I don’t like the Esplanade.
I have actively avoided the plaza because I cannot stand the parking situation which is a torturous experience if you drive anything but a micro-car. And God help you if you don’t get your parking stub validated at the shop of your choice.
However, I often have to drive there for business reasons and found myself there one afternoon and decided to look for a place to lunch. I wasn’t sure what was there, although I had heard that there was a great place called Au Petit Four where I could get a decent sandwich or salad and a wonderful French pastry. It sounded good, but I was hesitant, because what I heard was not “Au Petit Four” but “Au Bon Pain”, which I stumbled onto on several visits to NYC in the mid-90s. I remember how mediocre it was. So, I didn’t expect much when I started looking for the eatery.
When I finally arrived, I scratched my head because it didn’t look anything like the shops I remembered and then I finally realized that this was not in any way, shape, or form like a corporate bakery. I walked in and found my way to the back of the tiny shop and scanned the menu. The menu was fairly comprehensive with a full listing of salads, sandwiches, paninis, quiches and a separate list of entrees which would be perfect for dinner before a movie.
After thinking about it for a while, I placed my order with the charming gentleman owner who encouraged me to try one of the paninis. My final choices were the Chicken Pesto Panini ($8.40), which came with a side of pasta salad. Since I was rather famished, I also got a bowl of the Herbed Tomato Pasta Soup ($4.25). I was also enticed by all the gorgeous pastries staring at me from the display case, but I decided to keep it simple and went with a Chocolate Croissant ($2.50). Of course, I rounded out my meal with a bottle of Diet Coke ($1.85).
I took a seat near one of the front windows and waited for my order while sipping on my Diet Coke. The interior of the place was bright and sunny, with plenty of Parisian art work and posters on the wall. I loved the French pop music playing from a small boom box on a shelf near the pastry case.
My Herbed Tomato Pasta Soup arrived and it was a good serving size. The soup was piping hot and the herbs were very apparent. The aroma was outstanding. I took a spoonful and the soup was rich and luscious with a very complex mix of flavors. It was wonderful. I also was pleased that the French bread that accompanied the soup was more than just a scrap. Three slices of chewy bread were excellent and perfectly matched with this soup. The only down side was that the pasta consisted of two tiny tortellinis that added nothing in taste or texture to the soup. Still, I would have been just as happy with a straight forward Herbed Tomato Soup.
Next up was my Chicken Pesto Panini. Accompanying the sandwich was a small side of pasta salad. The panini was a mix of grilled chicken breast, pesto, tomatoes, and cheese all pressed between two thick slices of French bread. The sandwich was heavy in mass and hot to the touch. My first bite was delightful. The flavors of everything had melded completely making this an exceptional sandwich. The kicker was definitely the bread. The inclusions of French bread with its hearty texture was a welcome change and since the bread was very fresh, it was all the better. The pasta salad was perfect in its simplicity. Corkscrew pasta was dressed with a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some fine slices of fresh basil. It was so much better than the gloppy mess of pasta swimming in a pool of dressing that many places serve.
After polishing off the soup and panini, I was worried I wouldn’t have any room for the Chocolate Croissant. After one taste, I wasn’t about to let this go to waste. The croissant was light as a feather and beautifully shiny. Breaking the croissant in half, flecks of the pastry dropped onto the plate and onto my shirt, a sure sign of a wonderful pastry. The croissant was buttery and flaky. The chocolate was a pleasant bittersweet addition to the pastry and I had no problem finishing it off. What a delightful way to finish off my meal.
I departed Au Petit Four with a cheerful farewell from the owner requesting I revisit his establishment. That certainly wouldn’t be a problem. Although I blew my lunch budget with the $18.38 (tax included) price tag, this was an exceptional lunch. The food was fantastic and worth every penny. With the exception of my desire for more pasta in the soup, everything else was on target and I felt rather stupid thinking that I mistook this place for Au Bon Pain.
I still don’t like the Esplanade, but Au Petit Four made me dislike the plaza just a little bit less.
Au Petit Four
2501 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Hours: Monday through Thursday – 8 AM to 4 PM; Friday – 8 AM to 9 PM; Saturday – 8:30 AM to 11 PM.
Notes: Parking validation available.