You've Got Meal

It's the season for fantasy.
The warm glow is still with us: Family members are still talking to one another, we've got a righteous feeling about all the self-improvement resolutions we've sworn to undertake at some indeterminate future time, and we can enjoy all our gifts before the bills come rolling in.

I have my own fantasy this time of year. I dream of a world where elastic waistbands are a cool fashion statement. I dream that science will discover that glazed doughnuts can boost your IQ. I dream that the government will declare onion rings a green, leafy vegetable. I dream that just thinking about heavy-duty aerobic exercise can be as effective as actually doing it. And I dream that religious leaders of all faiths will agree that calorie-counting is a sin, and a clean plate an unmistakable sign of virtue.

I also fantasize about my ideal restaurant week--seven days, 21 meals--a gastronomic orgy that indulges the full range of my food obsessions. Of course, since it is a fantasy, I don't have to worry about money, calories or stamina.

So loosen your belts, and let the fantasy begin.

Day One: Sunday
Breakfast: I want to start the week off with a bang. That means brunch at the opulent Terrace Dining Room (The Phoenician, 6000 East Camelback). When it comes to quality and quantity, this kitchen doesn't know the meaning of restraint. From start to finish, it's a memorable way to spend a Sunday. Begin with the jumbo prawns and sushi, move on to the fresh pasta and pátes, head to the grilled meats, and finish up with the homemade ice cream and chocolates. After brunch, I like to work off the meal by strolling around the grounds, pretending I can afford to stay here.

Lunch: Some folks might think that Pepe's Taco Villa (2108 West Camelback) isn't as scenic as The Phoenician. But they'll change their minds once they focus on the mole enchiladas. It's a breathtaking dish, highlighted by an astonishingly rich and subtle mole, a blend of chiles, spices and chocolate. Everything else here--including green corn tamales, chile rellenos and tacos Monterrey (made with machacado, air-dried beef, teamed with scrambled eggs, onion, chile and tomato)--also tastes like it just came fresh out of a Mexican village.

Dinner: My cosmopolitan taste buds get a real workout at RoxSand (Biltmore Fashion Park, 24th Street and Camelback), where the chef doesn't follow trends--she sets them. Where else in town can you get around-the-world flavors like the ones here? I'll start off with a lamb-filled curried rice tamale or b'stilla; move on to air-dried duck or Chilean sea bass with a horseradish crust; and finish up with the wicked, liqueur-soaked B-52 chocolate torte. Bombs away!

Day Two: Monday
Breakfast: According to the fable, the hedgehog knows many little things. The fox, however, knows one big thing. In the breakfast world, the Original Pancake House (6840 East Camelback; 402 East Greenway Road) is a fox. It knows one big thing: pancakes. These made-from-scratch flapjacks are so good that syrup is superfluous.

Lunch: Cheap ethnic restaurant gems are more myth than reality. But at Eliana's (1627 North 24th Street), the legend comes to life. The south-of-the-south-of-the-border Salvadoran specialties are brimming with flavor: Pupusas (corn masa patties stuffed with pork and cheese) and pasteles (meat turnovers) are particularly fetching. Dynamite homemade corn tortillas, too.

Dinner: My idea of paradise: a small, chef-run BYOB place with big-time fare to handle the 1982 Bordeaux I've brought along. Newly enlarged Gregory's Grill (7049 East McDowell) is heaven in Scottsdale. The pan-seared foie gras, served in a sweet potato tart with a strawberry-rhubarb compote, is one of this town's premier appetizers. The main dishes, like tandoori-spiced pork tenderloin and grilled halibut in a coconut green curry, are just as exciting.

Day Three: Tuesday
Breakfast: For that continental breakfast feeling, Bistro 24 (Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 2401 East Camelback) is the place to hang your beret. I enjoy sitting back with freebie copies of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, sipping fresh-squeezed orange juice and strong coffee, and eating croissants and pains au chocolat so authentic I have to pinch myself to realize that I'm not on the Champs-Élysees.

Lunch: I put on 25 pounds when I lived in Iran. That's because the food was so good I ate two lunches a day. Tasty Kabob (1250 East Apache, Tempe) tempts me to relive the bad old days. It's real Persian fare, dished out by real Persians. Wonderfully moist, scented kebabs and fragrant stews served with basmati rice are the stars here.

Dinner: For a combination of striking looks and striking fare, T. Cook's (Royal Palms Inn, 5200 East Camelback) is just about in a class of its own. The brick, painted tile, wooden beams across the vaulted ceiling and marble accents go beyond restaurant design--this is architecture. The skilled kitchen's "rustic Mediterranean" fare is also worth staring at. Sea bass wrapped in Parma ham and sliced loin of lamb are enchanting. So is the breathtaking "chocolate collage" dessert, after which chocolate fiends will have to be hosed down.

Day Four: Wednesday
Breakfast: When the urge hits to get in touch with my old-neighborhood roots, I visit Chompie's (3202 East Greenway Road). Absolutely no question--the best bagels in town. I also find all the indispensable accompaniments: Nova lox, smoked whitefish, pickled herring in cream sauce, homemade cream cheese. A first-rate bakery--try the rugulach and coffee cake--makes lingering over a cup of coffee even more fun.

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