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Not everything at Le Sans Souci is romantic. Service can be ragged and harried. And failing to replace cutlery after each course is a major lapse. But if you're in love, you may not even notice.
Paris After Dark, 8525 North Central, Phoenix, 861-2437. Hours: Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.
7030 E. Bella Vista Drive
Cave Creek, AZ 85331
Region: Cave Creek
No matter how deeply you're in love, it would be hard not to notice the setting of the seductively named Paris After Dark, which opened a few months ago. This is what I imagine the public rooms of a Turkish bordello must look like: a rich, burgundy-hued dining area, with yards of heavy drapery around the windows, brocade fabric on the chairs, flowery wallpaper, gilt-framed paintings of unknown aristocrats, red-linen tablecloths and piped-in Bach.
There are campy touches, as well. Ceramic cherub heads hang from the wall, and reproductions of classical sculpture are placed throughout the restaurant. In retrospect, I think the statue of Michelangelo's David that occupies the men's-room stall is a particularly bold decorating move. But at the time of our first encounter, I was so flustered that I spent several moments apologizing to the figure for barging in before I realized he was inert.
Paris After Dark's concept is so old, it's practically new: On weekends it's a combination restaurant and cabaret. The fare is prewar continental; and so, too, in its own rakish way, is the after-dinner entertainment. The revue (there's no cover charge) is called Follies After Dark, where, as the master of ceremonies points out, "The men are men, and so are the women." The talented, lip-synching female impersonators put on a great show for an appreciative crowd of both straights and gays.
The menu, like the cabaret, is retro enough to be hip. And the food is generally good enough to get everyone primed and happy by showtime.
The chef's recipe book must have fallen open to the "puff pastry" page when he put together his appetizer list. How else to explain that every starter except the garlic toast comes under a pastry canopy, including the shrimp cocktail? It's good, though--six jumbo shrimp in a rmoulade zipped up with capers. I do wish, however, that the mushrooms in a sherry cream sauce had been a little more exotic than the supermarket variety we encountered. And despite the menu's claim to the contrary, I have a hard time believing the desultory dinner rolls were homemade, unless home was a plastic bag.
The meal picks up with the arrival of the soup or salad that accompanies dinner. The hearty black bean soup is scrumptious, and you get plenty of it. The romaine greenery, meanwhile, is improved by either the blue cheese or honey Dijon dressing.
The main dishes are all given French names, with English explanations. Good thing, too, because the French is so execrable that even Le Sans Souci's mistake-filled menu reads like a long-lost work of Flaubert in comparison. Proofreading seems to be a disappearing art.
Fortunately, Paris After Dark cooks better than it spells. Beef Wellington is deftly done, a butter-soft tenderloin coated with mushrooms and foie gras, baked in--you guessed it--puff pastry. It's paired with luscious, tarragon-scented potatoes and squash. The chef also does an admirable job with medallions of beef topped with crumbled blue cheese, a terrific combination. Too bad the Burgundy sauce was watery.
Chicken with artichokes features an ample portion of boneless breast, tastily gilded with artichoke hearts, mushrooms and carrots over a mound of cappellini. Too bad the cream sauce was watery.
Shrimp scampi isn't fashioned with lots of sizzling butter and garlic, as you might expect. Instead, six hefty shrimp are served over pasta, in a sherry cream sauce. Too bad the sherry cream sauce was watery.
Pace your meal so you leave some time forthe homemade desserts. The boule de neige--it means "snowball"--features moist chocolate cake surrounded by whipped cream studded with chocolate chips. The simple creme brulee, I'm thrilled to report, comes unadorned by berries and fruit sauce, a practice I'm profoundly sick of. This model is practically perfect: rich, intense, custardy.
An evening at Paris After Dark is more than a meal--it's an experience. After all, there aren't too many places in this town where your Valentine can see beef Wellington and "Liza Minnelli" on the same bill.
Le Sans Souci:
Paris After Dark: