Be My Valentine: If your Valentine requires high-end dining, you have lots of options. Among the best:
Chaparral Restaurant (Marriott's Camelback Inn, 5402 East Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley, 948-6644): Like true love, the timeless dishes here also have staying power. Start off with the lobster bisque capped with puff pastry and a spoonful of caviar. Then move on to exquisite entrees like lobster thermidor and the best beef Wellington in town.
Mary Elaine's Lounge (Phoenician resort, 6000 East Camelback, 423-2530): Formal, elegant, romantic and just a bit stuffy, this restaurant jewel doesn't stint on anything--food, setting or service. It may be hard to gaze into your significant other's eyes when you have John Dory with black truffles or venison topped with foie gras to look at. A great wine list, too. Bring lots of money.
Palm Court (Scottsdale Conference Resort, 7700 East McCormick Parkway, 596-7700): This swanky room features an army of bus persons, servers, captains and sommeliers who treat diners like honored guests. Showy, flaming tableside presentations are the thing here: The lobster Lord Randolph, meaty chunks of Maine lobster sauteed with mushrooms and truffles, fired with brandy and finished with a lobster cream sauce, is a standout.
Christopher's (2398 East Camelback, 957-3214): The ultimate in gourmet luxury, Christopher's eight-course, fixed-price dinner will furnish a Valentine's Day neither you noryour credit-card company will ever forget. The terrine of foie gras--layers of marinated, sauteed and steamed foie gras, served with truffle and a fig compote--is thrilling. Desserts are also a knockout, especially if you're lucky enough to hit a night when the chef prepares his magnificent "chocolate hot and cold."
If your supply of love is greater than your supply of cash, these restaurants can take the sting out of being financially challenged:
Cafe Patou (Papago Plaza, 7049 East McDowell, Scottsdale, 423-1700): A charming cafe with room for maybe 20 patrons, this place offers fare with real Mediterranean flair. Garlic-laden baked mussels, a charcuterie platter, lobster cakes and Italian flatbread topped with escargots are just some of the delights.
House of Tricks (114 East Seventh Street, Tempe, 968-1114): Set in a bucolic-looking cottage, House of Tricks has nothing up its sleeve except inventive dishes. Look for creative appetizers like cheese-and-avocado blintzes or sweet potato with black bean chili. I adore the chef's version of lasagna, a whole roasted eggplant stuffed with goat cheese and ricotta.
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Pearl of Asia (5025 North Seventh Avenue, 265-9818): Vietnamese restaurants are not usually noted for their charm. But this one features bubbling fountains and linen tablecloths. First-rate ethnic fare, too, particularly the sizzling crepes stuffed with shrimp and pork.
Hap's Real Pit BBQ (101 South 24th Street, 267-0181): This trailer set on a car-repair lot isn't very romantic. But who cares about atmosphere when you can get ribs like these, slathered with a complex sauce that's sweet, tart and hot at the same time? Fabulous gowiths, too, like beans blended with ground beef, bacon and molasses.--Howard Seftel
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