Updated: Aug 24, 2020
I am a self-proclaimed lover of anything French. There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the feeling I get when I’m in France that satisfies my desire for peace and happiness.
Perhaps it is the people I’ve met, like the welcoming my husband and I received from the sweet old man who served us in his small bakery in Nice. He sat us down at his only kitchen table -- we watched as he passionately revealed the daily quiche fresh out of the oven, taking pride in his creation with an audible “oo lala!”
It could also be the diverse landscape of France, like the labyrinth of ancient cobbled streets lined with pastel shutters in Provence. The mistral winds pick up a bouquet of dry lavender and sea mist, leading my senses to a fantasy of exploration -- discovering a treasure trove of beautiful architecture around every corner.
I think it is also the simple pleasures that France offers, like indulging in a delicate macaron at the Luxembourg Garden in Paris – taking the time to stop and enjoy each nibble, listening to the children squeal with joy on the carousel, getting nothing accomplished and feeling zero guilt about it.
France is more than a place, it is a way of life. Here are my go-to places in Phoenix that offer the “joie de vivre” state of mind in my own backyard.
Breakfast/ Petit dejeuner
Jenna Leurquin pastry chef and owner offers high quality ingredients and freshness that stand out in her baked goods. Most days Jenna will greet you into her clean boutique showcasing her breads and pastries in woven baskets. I like to start my morning off right with a flaky croissant. Her pistachio white chocolate cookies drizzled with caramel are to die for.
Looking for something more substantial? This French owned creperie showcases a variety of sweet and savory crepes from every region of France. I recommend the Forestiere, filled with ham, melted Swiss, mushrooms, béchamel Sauce served with a simple salad on the side. Wash it down with a sparkling apple cider.
My option for the most authentic French bistro in Arizona. The lobby candelabra drips layer upon layer of wax and a sparkling Eiffel tower is the restaurant’s center piece. For more intimacy, ask for a table in the courtyard. I am never disappointed when I order the wedge salad with roasted beets, oven dried tomatoes, fried pumpernickel, spiced walnuts, red onion, blue cheese crumbles, sherry blue cheese vinaigrette and flat iron steak.
This is where local farmers, artisans and small business showcase their craft. Every Saturday (also open on Wednesdays), I enjoy picking the freshest produce to create a dinner menu based on what is in season. Make sure you pick up a country loaf from Noble Bread before they sell out. I also recommend snacking on the green chili tamales from The Tamale Store.
The Greenbelt is an oasis of parks, lakes, paths and golf courses traversing 11 miles through the heart of Scottsdale. I enjoy riding my bike under the shade of the trees, delighting in the sights and sounds of the community out and about.
Window shopping/ “faire du leche-vitrines”
Enjoy the art of doing nothing with what the French call “Licking the windows” at Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter outdoor shopping centers. Take pleasure in the window displays – beware, the tempting sales may lure you inside.
Located in the heart of Scottsdale, this 30 acre park is my favorite place to take the kiddo. My daughter loves to ride the steam train and the 1950-vintage carousel. There is a working model railroad, plenty of playgrounds and play areas. Reward the family with an ice cream cone and enjoy this creamy treat in the lush grass under a shady tree.
Explore the 5 tasting rooms in Old Town Scottsdale and soak in the non-pretentious experience of Arizona wines. My favorite wines are the Tank 28 red blend from Aridus Wine Co. and all of the Rhone varietals at LDV Winery. Make Merkin Vineyards your last stop for comfortable seating and nosh on a cheese board or panini.
Noble Bread is an artisan bakery featuring old world techniques, a stone hearth and thoughtfully handcrafted naturally leavened bread. It takes an astonishing 36 hours to make one loaf. My favorite is their crunchy and chewy country loaf that makes a good avocado toast. I add radishes sliced paper thin, pickled onion, and feta cheese. I finish the dish with a light drizzle of high quality olive oil – delish!
This award-winning small-batch craft chocolate maker makes 100% of their own chocolate from ethically-sourced cocoa beans. Owners Jim and Maureen Elitzak, a sweet couple --pun intended -- make creamy bonbons, truffles, and caramels too pretty to eat. The flavors are unique and change frequently. I also love how they source local ingredients like honey from AZ Queen Bee, Arizona prickly pear, Peixoto Coffee Roasters mocha and flavors from local brews. Try the rose salted caramel, white chocolate stout or mango cayenne truffles. I can't forget to mention, they offer brownie flights too!
My go to for unique wines at an unbeatable price. The owner Andrea is knowledgeable of her broad selection of wines from around the world. When I stop in, she consults with me and recommends the perfect wine. She takes everything into account -- occasion, season, food pairing and grape varietal. Lately, I have been craving a light-bodied, juicy red Gamay wine from Beaujolais – perfect for Phoenix summers.
After embracing the day and finding joy in the simplicity of living, I like to spend time in the kitchen, preparing a home cooked meal with the local fresh ingredients I picked up at the farmers market. I delight in making something as simple as a cheese board or salad. If I am patient, I might make an onion soup or “coq a vin”. Regardless, wine, bread, chocolate and cheese will be savored.
Whether I share this time laughing with others or getting cozy with a romantic classic movie, I can be grateful for everything I have and appreciate the small things that may go unnoticed or taken for granted.
As the sunsets, I am mindful of this French passion for life and strive to carry this attitude everyday where ever I am, whatever the circumstance.
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