QUIRK AND CLEAVER

There's only one word for these desserts: wicked. Perhaps we managed to choose the three richest, densest and butter-and-chocolate-laden varieties, but I doubt it. Each taste seemed to be followed by an involuntary exclamation of, "Wow." The B-52 torte would stop the infantry in its tracks. It probably keeps half of Wisconsin's butter farmers in operation. A chocolaty filling is laced with Kahl£a, Grand Marnier and Bailey's, and then topped with crushed pistachios. Finish this by yourself and it's even money whether your liver or arteries will go first.

White-chocolate ginger cheese cake had a terrific ginger zip accompanying the creamy cheese interior. And the heavenly chocolate-truffle tart--big as a discus and about as heavy--needs to come with a ten-gallon coffee mug to help wash it down.

RoxSand's diverse fare may be hard to pin down with just a few adjectives. But there's only one that really matters--first-rate. The Congo, 2515 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 945-3778. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.; Sunday, dinner, 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. The menu at the Congo, a new Scottsdale restaurant and coffee bar, looked almost as intriguing as RoxSand's: tequila chicken with jalape¤o rice; eggplant calamari; Thai beef with cellophane noodles; and some bizarre concoction called puele magnetique. Even more compelling were the prices--nothing more than eight bucks.

We made a visit, hoping to find a down-home place for RoxSand tastes and coffee-shop budgets. Instead, we got a dreary new menu featuring the same tired fare we were looking to escape.

If you avert your eyes from the menu, the Congo is quite a funky spot. There's a rusted, corrugated tin ceiling, cunningly cut in the center to reveal a blue-domed area with glow-in-the-dark stars and a full moon. Half the room is coffee bar--sofas, tables and bookcases--the other half tables and booths lined with butcher paper and crayons for doodling. The ubiquitous, flower-filled Ty Nant water bottles add a more traditional aesthetic touch. If you're over 30, you'll substantially increase the average age of this Generation X hangout. You can drown your aging sorrows with some good brew on tap (Watney's and Foster's), served in mason-jar mugs. But this is the first coffee bar I've ever been in that doesn't serve decaf. I guess when I was in my 20s, I didn't have trouble sleeping, either. The starters, unfortunately, didn't do much to keep us awake. Fish tacos proved the best of the lot, filled with cabbage, onions, pepper and hunks of fish. The pallid black-bean soup had no discernible taste whatever, although we found a piece of sausage floating among the solids. The house salad was atrocious, ruined by an out-of-synch sweet lemon dressing that made my fork pucker.

The main dishes made me suspect that today's youth don't make too many culinary demands. Serviceable vegetable lasagna had one youthful prerequisite--it was big enough to feed a gang of lumberjacks. It came studded with broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom and peppers, and slathered with nondescript cheese and sauce.

Linguini with clams and mussels had two major drawbacks--the clams and mussels. The clams required canines that haven't been found on bipeds since Australopithecus came down from the trees. The mussels had an unacceptable level of grit.

The Congo does make a half-dozen kinds of pleasant, reasonably priced whole-wheat pizzas. The vegetarian model sports artichokes, onions and a healthy helping of cheese.

Afterward, the waitress pointed out a homemade dessert, a strawberry cheesecake, and we took the bait. Too bad the fruit sauce seemed to be flavored with the same ingredient that gives Smith Brothers cough drops their distinctive medicinal quality. The Congo's inferior fare is doubly disappointing because this place stays open until the wee hours, and this town desperately needs a good late-night spot. For the time being, though, your best bet is to go home and wait for breakfast.

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