breast meat was so tender, it literally melted in our mouths. The wonderful orange flavor was an extraordinary compliment to the savory duck meat. The skin had been rendered a bit crispy from the cooking and the textures were excellent. J. was amazed at the preparation. It was a classic, but also flawlessly prepared. J. also raved about the potatoes and had no complaints about the tender-crisp vegetables.
My Steak Au Poivre was a large cut of New York Strip that had been coated in cracked peppercorns and cooked medium-rare with a large mushroom cap placed on top. It was served with the potatoes and vegetables that J. was enjoying and also had a bit of a beef reduction sauce. The steak was tender, moist and the heat from the peppercorns was just enough to enhance the taste of the beef without overpowering it (although there was a lasting burn on my tongue throughout the dish, which I enjoyed). The potato gratin was luscious. Thick, creamy and evenly cooked, this was exceptional, especially with Gruyere cheese making an appearance. The vegetables, while simple baby carrots and sugar snap peas, were not mushy and not drenched in butter sauce. They were fresh and tasty.
J. and I relished in our meals. We both were immensely enjoying our entrees and our waiter was kind enough to bring us another round of those wonderful rolls. By the time we had finished, we were full, but not stuffed, which gave me a chance to surprise J. with a special dessert. Our waiter brought over dessert menus which I declined and told him to bring us the cherry dessert on the menu. The waiter smiled and said I had made an excellent choice. J., being a smart cookie, firgured out in a second that I had ordered Cherries Jubilee ($12.95) which served two. Since J. and I had never had Cherries Jubilee, this was going to be a great treat (I hoped).
A few minutes later, our waiter appeared at the table with a cart containing a gas hot plate, bowls of vanilla ice cream, a copper skillet laden with bing cherries and a big bottle of kirsch. He quickly got to work and heated the cherries until they and their syrup were bubbling. He doused it all with the kirsch, tipped the pan and ignited the alcohol. He let it burn down and then carefully ladeled the mixture over the ice cream. J. and I sat there mesmerized and thoroughly enjoying the show.
We were served our bowls of Cherries Jubilee and we noticed the vanilla ice cream was hard packed so that it wouldn’t instantly melt with the hot cherries spread over it. We each took a bite. Absolutely fantastic. Again, a simple preparation had done wonders for our palates. The vanilla ice cream was subtle and smooth with no industrial taste to it. We were convinced it was home made. The cherries were tart and soft, but gave some resistance with each bite. The kirsch was a great addition as the flavors really came through. Oddly (but in a good way), J. and I tasted some unexpected flavors. We could discern a chocolate taste as well as cinnamon and as an aftertaste, a bit of pineapple. Very unexpected. Very good. We scraped the last of the ice cream and the cherry sauce out of the bowls.
We sat back as the waiter and staff cleared the table and offered us coffee and after-dinner liquors. We declined and just savored the entire evening. Our waiter brought out bill which amounted to $108.85 including tax, which was a colossal bargain for the quality of the food. The service was outstanding. Attentive, but not overbearing and all of our requests were met with instant approval.
As we got up to leave, we noticed that there was only one couple left in the place, enjoying some after-dinner cocktails in a booth toward the back. When we arrived, the place was full, but the noise level was never anything approaching loud. It just wasn’t the kind of place to be boisterous. We thanked our waiter and the host for a glorious evening and we walked to the car.
I headed down McDonald Drive and decided to take the leisurely route back through Paradise Valley. With Sinatra crooning on the raidio and the most wonderful fiance holding my hand, I thought about what a wonderful night J. and I had had. Voltaire was exceptional. Elegant and understated, J. and I agreed that this was one of the most delightful meals we have had.
Jane would have been in heaven at Voltaire.
Voltaire French Restaurant
8340 East McDonald Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85250
Dress: Business Casual to Formal
Notes: Parking is in the back. Reservations are essential.