Eddie's Grill, 4747 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 241-1188. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

In a woman, it's always been the potent combination of beauty and brains. In a ballplayer, it's the devastating blend of speed and power. In a song, it's the seamless unity of melody and lyrics.

In a restaurant, it's the mix of food and ambiance. Life was starting to look bleak: Madame Curie's dead, Mickey Mantle's retired and Irving Berlin gets no radio play.

Fortunately, however, I can turn to the New American cuisine at Eddie's Grill. The place is masterfully designed, with sophistico-sleek San Francisco style.

Eddie's really has three different dining-room atmospheres. Go down a twisty staircase and you'll find a stony grotto and wine cellar tucked away, wonderful for romantic tàte--tàtes.

Lovers of the great outdoors will enjoy the patio, which looks out over two soothing, lily-padded ponds, colorful koi and a spotlighted fountain.

We opted for the main dining area, with a view of the glass-enclosed kitchen, abstract paintings and a riveting, life-size plaster couple perched at the top of the stairwell.

Everything seemed nifty without being forced, from the scalloped-back booths to the Broadway-quality lighting. But not even the most skillful restaurant designer can blueprint what we found on a recent visit: a Saturday-night buzz from the crowd of good-looking folks who filled the room with energy and expectations. My good-time antennae were out so far I practically tripped over them.

Wonderful, warm, thick bread, flecked with rosemary, gave the first indication that Eddie's Grill planned to meet those expectations. The sharp pesto dip is more Old World than New American, but a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little chefs.

Ordering appetizers can launch a restaurant tab faster than a Saturn rocket. But the starters here needed no boost in taste. They soared.

Toasted seafood won tons brought six little crispy, fried dumplings, stuffed with herbed cream cheese but no hint of the sea. Set off by a sweet, raspberry jalapeo sauce, they were irresistible even without a noticeable aquatic tang. So were the Mo' Rockin' Shrimp, four firm critters with a skewer of four golf-ball-size fritters. These all came in a scrumptious, spicy beer sauce. "Hot, hot," my wife cried happily, as she kept spooning up the sauce. The grilled Portobello mushroom, accompanied by dainty dollops of goat cheese, corn relish and black beans, also scored high in the polls. Meals come with soup or salad. The creamy potato, leek and garlic soup delivered a rich, heady taste. But the texture was so gluey that I ventured only quick dips with my spoon. Otherwise, I feared it might set into concrete. The house salad was a pleasing mix of greens enlivened by slivered, crunchy tortilla strips. The prickly pear dressing made it even more appealing. For some extra bucks, diners can substitute an unnecessary caesar salad, romaine lettuce fronds coated with anchovies and grated cheese.

It may be easier to define New American cooking by what it's not, rather than what it is. You'll find no unusual ingredients, no exotic sauces and no elaborate, all-day recipes. Look for simple dishes built around beef, chicken, fish and pasta, but prepared with imagination and flair.

It's hard to tart up a plate of meat loaf. But what this dish lacked in novelty, it made up with heft and quality. The beefy flavor was tinged with fresh tomatoes and basil, and it came with first-rate mashed potatoes that tasted like they were cooked up by somebody's mother. Nothing wrong with the hearty mushroom gravy, either.

The signature entree here is seared New York sirloin. It's outstanding. Tender strips of steak arrived encased in mashed potatoes that were dusted with Parmesan and Romano cheese. It was all lightly fried and moistened with a Burgundy brown sauce. This dish could give you a whole new slant on meat and potatoes.

Fresh salmon was pleasingly juicy and flaky, baked inside a thin vegetable crust. It came with one of the Valley's more pleasing and offbeat side dishes, an apricot-and-orange rice mold browned to a luscious crunch. The only touch marring the entrees, if you're not dining with a Holstein, is the fussy garnish sprouting from every platter. I don't know what the minimum daily requirement for chlorophyll is, but I suspect you'll find it easy to meet. The chef obviously knows the mouth-pleasing delight of crunchy fare. Even the bow-tie pasta, baked with cheese and grilled zucchini and red peppers, sported lots of crunch. But in an unnecessary bit of lily-gilding, the kitchen went a bit overboard here, topping the dish with a crispy potato crust. Less starch and more veggies seemed the better alternative. One thing New American certainly doesn't mean at Eddie's Grill is small portions. After appetizers and a main dish, diners don't have too many appetite cracks left to fill for dessert.

If they do, they can turn to Whoopie pie, white-and-dark-chocolate mousse crammed between layers of chocolate sponge cake. It all floated in such a deep pool of raspberry sauce that if we had been accompanied by a child, the Phoenix Municipal Code would have compelled us to build a fence around it. Eddie's Grill has been serving lunch for a couple of years, but only recently plunged back into the dinner trade. A smart move: The food's worth diving into, and you won't get soaked.

Gabriel's, 1850 North Central, Phoenix, 207-2070. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Friday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Ever long to eat in a gorgeous place without paying gorgeous bucks? Gabriel's, in the Dial Corporate Center, would be a top choice. If Charlie Keating had opened a diner instead of a resort, it probably would have looked just like this.

The irregularly shaped room doesn't fit any of the polygonal figures I studied in school. But it doesn't take long to recognize the sumptuous, clubby and moneyed feel. There's lots of dark wood, mirrors, brocade chairs, flowers, gilt-framed art and yards of rich curtains draped over the windows. Subliminally low Strauss waltzes complete the effect.

Even the breadbasket seemed luxurious, with its fresh, crusty whole wheat and garlic-topped rolls.

The fare, though, is pretty much down-home. The cheese-croquette appetizer turned out to be three pleasantly breaded and fried mozzarella sticks and two battered Brie balls. Conforming to the refined atmosphere and the laws of taste, Gabriel's avoids ranch dressing, serving up instead an appealing tomatillo salsa to swish the croquettes through.

The light vegetable and pasta quiche won't get diners thinking about France. Shaped like a mold, not a pie, it came flecked with veggies and topped with a pasta crust. It didn't seem particularly rich and custardy, but that seems to have been the goal. That's because the menu listing for the dish has one of those little hearts next to it, as do three entrees, five salads, two appetizers and one soup. Skimping on eggs and whole milk may earn a heart, but it won't win any medals. Much more tempting was the Tio Pepe soup, named, I imagine, after the fine sherry, not the chef's uncle. It was superb, a thick, aromatic broth, heavy with black beans, sausage, sour cream and a splash of sherry.

The main dishes couldn't possibly match the elegance of their surroundings. But all except one we sampled met every taste test.

The menu promises a meat-loaf-and-potatoes dish "homemade like Mother's." Happily, it wasn't. Instead, the huge platter came meaty, crusty and smooth, with both yummy mashed potatoes and rich, brown gravy devoid of the traditional Mama Seftel lumps.

The presentation, though, was a bit over the top. The food came in an oversize covered dish. The waiter set it down, then dramatically whisked it off. Yup, that was meat loaf and mashed potatoes down there, all right. At least he didn't call me "Monsieur."

The chicken-and-dumplings dish was contributed by John Teets, CEO of the Dial Corporation. Obviously a man with too much free time, Teets has a future in the kitchen if the CEO biz turns sour. Shredded hunks of boneless chicken swam in a fragrant, carrot-and-celery-infested broth. The compelling, dense, doughy dumplings, with their wonderful texture and mild flavor, helped make this a delightful bargain at $9.95.

Fresh-broiled salmon in a pungent, two-fisted orange-and-ginger marinade also aimed to please, and was moist and not overcooked. The bland rice alongside, though, might have come from the cafeteria down the hall.

Only the angel-hair pasta and shrimp plate never got off the ground. No problem with the five medium shrimp, but $10.95 brought only a miserly amount of noodles. And while it all had a spicy chile zip, that seemed to be the sole flavor note. I expected something more than one-dimensional.

The desserts were no less tasty than the entrees, but somewhat more creative. The quirky praline sabayon held everyone's interest. So did the intense chocolate truffle in a puddle of melba sauce. The tried-and-true cranberry apple pie disproved the notion that familiarity breeds contempt.

Easy on the eyes, easy on the purse and easy on the taste buds, Gabriel's has plenty to offer. It has good reason to blow its own horn.


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