BEST ESCARGOT 2004 | Gregory's World Bistro | Food & Drink | Phoenix
We slither all over the Valley, looking for the very tastiest snails -- and always leaving a moist, weary trail of disappointment behind. Or at least we did, until Gregory's World Bistro began serving its mind-bendingly delicious escargot phyllo purses. There's nothing freeze-dried about these garden bandits, which are wisely served with tender wild mushrooms and spiced with tasty basil pesto, then swaddled in garlic butter and wrapped in a teeny clutch of phyllo. At only 10 bucks a pop, we're tempted to make them an entree. Usually, we settle for pairing them with Gregory's seared foie gras and a glass of Pinot and calling it supper.

We confess that we dine at My Florist Caf almost more often than we do in our own home, in part because we find its version of comfort food so, well, comforting. And we're profoundly comforted every time we dip into a plate full of My Florist's tasty baked oatmeal. Who knew that rolled oats, brown sugar, and a pinch of nutmeg could make for such a flavorsome, almost dessert-like breakfast food? Topped with sour apple slices and swaddled in a tart, creamy yogurt sauce, this is a morning meal that puts the rest of the day to shame.

My Florist's baked oatmeal is even better than Mom's. Or would be, if Mom had ever made the attempt.

Resort life can be harsh. First, there's the decision of which one of six pools to swim in. Then, there's the tough call of which one of eight restaurants to dine at. And finally, we've all suffered the travails of finding a good tropical drink by the pool, without having to drip-dry across the courtyard to get it. Luckily, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge caters to convenience. You don't even have to get out of the pool. Just swim on over to the Just A Splash Pool Bar & Grill and order a fuzzy navel or a pia colada. The bar specializes in tropical drinks, but it's got grub, too, including burgers, pizzas, salads, hot dogs and sandwiches, which begs the question: Does the "wait 30 minutes after eating" rule apply if you're already in the pool?

We love fancy hotels, but we don't like getting gussied up, particularly on a Sunday morning. That's why the brunch at the Hyatt's Squash Blossom is so perfect. No one expects you to dress up. Oh yeah, and don't get us started on the food. Well, since you asked, we recommend that you starve yourself all day Saturday, because this is a serious pig-out. Along with the piles of fresh fruit, omelets cooked to order and mounds of baked goods, the Squash Blossom offers both paella and Caesar salad stations, as well as carved meats.

Loosen those sweatpants, and belly up to the omelet bar. Readers' Choice: The Phoenician

If the Pink Pony were a big, nasty redhead, we'd plant one right on her over-lipsticked kisser. You see, so much of what passes for the restaurant industry in this Valley of pawnshops and palm trees is so corporate and lacking in class that the historic Pink Pony looks better the longer we dwell here. Blimey, the Pink Pony's been around since Truman was Prez, y'all. Now that's history. Moreover, the Pink Pony has served such baseball legends as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Billy Martin. The place is a veritable shrine to the game of baseball with framed jerseys from the likes of Sammy Sosa and Gene Autry. And its late owner Charlie Briley was instrumental in bringing the Cactus League to the Valley. But even if you know as much about America's Game as a hedgehog does about rocket science, the Double P should still appeal to you, assuming you have an ounce of style in your corpus. Just pay a visit on a Friday or Saturday night, ease into one of the slightly worn, black vinyl booths, order a stiff drink and a fat steak, and chill like Joltin' Joe did in the day. By the time you make it to your second cocktail, the lounge singer will be halfway into a finger-poppin' version of "Mack the Knife," and it'll be like you slipped through a wrinkle in time.

We love the drive up to Sanctuary, the super-chic hotel nestled up against the north side of Camelback Mountain, and we love the fiery hot wasabi nuts they serve in the cozy bar. After a cocktail or two at elements, the beautifully arranged bottles behind the bar twinkle, particularly at twilight. Or maybe it's just the cocktails. Either way, this is a perfect spot to end the day, just a short drive to either downtown Scottsdale or the Biltmore.

Cheers! Readers' Choice: elements

The lobby of the Biltmore is so elegant, you just can't help but feel your best as you sink into a chair in the lobby bar and eye that brand-new guy or gal. Good choice. A drink is the perfect first date. If you like each other, you can eat dinner at the hotel restaurant, or head a few blocks south to Biltmore Fashion Park, which houses several fine dining options. If there's a lull in the conversation, you can count on the lobby bar at the Biltmore for some prime people-watching -- or charm your date with some little-known facts about the hotel's history ("Did you know that Irving Berlin wrote 'White Christmas' outside at the pool here?").

Just think -- if the date goes really well, you're just steps from the hotel check-in desk. Readers' Choice: Oregano's Pizza Bistro

One of the first things we do as soon as fall arrives is call House of Tricks for a lunch reservation. We love to sip a raspberry iced tea (the trick is real raspberries) on the patio in front of this decidedly non-chain restaurant right off Mill Avenue.

There's still enough hustle and bustle to keep our eyes busy as we watch the downtown Tempe and Arizona State University traffic, and the best part is that we feel like we're guests at someone's home, dining under a vine-covered trellis. Evenings are equally delightful at the outdoor bar, and the food is consistently some of the best we've had in town. Readers' Choice: Mickey's Hangover

You think you know "The Girl From Ipanema" until you've heard it played by Nicole Pesce, the resident pianist at My Florist Cafe. Ditto "Flight of the Bumblebee," which she's been known to pair with Elton John's "Rocket Man" or any of several Jelly Roll Morton numbers. Is it any wonder, then, that folks come from far and wide to listen to this amazingly talented lass play everything from Rachmaninoff to Billy Joel, in a signature style that's part Tchaikovsky, part Eurolounge, and always very groovy? During a standard six-hour set, Pesce (who's played with Buddy Greco and once toured the country with the Jerry Lewis Orchestra) is likely to shift from Franz Liszt to Frank Sinatra and on into her infamous ABBA medley, nodding and smiling all the while as if to say, "Hey, music is music, pal." Somehow, though, music is a little bit more musical when Pesce plays it. But don't take our word for it. Hang back after supping on one of My Florist's signature salads, and listen while Pesce arpeggios her way through Van Morrison, Queen, and an arrangement of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" that must be heard to be believed.

There are enough police officers eating at this relaxed pub at all hours of the day to inspire confidence no matter what color the folks at Homeland Security announce. What are the cops eating? It sounds un-American, but everyone is here for gourmet burgers. An outfit called Snake River Farms imported to the States a herd of cattle from Japan and fed them barley, wheat and alfalfa in a natural, unconfined setting. Whatever. The resulting Kobe beef burgers, created without growth hormones, are a wonder. Wash down the protein with a half-dozen local brews or Sonora's own handmade root beer.

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