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Best Of 2007

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

BEST AFTERNOON TEA
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa

Every so often, we like to wave our little pinkies high and take in afternoon tea at one of the posh spots in the Valley. This year's fave? The venerable Arizona Biltmore — as much for its history as for its heavenly finger fare. (Well, the salmon mousse with mascarpone cheese on a mini fish bouchee did put it over the top.)

The Biltmore opened in 1929. That's modern history to the Brits, given that the custom of afternoon tea dates to the 19th century, but for us, anything before 1950 is downright ancient; in fact, the Biltmore claims to be the state's first resort. We love any reason to skulk into the lobby and hang among the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture, taking in the tasteful décor (not to mention the hotel guests they're great for people-watching) but we'd clocked so much time at the lobby bar we figured it was high time to get some tea.

We were glad we did. So that you don't interrupt that lobby bar buzz, may we suggest the Biltmore Royal Tea, which includes tea sandwiches, scones, French pastries and a Kir Royal alongside your tea. We sampled the Bombay Chai, while our companion (a real Brit herself) insisted, as always, on the Original English Breakfast. "Breakfast" was served with the aforementioned salmon sandwich, as well as an assortment including beef tenderloin, ham and watercress, and cambolza cheese with wild berry compote in a coupelle tart. (Try saying that three times fast, after a Kir Royal!)

The sandwiches were followed by spiced currant and apricot scones, as well as banana bread. And then, dessert, which included pistachio truffles, bittersweet chocolate dipped strawberries and (our favorite) a pot of gold peppermint mousse.

After our afternoon tea, we were ready for an afternoon nap, but alas, we had to head back to the office. We did so feeling much more civilized, thank you very much.

2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix, 85016
MAP
602-955-6600
BEST PLACE TO SPOIL YOUR DINNER

Don't get us wrong — we adore the savory dinner options at Sweet O Wine & Chocolate Lounge. From cheeses and dips, served with excellent grilled bread from Simply Bread, to fresh salads and creative panini, there's plenty on the menu that we're happy to fill up on. But why try to save room for dessert when that's the star attraction of this sleek little eatery? Better to start off with exactly what you came for — exotic chocolate pastries, chocolate fondue, chocolate hazelnut panini with crme fraîche and crispy hazelnuts, and petits fours galore. Once you get a glimpse of the chocolate treats in the display case, you won't be able to wait 'til after dinner to indulge. From macadamia toffee and milk chocolate caramel to fleur de sel truffles and butter ganache pralines, Sweet O can deliver your chocolate fix in just about any form you like. Even the eclectic wine selection is geared toward cacao consumption, with a generous selection of dessert wines and fortified wines. And if you'd rather let the experts guide your palate, pick one of the chocolate flights, where three different bonbons are paired with an appropriately decadent drink. Sweet O's proprietors say the "O" stands for "origine" (French for "origin," sort of the terroir of chocolate). But after flooding our brains with blissful endorphins and alcohol, all we feel is sweet oblivion.

BEST SIGNATURE DESSERT
Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate at Cowboy Ciao
Heather Hoch

We sure love hot chocolate, although in the warmer months (when we'll only drink iced lattes) we can hardly stand the thought of it — unless it's Cowboy Ciao's unforgettable take on the classic cold weather treat, the Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate. Here, pastry chef Tracey Dempsey interprets it as a cool, utterly decadent dessert: a rich chocolate-cinnamon pot de crme that's almost as thick as fudge, served in an oversized cup fit for cocoa. The only thing "hot" about it is a froth of oozy chipotle cream on top — perfect to scoop up with the spicy ginger cookie that comes with it. We'd happily splurge on a cuppa that any day, no matter the season.

7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 85251
MAP
480-946-3111
BEST CHEESECAKE
Bertha's Café

We usually order dessert when we're out somewhere fancy, when the conclusion of a multicourse meal calls for something sweet to go with our after-dinner cup o' joe. But after lunch at a sandwich shop? Hardly ever — unless we're at Bertha's Café, where it's a given. At this friendly, inconspicuous little eatery, desserts are impossible to resist, appealingly displayed in a big case right next to the front counter. From cookies and muffins to malted brownies, it's all good, but we're particularly fond of their rich, creamy, homemade cheesecakes. Sometimes it's actually hard to choose from the daily assortment of just-made mini-cakes, with creative concoctions like s'mores, baklava, and banana cream. Bertha's flavors are anything but plain Jane.

3134 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 85018
MAP
602-955-1022
BEST RED VELVET CAKE
Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles

Check your guilt at the door. From buttery grits and mac 'n' cheese to the famous fried chicken served with a hot stack of waffles, everything at Lo-Lo's is stick-to-your-ribs delicious. So it only makes sense that dessert here would be a luscious affair, worth every calorie-laden bite. And, boy, does the red velvet cake deliver. One slice of this sweet, red-tinted chocolate cake — slathered in buttery cream-cheese icing that we could just eat with a spoon — is thick enough to feed two people. Still, we'd rather get one all for ourselves. We figure, if we're gonna blow our diet, we might as well do it with gusto.

10 W. Yuma St., Phoenix, 85003
MAP
602-340-1304
BEST OLIVE OIL CAKE
radioMILANO

We love olive oil drizzled on salads or soaked up with a soft piece of bread, but in dessert? Admittedly, the sound of olive oil cake turned us off at first. But we were very pleasantly surprised when curiosity got the better of us at radioMILANO, and now it's our favorite choice for sweet satisfaction at the end of the meal. Here, the thick slice of cake is so moist and velvety that it's hard to eat just a bite or two. It's served with a huge, smooth dollop of thickened cream (you'll never be able to eat Cool Whip again after tasting it) and a nice blob of blackberry jam, although we'd gladly eat it plain. And here's a word to the wise: Get your own piece. The rest of the menu might be full of shareable small plates, but when it comes to olive oil cake, we gotta look after ourselves.

3950 E. Campbell Ave., Phoenix, 85018
MAP
602-956-6600
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BEST AFTERNOON TEA: Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa

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