Taste of Europe: The last time I looked, the Eiffel Tower wasn't in Phoenix. Neither was Stonehenge, the Alps, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
If you want to see those sights, you have to go overseas. But you don't need to book a transatlantic flight to find real European-cafe fare. All you have to do is fight the traffic along Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard, and make your way to Cafe Patou.
This place started as a south Scottsdale, 20-seat, BYOB storefront in 1995. It went big-time about a year later, moving to a tonier uptown address, complete with cavernous dining room, full bar and expanded menu. When I ate in the new quarters, I thought the food was as good as ever. But in the transition, Cafe Patou had lost a bit of charm--it was noisy, crowded and impersonal.
During my last visit a few weeks ago, however, the charm seemed to have returned. Maybe it was because I came on a slow weeknight, when the main dining area was closed. Instead, we ate in the front room, near the bar. The setting and service were absolutely delightful. So was the food.
The four-cheese crepe still makes a smashing appetizer. Make sure you share it, or you'll be through for the evening. The lusty boeuf Bourguignon is first-rate, tinged with a bit of bacon. You can't find gnocchi alla Romana anyplace else in the Valley. It's fashioned Roman-style, from semolina flour, milk and eggs, then baked in the oven, glazed with cheese and coated with a light tomato sauce. And the pizzalike flatbreads make for great cafe munching, especially if you get the model topped with prosciutto and goat cheese.
The chocolate ecstasy, a warm chocolate cake filled with a molten chocolate center, is still the best dessert option. Follow it up with a glass of Beaumes-de-Venise or Australian semillon, affordable, nectarlike dessert wines that put a wonderful exclamation mark on the meal.
Cafe Patou is in Scottsdale Promenade, at 7000 East Shea. Call 951-6868.
By the Numbers: The National Restaurant Association has just put out its 1998 forecast. For Arizona, it's just as sunny as the weather report.
The operative word is more: more people, more jobs, more money. Perhaps the most staggering figure: 5,400,000,000. That's the number of dollars spent eating out last year in Arizona. I whipped out the calculator and divided 5.4 billion by 4.5 million, the state's population, to get a per capita figure. It comes to $1,200 for every man, woman and child. Throw in 10 million tourists, though, and it comes to a more reasonable $372.
This year promises to be even better. Analysts are projecting out-of-home food sales in Arizona to reach $5.7 billion in 1998. No wonder so many restaurants are opening so fast that I can barely keep up with them.
Other tidbits from the report: Americans will spend a bit less than one billion dollars a day eating out in 1998, about $336 billion for the year; 'round half the nation's adults will eat out on a typical day; and the average person will eat 213 meals away from home during the year, about four meals a week.
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