Little Pig Man

It's the season for fantasy. Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men. Understanding bosses. Kindly landlords. Unindicted political leaders.

Sometimes my mind wanders off into restaurant fantasy. One of the few drawbacks of this job is the love-'em-and-leave-'em relationship I have with this town's best restaurants. Sure, occasionally I get some memorable meals during my weekly reviewing or my annual Best of Phoenix tour. But since I eat out at about 150 different restaurants a year, I don't have the time (or energy) to make a lasting commitment to any of my favorite places.

But if I did, I'd be eating at the following spots. Below is my dream restaurant week, three meals a day for seven days. Naturally, since it is a fantasy, money is no object. Neither are calories, fat grams and cholesterol counts.

Day One: Sunday
Breakfast: Is there a more opulent Sunday brunch in town than the spread at the Phoenician's Terrace Dining Room (6000 East Camelback)? Sit on the patio and sip Mumm's Cuvee Napa, then try not to gape at the astonishing variety of premium-quality offerings. Among the choices: jumbo prawns, sushi, truffle-scented páte, homemade pasta, grilled lamb chops and beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms. Desserts are just as mesmerizing, especially the ultra-rich chocolate cakes and homemade ice creams.

Lunch: I lived in Iran for a couple of years, just before the Shah departed and the ayatollahs took over. The situation was tense--the bus that picked me up for work carried two machine-gun-toting soldiers for protection. While I worried about terrorists, I never worried about the food. Persian dishes are incredibly flavorful and fragrant. Here in the Valley, nobody prepares them with more skill than Tasty Kabob (1250 East Apache, Tempe). Try the tender marinated meats, or the sublimely seasoned basmati rice platters.

Dinner: The Southwest entered the culinary spotlight about a decade ago. Right now, Cafe Terra Cotta (the Borgata, 6166 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale) is showing off the magic of our regional ingredients. Whether the kitchen is dishing out appetizers like chile-glazed duck quesadillas, entrees like lamb chops moistened with a cherry-ancho mole, or desserts like the orange custard tequila tart, this place offers a taste of the Southwest that's hard to forget.

Day Two: Monday
Breakfast: Eating breakfast at Kiss the Cook (4915 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale) is like eating breakfast at Granny's--if Granny took MasterCard or Visa. Everything has a fresh, homey flair. The made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes are a West Valley institution. So are the gooey, sticky, nut-studded cinnamon rolls. Heartier appetites will appreciate the huevos rancheros, three-egg omelets or biscuits and gravy.

Lunch: Tiffany made lamps. Chippendale made furniture. Chris Bianco makes pizza. At Pizzeria Bianco (Town & Country Shopping Center, 20th Street and Camelback), this craftsman produces exceptional pizzas that taste like they've just been transported from a wood oven in Naples. The secret: first-class ingredients, like Grana Padano cheese and homemade sausage. The sandwiches, fashioned from homemade bread, sing with the flavors of Italy. So do the salads, maybe the best lunchtime greenery in town.

Dinner: No chips. No tacos. No senoritas in swirling skirts and Mexican peasant blouses. No gringo Mexican restaurant touches at all. Instead, Such Is Life (3602 North 24th Street) offers the kind of south-of-the-border fare you can't usually find except south of Sonora. Check out the nopal polanco, a pad of prickly pear cactus draped with Chihuahua cheese; pescado jarocho, red snapper gilded with olives, capers and tomatoes; or the lusty cochinita, tender shredded pork in a rich achiote sauce.

Day Three: Tuesday
Breakfast: Some days I wake up feeling a bit continental. When that mood strikes, I grab my walking stick and saunter over to Pierre's Pastry Cafe (7119 East Shea, Scottsdale). This expert baker puts out an array of breads and pastries good enough to appear on the Champs Elysees. Crusty baguettes, flaky brioches, perfect croissants and wicked pain au chocolat get your day off to a rich, buttery start.

Lunch: When the urge to nibble on raw fish strikes, the sushi masters at Yamakasa (2051 West Warner, Chandler) know how to satisfy it. The small, eight-seat sushi bar is where you want to be for a first-class ocean voyage. Toro, unagi, ika--they all taste like they just came from the sea. The hand rolls are marvelous, especially the snow crab model. So is tempura maguro, a chef's specialty featuring seaweed-wrapped tuna, lightly fried.

Dinner: What do you get when you combine topnotch raw materials with a chef who knows what to do with them? You get the casually classy Rancho Pinot Grill (6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale). The small menu, which changes daily, features one tasty hit after another. Everything bursts with flavor, from the exotic shaved fennel salad, adorned with orange, red onion, parsley and Parmesan cheese, to the simple house-cured pork loin chops, served with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed apples.

Day Four: Wednesday
Breakfast: T.C. Eggington's Brunchery (1660 South Alma School, Mesa) serves exactly the same breakfast fare as hundreds of other Valley morning spots. The only difference is, it's better here than just about anywhere else. Mesa officials should consider promoting the French toast, fashioned from homemade cinnamon bread, as a tourist attraction. Puffy omelets, moist pancakes and skillet-sizzled potatoes will also motivate you to get out of bed.

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