THE JAZZ SLINGER

Timothy's, 6335 North 16th Street, Phoenix, 277-7634. Hours: Dinner, 5 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

A.J. Liebling, the great New Yorker wit, once spun out his version of the ultimate male fantasy.

The first part of the evening naturally involved a cooperative young blonde. After a passionate session, Liebling conveniently imagined the blonde away, she and the bed hydraulically lowered out of sight through the floor.

At that same moment from above, a large poker table would be winched down, surrounded by Liebling's cigar-chomping pals and stocked with several fifths of Jack Daniel's. Unlike Liebling, my fantasy isn't focused on booze, broads and buddies.

It's the holiday season, and I'm in a good-time holiday mood. I'm longing to hear some upbeat live music, played by competent musicians. And I'm also hungry, but I want some food that's as interesting and sophisticated as I am. (Hey, why not? It's my fantasy.)

I don't know if Liebling ever attempted to live out his dream, but I tried to fulfill mine. In search of a Valley restaurant that serves up both joint-jumpin' music and first-rate fare, I pulled into Timothy's.

Our group looked around this venerable nightspot as though we were wearing rose-colored glasses. That's because the pink bulbs in the chandelier, reflected off the red tablecloths, cast a rosy, romantic hue. About two dozen tables crowd the cozy room, most just a few arm's-lengths from the music. It's a wonderful assignation spot, especially if you're tucked away in the bar area.

No burgers, sandwiches or chef's salads here. The menu features 16 full dinners (soup, salad, main dish), all priced between $17 and $20.

As pianist Ken Wain and singer Delphine Cortez launched into a snappy "I've Got the World on a String," we launched into a couple of overpriced appetizers.

Timothy's pizzalike focaccia comes two ways. We opted for the goat cheese, tomato and herb version, which made a somewhat larger dent in my wallet than it did on my appetite. But six Bombay chicken wings, drenched in a mouth-tingling, green-curry coconut sauce, tasted good enough to make me forget they cost 82.5 cents each. Next on this chilly Friday night was a cup of Timothy's unexpectedly inventive white-bean-and-bacon broth. The fragrant soup suggested that Timothy's chef was trying just as hard as the musicians to please the customers.

The salad made me certain of it. In most restaurants, nothing is more of an afterthought than this course. We've all poked at it: some lettuce, a forlorn tomato slice, a desultory mushroom, a ring of red onion, and maybe a bit of olive doused with a wretched commercial dressing.

Here, though, was evidence of thought and effort: Greens topped with blue cheese, apples and walnuts tossed in a light, lemony, wine-and-Dijon-mustard dressing got our taste buds tapping. Too bad the stale, over-the-hill dinner rolls that came with it could function better as percussion instruments than salad soppers.

The main dishes, like the music, furnished perky renditions of some old standards, although with a Cajun and Southwestern accent. A generous slab of skillet-blackened Cajun prime rib came spicy, extremely juicy and just a bit too fatty. The black-bean side dish offered a nice change of pace from potato, but the heap of barbecued onions had an odd flavor that didn't quite mesh with the meat.

The moderately adventurous should consider the sausage-stuffed quail, two small but surprisingly meaty birds, each clipped in half. Accompanied by a black-bean tostada and a zippy, roasted-corn relish, this intriguing platter tasted too good for us to feel the full force of the pianist's bluesy laments. The chicken-and-prosciutto-studded pasta, on the other hand, is a routine dish best suited to the kind of diner who requests "Feelings" from a Holiday Inn lounge pianist. The unexceptional grilled chicken and indifferent heavy cream sauce will keep you focused on the music.

But the blue-corn-encrusted sea bass was absolutely outstanding, perfectly cooked to a moist and flaky translucence. It came with the same black-bean tostada and roasted-corn relish that snazzed up the quail.

Timothy's also sports a grown-up wine list, with several bargains among the French and Californian heavy hitters. At $23, for example, the Trimbach Gew�rtztraminer costs only about one and a half times more than retail. (Most restaurants generally charge at least double the retail price.) Whoever prepares the desserts ought to leave out a jar for tips. The two we sampled were marvelous. Blackberry buckle had a sweet, crunchy topping, and rested in a delightful puddle of warm vanilla sauce. Even better was a terrific white-and-dark-chocolate "pƒt‚," intensely rich and coated with a thick, spirit-spiked cream sauce. Maybe Shakespeare got it backward in Twelfth Night: Music isn't the food of love, but the love of food. Let's hope Timothy's will play on.

Soho Jazz, 7212 East Main, Scottsdale, 994-9800. Hours: Lunch, Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Dinner, Wednesday through Sunday, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.

While Timothy's is a nice spot to whisper sweet nothings in your baby's ear, at Soho Jazz, you're as likely to hear a whispered message as you are to hear a barbershop quartet perform "Sweet Adeline." It's loud, clattery and pulsating with adult energy. On weekends it throbs with couples, women on the prowl, men on the make and music lovers.

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