By Ron Bernthal
When Emily Milic, co-owner of the newly relocated FnB restaurant in Scottsdale’s Old Town, asked me to remove my coat before going to my table for dinner, “because it was a tight squeeze,” I wasn’t sure what she meant. FnB is an intimate and friendly place with only about 12 tables, but there seemed to be plenty of room for people, and heavy coats, on this cold, winter Arizona night.
Then Emily led me past the cozy front bar and into the restaurant’s tiny open kitchen, which faced a full dining room, all diners looking at the single gentleman who was given a seat in the kitchen. It so happened that a local friend who made the reservation had requested this special table for me (no extra charge). I sat at a small white tablecloth-covered café table raised up on a little platform, sharing space with noted southwest chef and co-owner Charleen Badman and her assistant, along with a cooler, a four-burner stovetop, a hot mesquite charcoal and wood-burning oven, and dozens of plastic bins and farm cartons filled with root vegetables, fruit, brown eggs, and assorted spices. Every few minutes a rack of lamb riblets went into the oven, a tray of fish was taken out of the cooler, strawberries were expertly sliced. It was the best seat in the house. Pavle Milic, Emily’s husband, calls it the Sinatra Table. “Everyone in the dining room now thinks you own the restaurant,” he said, joking, after I maneuvered myself into the small space between the sink and the prep table. Pavle said he could even squeeze another three people around the table, although I wasn’t sure if he was still joking.
With Pavle handling front of the house and sommelier duties, and making quick visits to the kitchen to see if I was enjoying the ambience (I was, tremendously), I watched chef Charleen prepare farm-to-table appetizers like beet falafel and marinated greens, hand-pulled mozzarella with leeks gribiche, or roasted carrots and parsnips, with dates, honey and rosemary. My main dish, corvina with pomegranate, persimmon freekah (a healthy Middle Eastern cereal), and chermoula (a North African spice), was truly amazing. Desert was chocolate soufflé with a scoop of ginger ice cream on the side. Food & Wine named Ms. Badman’s braised leeks with mozzarella and fried egg one of the ten best restaurant dishes in 2010. It wasn’t on the menu during my visit, but everything else I ate could have won the same award.
Pavle Milic, born in Colombia, raised in New York City, and Charleen Badman, have been running FnB for four years, and the new location, on a quiet Old Town plaza, still offers an ever-changing menu sourced from local farmers and ranchers, with a great selection of high-altitude Arizona wines. A mouth-watering selection of small plates and four entrees, all tasty, aromatic, most organic, rarely the same two nights in a row, is what FnB is all about. Ask for the Sinatra table when making reservations. (www.fnbrestaurant.com)