When both Scratch locations in Scottsdale and Phoenix closed last year, it left a macaron-sized hole in our hearts. After the financial difficulties of rejuvenating the old Canvas building downtown, Duc Liao and his wife, Noelle, closed their operations. Luckily for Scratch enthusiasts (and there are quite a few), Liao re-opened the Scottsdale location near Indian School and Miller roads under the name Merci. While the new restaurant plays on the strengths of the previous iterations, it hasn't shaken some of the old weaknesses.
If you ever dined at Scratch, you are familiar with a distinct French style in décor, with ornate wallpaper patterns contrasting with simple white walls and fashion photography spattering the walls. Merci is no different, though it has been altered from the original design. The real show-stopper at any Liao joint is the pastry case, and Merci is no exception -- you'll find a brightly lit spread of beautiful, simple, and inventive treats.
We decided to save dessert for last and started with the scallops. The $15.50 entrée is a steal, with fresh veggies and plenty of plump scallops to share, and while our portion was just slightly overcooked, the sauce was delicious and the vegetables crisp.
For a brief sweet reprieve, we tried the hot chocolate, which Liao makes a la minute. The insanely velvety cup of cocoa had as much bitter, creamy dark chocolate packed into it as it possibly could while still remaining liquid.
Next up was the rib eye, which was also about $15. The large steak. served atop a bed of thinly julienned French fries and smothered in a pepper gravy, was an unexpectedly fatty cut of meat, which made for a decadent combination along with the lightly creamy and spicy sauce. Unfortunately, under all that meat and sauce, the fries did tend to clump together and get soggy.
Given there was just one (seemingly inexperienced) server taking care of the entire front of house and only Liao cooking in the back for dinner, we were amazed at the efficiency, understanding of the flaws, and hopeful that he can get some more hands in there to assist. Despite his solo kitchen act, after the tickets have been stabbed, Liao comes out to the dining room to ask each guest how they're enjoying their meal, bowing as he walks to the next table.
And now for the pastry case. At Scratch, we've enjoyed impossibly light and cloud-like raspberry rose parfaits and decadent chocolate tartes, so we knew we were in for a treat. This time, we ordered the lemon meringue tarte and were not disappointed with the light, citrusy tang that added complexity to the sweet and silky meringue -- all encased in a crumbly but stable tarte crust. If you go to Merci for anything, let it be dessert. It's an experience you won't find at other local restaurants.
Glad to have you back, Duc Liao.
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