A Removeable Feast

6th Avenue Petit Marche, 7146 East Sixth Avenue, Scottsdale, 947-7172. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Remember the good old days, when mom would go shopping in the morning to pick up the groceries for the family dinner? After she returned from the market, she'd spend the rest of the day filling the house with the scents of home cooking, stirring, simmering and sauteing in front of an armada of pots and pans.

Everyone knows those days are over. These days, you have a better chance of seeing the Dodgers move back to Brooklyn or coonskin caps become a fashion accessory than seeing a mom--or dad--with eight hours to spare for kitchen work. In the 1990s, the only way you'll ever see that level of home culinary commitment is to watch reruns of Leave It to Beaver.

Understandably, there's a lot of wistful nostalgia about those old days. Life seemed simpler, less hectic and more secure. Mom reigned over the hearth, cooking, cleaning and child-raising. Dad never had to worry about being "downsized" by the company. Gas was 20 cents a gallon; school boards didn't assign Heather Has Two Mommies to third graders; and the Southern Baptists didn't believe Mickey Mouse was a front for Satan.

Of course, not all was perfect. No doubt one reason mom had so much time to spend in the kitchen was that she had almost no outlet for her creative energies, no opportunity to test her abilities in the outside world.

Nowadays, mealtime is the source of a lot of conflicted feelings. We'd all like to sit leisurely around the dinner table, catching up on family news and enjoying a lovingly prepared homemade meal. The reality is that dad's working late and has to drive the kids to 6:30 soccer practice, while working mom hasn't had time even to pick up the dry cleaning she dropped off before the Fourth of July. And even if we had the time, who wants to cook in the middle of a Phoenix summer, anyway? Lovingly prepared homemade meals? Forget it.

Cagey culinary entrepreneurs have rushed to fill the gap between our mealtime hopes and reality. They know that eating at a restaurant several times a week, even if we could afford it, can't satisfy our psychological hunger for sharing dinner at home with our loved ones. So they're seizing a market opportunity that didn't exist a generation ago: It's the niche for complete, fully prepared, home-style meals to go. No matter how busy you are, now you can have your cake and eat it, too, right after the soup, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.

Actually, if you stop in at 6th Avenue Petit Marche, you can have your páte de compagne, boeuf bourguignon and tarte tatin and eat them, too. That's because this upscale little shop specializes in takeout French cuisine.

It's a sister shop to 6th Avenue Bistrot, the French restaurant next door. A few months ago, the proprietor realized that diners might occasionally prefer his Gallic fare at home, without the restaurant markup. 6th Avenue Petit Marche lets them do just that.

It's a small grocery, too, the shelves lined with the kind of goods that might tempt you when you arrive to pick up your order: wine, beer, olives, condiments, dressings and sauces. A display freezer offers goose, duck, pheasant and frogs' legs, should the urge to someday defrost and cook strike you. (When it comes to summertime cooking, I follow Robert Benchley's advice about exercising: When the urge hits, lie down until the feeling passes.)

The menu is small enough to be manageable, but diverse enough to let you come back two or three times before you have to order something you've already sampled.

There's a soup of the day, a creamy potato-leek puree the day I visited. It's competently done, subtly flavored without relying too heavily on salt.

A better way to edge into dinner, however, is the outstanding, homemade fish pate. It comes as a thick slab, moistened with a fragrant, lobster-tinged beurre blanc. If you prefer more traditional pátes, 6th Avenue Petit Marche offers a variety of them from Marcel & Henri, a well-known San Francisco brand.

The four salads are all priced at $4.50, but cost was the only thing similar about the two I tried. Mixed greens with goat-cheese croutons is completely unremarkable, a pile of romaine adorned with two thin crusts of bread lined with goat cheese. The duck confit salad, however, is a different story, a generous pile of tasty preserved duck tossed on a variety of greens. I didn't care for the pungent salad dressing, but since it came on the side, I just sprinkled on some bottled dressing instead.

Main dishes are hardly your everyday takeout options. Valley restaurants serve some of the world's worst coq au vin, but the model here is a genuinely worthy effort. About half a chicken is stewed in a rich, winy sauce, studded with pearl onions and mushrooms. Roast potatoes furnish an appealing accompaniment.

Cassoulet Toulousaine is similarly well-fashioned, although this heavy, hearty platter isn't especially suited for hot-weather eating. It's an aromatic mix of white beans, duck, sausage and bacon, cooked in duck stock. Boeuf bourguignon is a French staple that approaches traditional standards. It could have been more generously stocked with beef and veggies, but it meets all reasonable flavor requirements. Braised lamb shank is somewhat less exciting, a hunk of meat on the bone, simply teamed with potatoes and spinach.

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