Super Savors

The chef changes her menu weekly, and scours local markets for the best ingredients. Then she puts her imagination to work. Look for appetizers like a mesmerizing posole, grilled quail or a salad of endive, apple, walnut and Gorgonzola. Main dishes feature pork, beef, chicken, lamb, fish and vegetarian options, all of which will make even the most cosmopolitan foodie sit up and take notice.

A well-crafted wine list and well-trained staff make dinner here even more pleasurable. How many places do you eat where, in the middle of the meal, you're already trying to figure out when you can come back?

Restaurant Hapa, 6204 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 998-8220:
Professionally speaking, a place like Restaurant Hapa gives me something to live for.

It's pure dynamite: The Asian-themed dishes bring out dimensions of flavor you didn't know food could have. Black mussels, roasted in a cast-iron skillet and bathed with a Thai-inspired broth--inhale the scents of lemongrass, mint, basil, ginger and coconut--will take your breath away. The signature entree is Chinese beef tenderloin, a small filet brushed with hot mustard and caramelized brown sugar. This pretty-as-a-picture platter also includes a giant battered prawn, shiitake mushrooms, sticky rice and Chinese longbeans. Wow.

The spectacular Asian pear cake, armed with macadamia nuts and homemade lemongrass ice cream, puts an exclamation mark on the meal. Let's hope the husband-and-wife proprietors will resist the temptation to move to larger quarters and to hire someone else to do their cooking for them.

Suzanne's Bistro, 4669 East Cactus, Phoenix, 996-4414:
Surrounded by a sea of chain restaurants in the Paradise Valley Mall area, and tucked away at the edge of a shopping-center strip, this quiet gem is easy to overlook.

It's not so easy to overlook once you've eaten here. It's hard to categorize the food--I suppose "contemporary" would be an apt description. But why suffer from a hardening of the categories?

Just enjoy appetizers like the grilled asparagus salad with Parmesan cheese and prosciutto, dressed with a garlic chive vinaigrette. The chef knows what to do with seafood: I've admired both Thai-style monkfish and sea bass encrusted with a sun-dried tomato pesto. And I recently had a terrific duck risotto, moistened in a sun-dried cherry sauce embellished with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts.

Suzanne's Bistro has really grown on me. Give it a chance to grow on you.

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