SINGLE SERVINGS

Jetz, 7077 East Camelback, Scottsdale, 970-6001. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

In the 50s, guys searched for "broads" in smoky clubs and coffee houses. The best pickup line? "Do you dig Jack Kerouac?"

In the 60s, guys looked for "chicks" at sit-ins and happenings. The best pickup line? "Are you going to the march on Washington?"

In the 70s, guys chased "foxes" at discos and fern bars. The best pickup line? "What's your sign?"

In the 80s, the mating game held such terrors that live "babes" fell into disfavor. Guys preferred vicarious romance, snuggling up to the VCR and a six-pack. The best pickup line? "Do you rent Debbie Does Dallas?"

But in the 90s, the primordial instinct for companionable nuzzling and guzzling has reawakened. Here in the Valley, males are once again stalking females. This time, though, the action is taking place at lively, upscale restaurants and watering holes. The best pickup line? "Do they take American Express here?"

Jetz, a throbbing hothouse of hormones, features two spacious action areas, or pickup pits.

Inside, a huge bar dominates the center of the room. There are so many mounted televisions, I thought for a moment I'd stumbled into the CNN control room. Relentless, loud, pulsating music, meanwhile, made me wonder how Noriega and David Koresh held out as long as they did.

You can escape the multimedia assault outside, on a pleasant patio. Barely visible through the cloud of fog, created by a potent misting system, looms another bar.

But Jetz fancies itself as more than a spirit-soaked hangout for lonely young adults.

It calls itself an "intercoastal grill," offering a full line of dishes that most wing-dipping, burger-slinging singles joints wouldn't dream of serving.

The raised, carpeted, eating area runs along the edge of the room, separated from the action by black railings. So diners aren't participants in the scene; they're spectators. Scoping the crowd, I saw few people who needed to worry about wrinkles anywhere except on their clothes. My friend Debbie was relieved she'd dyed her graying locks earlier that day. All I could do was mournfully pat my expanding patch of Rogaine-resistant scalp.

For a matchmaking emporium, Jetz puts a surprising amount of effort into the food. The breadbasket was much better than it had to be, sporting lahvosh and fresh, multigrain rolls suffused with rosemary.

Appetizers have come a long way, at least in conception, since my prowling years. No fried mozzarella sticks, onion rings or battered zucchini strips here. Instead, there's crab-stuffed blintz, an intriguing variation of this Eastern European treat that I'm certain my ancestors never considered. It's somewhat bland, though, and the perky tomato salsa alongside is not the antidote.

Steer clear of the lobster taquitos. A dull blend of lobster and cream cheese comes crammed into two thin, extremely crunchy tortilla shells. It's about the noisiest starter I've ever munched on, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing particularly special. And scuttle the foul, black-bean dip that comes alongside.

If you need a first course, head directly for the pizza. It's got a terrific crust, and some compelling toppings. The Thai version, with marinated chicken and pungent hoisin sauce, is good enough to take your mind off pounding backbeats and halter tops.

Some of the main dishes also suggested that someone back in the kitchen was actually trying to get patrons to notice something other than the opposite sex.

The chef certainly succeeded with the pork tenderloin, two fork-tender hunks of meat doused in a gripping, salty mustard sauce. Accompanied by creamy, scalloped potatoes and a dollop of sweet apple chutney, this dish proved just as intriguing as the human scenery.

Angel-hair pasta, studded with half a dozen well-prepared shrimp, comes drenched in a bucketful of rich butter. Although the overwhelming butter note made this entree pretty one-dimensional, at least it's a tasty dimension.

Oven-roasted chicken turned out to be a routine chicken breast, zipped up with nonroutine side dishes of black beans and couscous. Evidently, today's smart, young singles will put up with diminishing job prospects and a declining standard of living, but they draw the line at foil-wrapped baked potatoes and canned peas and carrots. The only truly blah offering was swordfish salad, a bunch of indifferent greens, indifferently seasoned, flattened by a mushy, overcooked slab of swordfish.

If you're looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, your best bet is to order a sugar-laden alcoholic confection at the bar. At least you'll get a buzz, which is more than you'll get from the desserts. Phyllo dough stuffed with chocolate and raspberry sauce is about as exciting as running into your kid sister here. The Snickers cheesecake had to be humanely destroyed, done in by spoiled whipped cream.

Make no mistake, people crowd Jetz mostly to meet, not eat. The overwhelming bar area is one sign. The rest room is another. There are so many bottles of cologne in the men's room, I suspected that management had hijacked a Brut truck. There are also big bowls full of gum and mints for guys who don't trust their natural charms. But even for devoted couples, Jetz provides a diverting Saturday night out. After all, just because you're on a diet doesn't mean you can't look at the menu. Houston's, 2425 East Camelback, Phoenix, 957-9700. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The trendy crowd at Houston's is so good-looking that for a few scary moments, I thought someone might tap my pal Bob and me on the shoulder and ask us to leave.

A wildly successful night spot ever since it opened about four years ago, Houston's is always packed, even on weekdays. Gals seem to favor short, skin-hugging dresses and lots of hair. Guys strut around in pinstriped shirts, Wall Street haircuts and wire-rim glasses. Everyone here looks like a finalist from a high school popularity contest. And the place is brimming with energy.

It's kind of a big, art-deco barn, with lots of curves, angles, wood, brass and Venetian blinds. Nifty lights gently illumine the bustling bar. Those uninterested in the human comedy unfolding before them can peer into the busy open kitchen at the rear. A glowing, pink-and-green clock helps with time management, enabling veterans of the singles wars to keep track of how long they've spent chatting up uncooperative brunettes. Houston's doesn't take reservations, so if you've come to eat, you'll wait, with a house beeper in your pocket. Instead of blaring your name over a loudspeaker, the hostess gives you a buzz when a table's finally ready. It's hard to judge which is the greater thrill--getting vibrated or getting seated. The appetizers don't break much culinary ground, but they're pleasing companions to Anchor Steam beer on tap and potent margaritas. The rich, spinach-and-artichoke dip is draped with cheese and served with a basket of fresh, light and crunchy tortilla chips.

Pizza is another pleasing starter option. Mounted on a crisp cracker crust, the fragrant eggplant, artichokes, sausage and fresh basil of the pizza rustica keep the good-time mood rolling.

While heavily focused on the dip and pizza, Bob couldn't quite keep his eyes off the attractive crowd. He got married right out of college 20 years ago, and a return trip to the singles scene was obviously too intense for him. I haven't seen a head swivel like that since The Exorcist.

The main dishes, though, won't turn anybody's head. The menu says the prime rib is aged. Actually, it's positively doddering, fatty and chewy while extremely lean on beefy flavor.

There's a daily fresh-fish special, swordfish the night we visited. The line cooks must have been surveying the action instead of tending to the grill, because it arrived in ruins, cooked so far beyond redemption that even a weekend in Lourdes wouldn't have helped. It came with an arresting side dish of couscous flecked with parsley and peanuts. Unfortunately, the dish arrived ice cold, apparently just out of the refrigerator. Perhaps the kitchen meant to serve it that way; it ought to reconsider.

The bread scam should also be reconsidered. Say "yes" to the waitress's offer of bread and you'll find another buck tacked onto your tab.

Burgers are a more satisfying choice than the pricier entrees. The meat is quite juicy, and there's a heapful of fixings on the cheeseburger. I had to scrape off the mayonnaise--why this dreaded Midwestern touch?--but I have no one to blame but myself, since I neglected to read the menu description thoroughly. The accompanying beans quickly cheered me up, with their sweet and hearty barbecue taste.

Desserts seem pretty much an afterthought. If you're desperate for one, you're better off hopping over to RoxSand or Christopher's Bistro across the street. You might not meet the man or woman of your dreams there, but you won't wake up the next morning with the cloyingly sweet taste of apple-walnut cobbler on your lips, either.

With Houston's energy, looks and party-time feel, it's easy to go home thinking the food is a lot better than it was. So what if you're wrong? Men and women, it's clear, do not live by bread alone.

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