Gorgeous Gorge

It's the season for fantasy.
But I don't fantasize about the meek inheriting the Earth, smooth sailing on the rush-hour Squaw Peak Parkway or mandatory IQ testing for Arizona legislators.

My job requires me to dine out 200 nights a year. So, not surprisingly, my fantasies tend to be about food.

I dream about a world where dedicated restaurant owners are committed to quality and don't cut corners. I dream about a world where servers don't tell me their names. I dream about a world where there are no height/weight charts. A waist, after all, is a terrible thing to mind.

And every year about this time, I also dream about my perfect eating-out week, a seven-day breakfast, lunch and dinner gastronomic orgy, balanced to satisfy my every dining whim. Of course, since this is a fantasy, I'm counting on the money for this expedition to appear magically, and the calories that result from it to disappear the same way.

So loosen your belts, and share the fantasy.

Day One: Sunday
Breakfast: For sheer, over-the-top, sybaritic feasting, the Terrace Dining Room's Sunday brunch (the Phoenician, 6000 East Camelback) is the most lavish spread this side of the Pearly Gates. Attention is paid to every detail, whether it's the fresh artichokes in the salad, the real crab in the sushi or the homemade pasta. The staffers are real pros, with a sixth sense about knowing the exact moment you want your plate cleared and your champagne glass refilled.

Lunch: Sometimes a man has to get in touch with his primitive self. When that urge strikes, I head over to Honey Bear's BBQ (5012 East Van Buren) to gnaw on the Valley's best bones. The ribs are slathered with a distinctive, Tennessee-style sauce that's so good you won't want to wash your hands. Terrific go-withs, like the "cowbro" beans and sweet potato pie, gild the barbecue lily.

Dinner: If I had to eat dinner at the same restaurant every night for a month, I'd choose RoxSand (Biltmore Fashion Park, 24th Street and Camelback). The inventively crafted "transnational" menu never gets stale. I adore the around-the-world appetizer list, with dishes like curried rice tamale, b'stilla and Korean barbecue. Entrees shine, particularly the seafood and house special, air-dried duck. And the notorious B-52 torte, a wicked blend of chocolate and liqueurs, brings any meal to a triumphant conclusion.

Day Two: Monday
Breakfast: T.C. Eggington's Brunchery (1660 South Alma School, Mesa) serves exactly the same basic American a.m. fare as every other restaurant in town. The only difference is, nobody else's food is as good. The French toast alone, made from homemade cinnamon bread, is enough to get me on the Superstition Freeway during the morning rush hour. Good omelets, too.

Lunch: There's no shortage of wonderful, south-of-the-border restaurants in Phoenix. But when I want wonderful, south-of-south-of-the-border cooking, I eat at Eliana's (1627 North 24th Street). This modest Salvadoran place turns out great pupusas (corn masa patties stuffed with pork and cheese), pasteles (meat turnovers) and maybe the best tortillas in town. Great tropical-fruit drinks, too.

Dinner: My idea of dining heaven: a small, chef-owned place, with interesting food and a wallet-friendly BYOB policy. In this town, heaven on Earth is at Gregory's Grill (Papago Plaza, 7049 East McDowell, Scottsdale). The stylish, eclectic menu features savory delights like a tower of roast vegetables and goat cheese, and grilled shrimp in a fennel broth. The beer-marinated beef tenderloin and apple-crusted salmon are memorable entrees. A whiskey-soaked apple crepe adds the right finishing touch.

Day Three: Tuesday
Breakfast: Eating breakfast at Kiss the Cook (4915 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale) is like eating breakfast at Granny's--if Granny took Mastercard and Visa. The place is knee-deep in Victorian clutter, and the fare is just as homey. The homemade buttermilk pancakes are justly famous. Biscuits and gravy, huevos rancheros and gooey, nut-studded cinnamon rolls also get your day off to a fast start.

Lunch: Want to interrupt the work day with a bit of noontime panache? Good-looking Bistro 24 (Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 2401 East Camelback) has white-linen, European-bistro flair. Unwind with a Pernod, then settle in with onion soup, homemade pate, salade Nicoise, a croque Monsieur or steak frites. It's a little bit of the Champs Elysees on the Camelback Corridor.

Dinner: The husband-and-wife team at Rancho Pinot Grill (6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale) has this casually classy operation running on all cylinders. The menu changes daily to feature what's fresh, and whatever's on it is bound to be a crowd-pleaser. During the past few years, I've been seduced by the posole, grilled squid salad, vegetarian rice cakes and greens, quail with peach chutney and pork chops. Lovely desserts, too, especially the warm nectarine tart.

Day Four: Wednesday
Breakfast: They say you can't go home again. But at Chompie's (3202 East Greenway Road), I can at least visit for a while. The memorable deli breakfast fare of my Brooklyn youth has somehow managed to flourish in the desert Southwest: pickled herring, smoked fish, blintzes, matzo brei, a variety of cream cheeses, Nova Scotia lox and the best bagels in town. The bakery is first-rate, too--linger over coffee with rugalach or coffee cake.

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