SOPHISTICATED LADLES

Eddie's Grill, 4747 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 241-1188. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

In a woman, it's always been the potent combination of beauty and brains. In a ballplayer, it's the devastating blend of speed and power. In a song, it's the seamless unity of melody and lyrics.

In a restaurant, it's the mix of food and ambiance. Life was starting to look bleak: Madame Curie's dead, Mickey Mantle's retired and Irving Berlin gets no radio play.

Fortunately, however, I can turn to the New American cuisine at Eddie's Grill. The place is masterfully designed, with sophistico-sleek San Francisco style.

Eddie's really has three different dining-room atmospheres. Go down a twisty staircase and you'll find a stony grotto and wine cellar tucked away, wonderful for romantic tàte-Ö-tàtes.

Lovers of the great outdoors will enjoy the patio, which looks out over two soothing, lily-padded ponds, colorful koi and a spotlighted fountain.

We opted for the main dining area, with a view of the glass-enclosed kitchen, abstract paintings and a riveting, life-size plaster couple perched at the top of the stairwell.

Everything seemed nifty without being forced, from the scalloped-back booths to the Broadway-quality lighting. But not even the most skillful restaurant designer can blueprint what we found on a recent visit: a Saturday-night buzz from the crowd of good-looking folks who filled the room with energy and expectations. My good-time antennae were out so far I practically tripped over them.

Wonderful, warm, thick bread, flecked with rosemary, gave the first indication that Eddie's Grill planned to meet those expectations. The sharp pesto dip is more Old World than New American, but a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little chefs.

Ordering appetizers can launch a restaurant tab faster than a Saturn rocket. But the starters here needed no boost in taste. They soared.

Toasted seafood won tons brought six little crispy, fried dumplings, stuffed with herbed cream cheese but no hint of the sea. Set off by a sweet, raspberry jalape§o sauce, they were irresistible even without a noticeable aquatic tang. So were the Mo' Rockin' Shrimp, four firm critters with a skewer of four golf-ball-size fritters. These all came in a scrumptious, spicy beer sauce. "Hot, hot," my wife cried happily, as she kept spooning up the sauce. The grilled Portobello mushroom, accompanied by dainty dollops of goat cheese, corn relish and black beans, also scored high in the polls. Meals come with soup or salad. The creamy potato, leek and garlic soup delivered a rich, heady taste. But the texture was so gluey that I ventured only quick dips with my spoon. Otherwise, I feared it might set into concrete. The house salad was a pleasing mix of greens enlivened by slivered, crunchy tortilla strips. The prickly pear dressing made it even more appealing. For some extra bucks, diners can substitute an unnecessary caesar salad, romaine lettuce fronds coated with anchovies and grated cheese.

It may be easier to define New American cooking by what it's not, rather than what it is. You'll find no unusual ingredients, no exotic sauces and no elaborate, all-day recipes. Look for simple dishes built around beef, chicken, fish and pasta, but prepared with imagination and flair.

It's hard to tart up a plate of meat loaf. But what this dish lacked in novelty, it made up with heft and quality. The beefy flavor was tinged with fresh tomatoes and basil, and it came with first-rate mashed potatoes that tasted like they were cooked up by somebody's mother. Nothing wrong with the hearty mushroom gravy, either.

The signature entree here is seared New York sirloin. It's outstanding. Tender strips of steak arrived encased in mashed potatoes that were dusted with Parmesan and Romano cheese. It was all lightly fried and moistened with a Burgundy brown sauce. This dish could give you a whole new slant on meat and potatoes.

Fresh salmon was pleasingly juicy and flaky, baked inside a thin vegetable crust. It came with one of the Valley's more pleasing and offbeat side dishes, an apricot-and-orange rice mold browned to a luscious crunch. The only touch marring the entrees, if you're not dining with a Holstein, is the fussy garnish sprouting from every platter. I don't know what the minimum daily requirement for chlorophyll is, but I suspect you'll find it easy to meet. The chef obviously knows the mouth-pleasing delight of crunchy fare. Even the bow-tie pasta, baked with cheese and grilled zucchini and red peppers, sported lots of crunch. But in an unnecessary bit of lily-gilding, the kitchen went a bit overboard here, topping the dish with a crispy potato crust. Less starch and more veggies seemed the better alternative. One thing New American certainly doesn't mean at Eddie's Grill is small portions. After appetizers and a main dish, diners don't have too many appetite cracks left to fill for dessert.

If they do, they can turn to Whoopie pie, white-and-dark-chocolate mousse crammed between layers of chocolate sponge cake. It all floated in such a deep pool of raspberry sauce that if we had been accompanied by a child, the Phoenix Municipal Code would have compelled us to build a fence around it. Eddie's Grill has been serving lunch for a couple of years, but only recently plunged back into the dinner trade. A smart move: The food's worth diving into, and you won't get soaked.

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