Nick's Knack

There are only three certain things in this world: death, taxes and Nick Ligidakis' ability to open another restaurant. Since he debuted his first store in 1984, Ligidakis has opened and closed five eateries, all with great drama and remarkable trails of debt. His most recent operation, Cafe Nikos, sank this past summer. But now, he's got another place, Author's Cafe at Indian School and Goldwater in Scottsdale.

Actually, the cafe isn't entirely new. Ligidakis opened it as a coffee and dessert shop about a year ago as a gift to his daughter, Lisa. Lisa's off to be married now, though, so dad has stepped in to take over, expanding it into a full-fledged restaurant.

Despite his more than colorful track record (he's still paying back taxes for Nick's Cuisine, he admits, a restaurant he closed in 1991 with more than $1 million in unpaid invoices), Ligidakis promises that this time, things will be different. He's an old man (56), he says, and "just wants to keep things simple." Gone is the reckless excess of the past, including menus listing 300 items and more than 85 pizza toppings. Instead, Author's Cafe now features a brief offering of five salads, 10 pitas and, of course, more of Ligidakis' legendary desserts.

And books. Regardless of Ligidakis' financial woes (after Cafe Nikos closed, he lost his house and is now squatting at a friend's residence, he laments), the chef somehow has managed to self-publish yet another very expensive-looking book. My Private Collection is a 300-page hardcover with almost 50 pages of four-color photos showcasing "dessert recipes of a master." It joins Ligidakis' collection of four other fancy self-published tomes.

Writing makes him happy, Ligidakis says, adding that his previous years in the restaurant business have been "a bad dream."

For him and unpaid vendors, both.

Argh! It's Arugula!: It's a full-employment market, I realize. Even a monkey could get a job at most restaurants these days. But tell me how, how can a server work in a restaurant day after day and still not know what's on the menu?

Eavesdropping on a neighboring table at Tempe's House of Tricks the other night, I heard a lady ask her server what arugula was. He shrugged, and called over another server. "It's a kind of sauce," she cheerfully replied. Given that the rosemary pesto chicken dish in question read as coming with potatoes, cherry tomatoes and arugula with a sweet garlic sauce, eyebrows were raised. Two sauces?

It took a third employee to come to the rescue and explain that arugula, of course, is a bitterish, aromatic salad green with a peppery, mustard flavor.

It wasn't a trick question. Really.