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La Tache, 4175 Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale, 946-0377. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight.
Don't be fooled by La Tache's French name. No bowing and scraping waiters are going to call you "Monsieur," kiss "Madame's" hand or whip up a flaming dessert.
No stuffy, three-hour Gallic meals here. This is a casually classy restaurant serving an eclectic, around-the-world mix of flavorful fare. If your honey enjoys the sophisticated liveliness of urban bistro dining, La Tache may be just what Cupid had in mind.
34631 N. Tom Darlington Drive
Carefree, AZ 85377
Wine has always been associated with romance. Unfortunately, it's usually an expensive association. La Tache, however, makes it easy to have your wine and drink it, too. It offers more than three dozen wines not only by the glass, but also by the taste, about one third of a glass. Couples who may not be able to toast their eternal love with a $50 bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne might still seal their vows with a $4 taste of the bubbly. Moreover, this wallet-friendly touch permits budget-challenged wine lovers to sample two or three different tastes over the course of dinner for about the same cost as a single glass of wine.
La Tache also knows that a well-trained staff contributes to customer satisfaction. The crew here is efficient, attentive and knowledgeable, whether sweeping away breadcrumbs, replacing cutlery or answering questions about food-and-wine pairings.
The place looks smart, too, with its sleek curved bar just inside the entrance, vintage champagne posters on the wall and fleur-de-lis candleholders on the tables.
Happily, the food keeps pace with the wine, service and decor. And with most entrees comfortably clustered in the $13 to $17 range, your memories of this special occasion shouldn't come in the form of monthly MasterCard reminders.
The short, four-item appetizer list isn't very gastronomically taxing. Fried calamari isn't the stuff of romance, so we looked elsewhere. Peking duck dumplings are a simple munchie, four small doughy pouches served with hoisin sauce. Crab cakes get some needed bite once you dip them in the chipotle aioli. The napoleon of ahi tuna exhibited the most flair, layers of lightly seared tuna and spicy pickled vegetables precariously balanced between wasabe plum wafers.
If none of these starter options appeals to her, maybe the hearty onion soup will, especially if the kitchen remembers to serve it hot. Our lukewarm broth wouldn't have raised a cry from a newborn.
The kitchen seems to put most of its effort into the entrees. The Thai curried prawns prove the point. Actually, the five medium-size shrimp are the least interesting element in this platter. It's the sticky coconut rice and mixed veggies in a lip-smacking curry sauce that furnish the zing, and which make the last bite of this dish just as stimulating as the first.
The cassoulet also sports an invigorating blend of flavors. La Tache's version of this hearty bistro staple combines white beans with sausage, bacon and a bit of duck. Its stick-to-the-bones quality makes it a good choice on chilly February evenings.
The pot roast Provencale is also good winter fare. The tender beef is pepped up with olives and tomatoes, and teamed with a mound of garlic mashed potatoes. Grilled pork loin comes moist and juicy, effectively paired with black beans, rice and plantain chips. And grilled Pacific snapper, crusted with blue cornmeal, should satisfy diners looking for an uncomplicated taste of fish.
The one main-dish misstep? It's the osso buco, an undistinguished veal shank that lacked the fall-off-the-bone tenderness and rich winy sauce of the best models. To my frustration, the kitchen also couldn't come up with one of those small forks designed to poke the marrow out from the bone.
Desserts end the meal on just the right sweet note. An apple-raisin cobbler topped with ice cream provides simple pleasure. The ample bread pudding in bourbon sauce will seal off any remaining appetite cracks. But honors go to the chocolate pecan chocolate torte, a warm, chocolaty confection that will quickly have your brain kicking out those chemical signals that tell you you're having a good time.
But don't leave now, no matter how romantic you're feeling. La Tache offers, at reasonable prices, several topnotch dessert wines by the glass, including Banyuls from Dr. Parce, Beamues-de-Venise from Chapoutier and Moscato d'Asti from Michele Chiarlo. Depending on how the rest of the evening unfolds, they could be the highlight of your day.
Muscovy duck sausage
Smoked pork tenderloin
Grilled loin of veal
Chocolate poppy-seed torte
Napoleon of ahi tuna
Thai curried prawns