Second Helpings

Sweet Life: O.J. goes free. Bill Bidwill buys out Buddy Ryan's contract for millions. Shielded by trust funds and a rich wife, Fife Symington may walk away from a mountain of debt. Just "desserts"? These creeps will never get theirs.

And we won't be getting ours, either. That's because the one-of-a-kind Red Rock Dessert Cafe had to close down.

The husband-and-wife proprietors were restaurant novices, refugees from corporate life who caught the entrepreneurial bug. They invested big bucks, turning traditional restaurant logic upside down. Figuring that many people journey through appetizer and main course just to reach their dessert destination, the owners, more or less, dispensed with these preliminaries. Instead, they shaped their menu around what they thought we really crave: the rich, sweet, fattening stuff.

And they put their money where our mouths are, convinced that well-heeled natives and tourists were ready to plunk down $20 a couple for dessert and coffee. The lure? Homemade premium ice creams and sumptuous sweets in a swanky Scottsdale setting.

Well, if you've driven past the empty building at 4175 North Goldwater Boulevard, you know the short-lived venture didn't work out. But the concept still seems promising.

No doubt some local soul armed with lots of capital and a desire to put in a 90-hour workweek is already thinking about starting up his or her own all-dessert operation. So here are a few tips, based on several visits to Red Rock Dessert Cafe before its demise.

First: Don't skimp on design or furnishings. Red Rock Dessert Cafe looked like a gallery, with a polished hardwood floor and original art and Southwestern rugs hanging from the walls. The tables were draped with white linen and set with gleaming, heavy cutlery, gold-rimmed china and high-quality stemware. Tuxedoed servers called patrons "sir" and "ma'am." If you're going to charge seven or eight bucks for dessert and $2.50 for coffee in this town, you better do it in an elegant setting.

Second: Offer some light munchies and a sophisticated wine list. The cafe put together some fine salads--I particularly liked the one fashioned from field greens studded with ham, pecans, black-eyed peas and crabmeat. Patrons could also relax with a glass of Veuve Cliquot champagne or Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes.

Third: Serve up knockout desserts, something that will make customers shout, "Wow." This is where Red Rock Dessert Cafe fell a bit short. I thought the place would develop its own signature desserts, like the chocolate tower at Christopher's or the B52torte at RoxSand.

Instead, I ran into tried-and-true favorites, like cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake and white chocolate creme brelee, as well as rich homemade ice creams (white chocolate macadamia, penuche toffee crunch). While everything was well-crafted, nothing got me panting.

The formula for success: Spend lots of money on the setting, hire a brilliant pastry chef, agonize over the details and stay healthy. When you think about it, it's a miracle that anyone has the courage to open a restaurant.--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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