Sottise exterior | Photo courtesy TJ Culp
Just in time for a little holiday frivolity, TJ Culp, chef-owner of Restaurant Progress, and his partner Esther Noh have launched Sottise, a winsome wine bar and restaurant in the Roosevelt Row arts district. Its French name, which means “folly” or “foolishness,” reflects the couple’s lighthearted approach to this venture: “Yeah, we’re a French-inspired wine bar, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously here when there’s wine to be sipped and fun to be had.”
Sottise is also the name for a fizzy Rosé from the Loire Valley, which makes sense, too, considering the wine bar’s French-heavy list, which also features Old World and California wines. It’s curated by resident sommelier Oscar Avilla-Prado (formerly at Atlas Bistro), who spent three years in Dijon, France, where he was immersed in wine culture and developed a passion for natural wines.
You’ll find a handful of PET-NATs (naturally sparkling, fermented-in-the-bottle wines) and a few Field Blends (a wine made from two or more types of grapes planted in the same vineyard), both a little geeky. But honestly, his 150-bottle list offers something for every taste and budget — whether it’s a $14 by-the-glass Rosé or a $550 bottle of 2018 Ambonnay from Egly-Ouriet.
I’ll just say this: if you’ve ever had a wine-by-the-glass at Progress, you know how good this guy is at finding great-tasting, affordable wine. I’m also eager to go back for cool-sounding cocktails and aperitifs.
But here’s another thing: I can’t remember ever liking a wine bar’s vibe better than this one. For starters, Sottise is situated in a great location, close to Downtown’s hipster scene on Roosevelt but far enough away to be quieter and more adult. Housed in a refurbished 1909 bungalow known as the Knipe House, the cozy space feels just right too — charming without being staid, cool without being aggressively avant-garde.
Escargots | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
There’s a grassy, white-fenced yard and a deep front porch, furnished with tables and heaters, elements that make the place feel down-to-earth and homey. The inside is simple but gorgeous, thanks to wood floors, brick walls, pale green paint and multiple windows, all trimmed in white wood. Seating is limited to a handful of stools at the bar (decked out in the same white subway tiles used at Progress), a community table, and a few high-tops. But the coolest thing in the room is surely the vintage stereo, replete with turntable, where vinyl in various genres is spun throughout the evening.
And then, of course, there’s the French-inflected menu, which skews toward snacks and light bites such as Camembert cheese, escargots and French onion soup but also offers a handful of entrees. For an inexpensive nibble, begin with the olives — a warm jumble of Cerignolas, Castelvetranos, Picholines, Nicoise and I’m-not-sure-what-else, anointed in olive oil aromatic with citrus and thyme ($4.50). They’re wonderful. Oysters on the half shell are prepared here just as they are at Progress, topped with a chunky mixture of steak tartare, horseradish and caviar — counterintuitive but delicious, nonetheless, a dish that casts surf-and-turf in a playful light.
Baked Camembert, set in a moat of Calvados honey and drizzled with hazelnut vinaigrette, is an early favorite — rich and creamy, sweet and nutty — so good I don’t want to share it ($13.25). Then again, firm pâté du chef is excellent too, its fatty richness and natural sweetness offset by coarse-grain mustard, cornichons and fermented celery ($13.75).
You seldom find escargots on menus anymore, but if you still love them, they’re nicely done here in the classic style, swimming in parsley-flecked garlic-butter sauce. There’s also a small meat and cheese board with lots of pretty house-made accompaniments, such as pickled onion, and fig jam.
Roasted duck | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
I recently had a beet salad at Francine that I loved, but the beet salad at Sottise is my other all-time favorite. Beets and horseradish are a classic combo in Slavic countries, but Sottise’s version is more sumptuous, bringing together earthy roasted beets with a fluffy drift of hot horseradish cream, brightened with lemon. Dill adds a fresh, almost grassy note ($13.75).
What I probably like best about the onion soup is that I don’t feel like a deer at a salt lick. What I like least about the onion soup is the lack of Gruyere cheese stringing from bowl to lip. Oh, the Gruyere is in there. I just want more of it, like an obscene amount of it. Call me an ugly American if you must.
Despite being ever-so-faintly chewy, the five-spice roasted duck is fantastic, thanks to that heady Chinese blend of star-anise, fennel cinnamon, cloves and peppercorn. Bolstered with plump, sweet grapes and earthy potatoes, smothered in a honeyed jus, herbaceous with thyme, it’s the perfect winter dish.
I can’t wait to go back and intend to soon — before getting in becomes impossible. As the name promises, Sottise is a ton of fun.
1025 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-254-6378, sottisephx.com
Post-Script: My Thoughts on TJ Culp
Not for nothing did Culp spend a few formative years working for local restaurateur and eleven-time James Beard nominee Sam Fox, the guy who sold Fox Restaurant Concepts (54 restaurants and multiple brands) to Cheesecake Factory for a cool $353 million In 2019. Culp, who is barely 30, seems to have watched and learned what a savvy person in the restaurant business can do.
Progress, which opened in 2017, has become a high-end but unpretentious fixture in Melrose, beloved for its craft cocktails, good wine, seasonal menu and date-night vibe (for proof, check out the adorable patio). In fall of 2020, Culp and Noh opened The Montecito Bottle Shop right next door to Progress, where they offer beer, cider and a curated selection of global wines. And now, there’s Sottise. How do Culp and Noh manage to be three places at once? They can’t, so they’re big on systems and training. Do you see where they’re going with this?