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I'd be perfectly content if you plunked me down on a wicker chair at a tiny round table, put some Édith Piaf on the stereo, and called me Amélie. The quintessential French cafe has timeless appeal.
But recently, at Scratch Pastries — a two-month-old patisserie/cafe in a Scottsdale strip mall — I was happily taken off-guard. The vibe is Parisian, for sure, but not in a cinematic way. Instead, it's hip and low-key, with languid Air tracks on the sound system, glossy tins of Mariage Frères tea lined up on a shelf, and a menu of luscious desserts and rustic sandwiches.
On one visit, chef-owner Duc Liao (pronounced "Duke") — clad in a white Le Cordon Bleu jacket and white Agnès B. beret — stepped out of the kitchen to check on the handful of lunchtime customers. When he walked over to my table to ask about my meal (which was delicious), we got to chatting. He had no idea I was a food critic and offhandedly mentioned he was going back to Paris in early March.
7620 E. Indian School Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Region: Central Scottsdale
"What for?" I wondered aloud.
"Oh," Liao said nonchalantly, "I am shooting Issey Miyake's fall collection."
Quelle surprise, the guy's a fashion photographer.
I should have seen it coming. The writing was on the wall, so to speak. I'd been sitting at the blond wood communal table, staring across the room at an assemblage of international magazine covers and Louis Vuitton ads hung in aluminum frames. Turns out, it was all from Liao's portfolio.
Liao was born in Cambodia to a Vietnamese mother and Chinese father, and raised in Paris. His wife, Noelle — the graceful gal who took my order — grew up in Rochester, New York, and was working as a model in Paris when she met Liao. They moved to Arizona two years ago, partly because Noelle has relatives here, and also because Liao fell in love with the area on a visit a decade ago.
"We believe it's a good place to raise babies," he told me, mentioning his 2- and 3-year-old kids. "They can run around outside in the sun."
Before the Liaos were able to leave Paris, they brainstormed on what to do for a living here. Opening a shop, they decided, was a way of hanging on to the things they'd miss the most about France, so Liao enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu to study pastry making.
Why pastries? "Because they are beautiful, and they taste good," Liao says.
And he's right. The confections at Scratch not only look mouthwatering but taste delightful, too.
For as contemporary as this cafe appears, with its pale gray and pink walls and playful, bubblegum-colored cartoons scattered across the back of the room, the desserts here are elegantly traditional, from dainty butter cookies to tartes and éclairs. To drink, there's organic coffee and juice, Mexican Coke, Perrier and Orangina, and several varieties of Mariage Frères, a high-end line of classic teas that are incredibly aromatic — and just happen to taste fantastic with a croissant.
Speaking of my favorite pastry, I tried really, really hard not to inhale mine in a matter of seconds. It was superb — very flaky and airy, with a crisp, golden exterior and moist, buttery layers inside. If it weren't for all those glammed-up photos of fashion models silently warning me to behave, I probably would've eaten another.
It's just as well, I guess, because I still ordered dessert — several desserts, actually, on a few occasions. Don't ask me to choose a favorite, though, because each one had its charms.
In the way of chocolate creations, I loved the chocolate ganache macaroon, with swirls of ganache surrounded by fresh raspberries on a crunchy chocolate crust. A chewy miniature chocolate French macaron sat jauntily on top, accented with a shiny smidgen of edible gold leaf. The chocolate-praline dome was more straightforward, a half-orb of chocolate-cream-filled chocolate shell that resembled an oversized bonbon.
The strawberry-rose gateau tasted more of strawberry than rose, although the appeal was in its combination of textures. A round, crumbly shortcake formed the base, which supported a dome of strawberry gel. Just beneath its clear, sticky red surface was a fluffy mound of strawberry cream, and at the center of it, a blob of mashed strawberries. On top, a fresh rose petal anchored by a raspberry looked like a tiny crimson flag.
A couple of other desserts revealed hidden treasures as well. The green tea fleur, sprinkled with matcha, had a bit of soft caramel at its heart, while the Mont Blanc — a layered concoction in a small glass — contained sweet chunks of chestnut inside a blanket of dense, smooth chestnut cream. I had to scoop through a cloud of whipped cream to get at it, though, and when I thought I was nearly finished, I discovered some wafer-like meringue at the bottom.
Clearly, I satisfied my sweet tooth at Scratch Pastries, but I fed my savory craving, too. The lunchtime menu included half a dozen sandwiches and a handful of quiches, all served with a salad of fresh baby greens and herb-balsamic vinaigrette.
Don't let the non-Waterfront address fool you... this place is is chic, unique, hip, and casually comfortable. The quiche is fantastic and the desserts are not only delicious but beautiful. I wish the best to owners the best and am thrilled its in my backyard!
Amen. I live in the "hood" and am delighted to have so charming a venue, within walking distance. It's almost like being back in Paris. Almost.
I tried Scratch the other day, not only do you get a cappuccino that is 16oz for the price of a Starbucks tall, but in my opinion, definitely better. If your not in the mood for coffee try their French traditional hot cocoa, they melt ganache to make it, do I have to say more? You got to try it, I'll be a regular there.
Here we are.. making plans to visit about 10 bakeries in LA.. then there is one great sounding location right under our noses!