Holiday on Rice

The fantasy doesn't end on December 25. A lot of the holiday spirit spills over into the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Despite the inevitable spats, most families have made it through the annual get-together without bloodshed. At this early date, the bills still haven't come to spoil the festive mood. And think how virtuous you now feel, after silently committing to a variety of New Year's resolutions. You have a righteous glow because a) no one knows about your secret plans for self-improvement, so no one will be disappointed if you fall a bit short; b) you don't have to actually do anything until January 2, anyway.

I have my own holiday fantasies, which I use to keep from drifting into madness. I'm certainly not crazy enough to fantasize about peace on Earth, the Cardinals in the playoffs or mandatory IQ testing for Arizona politicians.

Instead, my longings center on food. I have a dream. I have a dream that I may someday live in a world where I won't confuse my cholesterol numbers with my SAT score, a world from which fat grams and aerobic exercise have been banished. I dream of a world where restaurant owners charge according to the customer's ability to pay. And citizens of this brave new world, recognizing that a waist is a terrible thing to mind, share two essential beliefs: Calorie counting is sin, and a clean plate is an unmistakable sign of good character.

I wondered how my ideal Valley restaurant week would unfold in such a dream world. After some judicious thought, here's the result. It's a carefully balanced, seven-day eating schedule that both indulges the full range of my dining prejudices and tests the limits of a professionally trained belly.

So loosen your belts, and share the fantasy.

Day One: Sunday
Breakfast: I haven't found a more pleasant Sunday brunch than the one at Golden Swan, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch (7500 East Doubletree Ranch Road, Scottsdale). Sit outside in umbrella-shaded comfort and gaze over the peaceful lagoon. Then wander inside through the kitchen, where a sumptuous array of brunch goodies like veal tortellini, giant prawns and filet mignon are laid out.

Lunch: After such a heavy morning meal, something lighter is called for. I'd head over to Sportsman's Wines, Spirits and (Other) Flavours (3205 East Camelback), which also sports a wonderful array of breads, pates and cheeses. I'd have a pate sandwich on a fresh Arizona Bread Company baguette, and wash it down with a half-bottle of Sauternes.

Dinner: I have to spend at least one evening inhaling the scents of Italian food. And Franco's Trattoria (8120 North Hayden, Scottsdale) is where I'd choose to do it. From the first bites of freebie homemade breads and imported Parmesan and pecorino cheeses, through Tuscan delights like risotto and bistecca Fiorentina, to the last spoonfuls of warm zabaglione, Franco's is first-rate.

Day Two: Monday
Breakfast: Like a zillion other early morning spots, T.C. Eggington's Brunchery (1660 South Alma School, Mesa) serves the usual breakfast suspects--omelets, pancakes, hash browns, bacon. It just prepares them better than anyplace else. French toast, made from thick slices of homemade cinnamon bread, is a knockout.

Lunch: When I lived in Iran, I managed to put on 25 pounds by devouring two lunches a day. Persian food, highly scented but never spicy hot, can be very seductive. Tasty Kabob (1250 East Apache, Tempe) brings back all my old memories. It's still hard for me to choose between the skewers of butter-soft kebabs or fragrant basmati rice dishes. Might as well revert to the old days, and order one of each.

Dinner: It's impossible to be bored at RoxSand (Biltmore Fashion Park, 24th Street and Camelback), which offers one of the most inventive dinner menus in town. The eclectic cuisine, which draws from all over the globe, plays directly to my tastes. I love putting together a meal. How does this one sound? Moroccan b'stilla appetizer, jerked rabbit and duck combo entree, and liqueur-soaked chocolate torte dessert.

Day Three: Tuesday
Breakfast: There aren't too many places in the Valley that take me back to my streets-of-New York youth. Chompie's (3202 East Greenway Road) is at the top of that short list. Here are all my breakfast favorites, served in bustling deli surroundings: fresh, hot bagels, homemade cream cheeses, lox, pickled herring, blintzes, matzo brei and rugalach. You can go home again.

Lunch: For a combination of food and view, you probably can't do better than the patio at ElChorro Lodge (5550 East Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley). The restaurant has been around for almost 60 years, and drips with old Arizona charm. You can gaze at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve or your lunch. Both sights are worthy. El Chorro does an excellent job with light, lunchtime fish dishes. Save room for the famous sticky buns.

Dinner: Run by a husband-and-wife team serious about food, Rancho Pinot Grill (6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale) has joined the big time. A daily changing menu takes advantage of what's fresh in the marketplace and the chef's creative energies. You'll see quite a range: posole, quail with soba noodles, sea bass with basmati rice.

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