SECOND HELPINGS

Reading, Writing and Halibut: L'Ecole and the Culinary Arts Dining Room are not the only places in town to chase down gourmet eats prepared by student-chefs. Believe it or not, there's a Phoenix vocational high school, Metro Tech, with a culinary arts department. And it offers one of the better lunch deals in the Valley. Students whip up fancy, three-course meals for public consumption every six weeks or so. When I ate there a couple of years ago, the offerings included a shrimp cheesecake appetizer, grilled halibut in a roasted red pepper sauce and bu¤uelos, fried tortillas coated with honey, powdered sugar and ice cream. The price is right, too--$8.50. The next lunch is scheduled for December 14, 15 and 16, and you'll need to make reservations quickly. Call 271-2655. If you miss out, you can console yourself at the school's Express Cafe, which also features chow fashioned by the kids. Menu items include a grilled steak sandwich, stuffed tomato and caesar salad. The cafe is open every weekday for lunch from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Metro Tech is at 1900 West Thomas.

Let's Do Lunch: That's what New Times publisher Michele Laven said to me and three other colleagues a few weeks ago. She then displayed more good judgment by scheduling it at Christopher's Bistro, 2398 East Camelback. Even burdened by companions who inadvertently kept threatening my anonymity ("Hey, Howard, what's good?"), it's the kind of lunching I could get used to in a hurry.

First I let the waitress talk me into a sublime lobster bisque, redolent with rich flavor and creamy texture. Then she steered me to a superb piece of ahi tuna, thick as a steak, beautifully cooked to pinkish perfection. A glass of Mondavi's fragrant 1991 Pinot Noir turned out to be first-rate liquid accompaniment. (I've seen it in the supers for about $16 a bottle.) Desserts are simply too good to pass up, even with a full belly. I nixed the chocolate tower, afraid I might doze off in midbite from this heavy noontime meal. (My usual lunch: a bagel, cream cheese and sliced tomato.) Instead, I went for a light souffl‚, heavily drenched with Grand Marnier sauce. It's a good thing I had only a short drive home. I barely made it to the couch before I conked out. Now I have renewed respect for the stamina of high-powered executives, whose rigorous business schedules compel them to eat like this five times a week. Book It: Looking for a gift for your favorite foodie? You might want to check out The Diner's Dictionary: Food and Drink From A to Z by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, $25). It's almost impossible to open it anywhere and not learn something. Ever wonder exactly what "grappa" is? It's an Italian alcoholic spirit distilled from the juice extracted from skins and other residue left after pressing wine grapes. The French call it "marc." How about "rumbledethumps"? It's a Scottish dish consisting of potatoes and cabbage mashed up together and browned in the oven. The author notes that the name comes from the likely effect the dish has on digestion. One more? How about "crudit‚"? No, it's not a naughty French snack. It's an hors d'oeuvre of raw vegetables, generally served with a dip.

 
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