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.
Mary Coyle Ol' Fashion Ice Cream Parlor
Gelato, yogurt, custard — we can't keep track of the latest frozen treat trend, and frankly, why bother when you've got Mary Coyle in town? For more than 50 years, this wonderful business has padded hips in the Valley with its homemade ice cream — featuring old standards like rocky road and chocolate mint chip in a throwback of an ice cream parlor. Our advice: Go for the whipped cream, hot fudge, and nuts. You only live once, and it's not easy to find a place that's proud to make its product with 16 percent butterfat.
MacAlpine's Soda Fountain and Espresso Bar
We used to think of milkshakes as a summertime treat, until we moved to Phoenix. Now they're as essential to us year-round as sunscreen, flip-flops, and car window shades. Whenever we're in the mood to cool down with a creamy, dreamy chocolate malted, or a picture-perfect strawberry shake with whipped cream and a cherry on top, we head to MacAlpine's Soda Fountain, where hand-scooped Thrifty ice cream, mixed to a froth with an old-fashioned milkshake blender, is one of the house specialties. Other sweet, slurpable options include phosphates in a variety of fruit flavors, egg creams, ice cream sodas, and floats. (We think sundaes might count, too, if you let them melt a little.) Part of the fun of going to MacAlpine's is sitting at the counter for an authentic soda fountain experience, or shimmying into a big wooden booth with a good view of all the vintage Pepsi and Coca-Cola signs on the walls. It makes us think about what the Valley might've been like back in the good ol' days, before it was a sweltering metropolis — and that alone makes us feel just a little bit cooler.
Camelback Inn, A JW Marriott Resort & Spa, Scottsdale
After getting rubbed, scrubbed, and generally pampered to the point of exhaustion, a spa-goer is bound to get hungry. After all, you can only get so full on apples and cucumber-lemon water. At most spas in the Valley — which qualify as some of the best in the country — the dining options run the gamut of light fare, from smoothies to sandwiches and salads. Nothing wrong with that, but the healthful cuisine at the Spa at Camelback Inn is truly of another caliber. Early birds can chow down on a veggie-packed frittata with smoked basil mozzarella or a Belgian waffle with caramelized bananas and raspberries, while midday diners can indulge in guilt-free entrees like miso-glazed salmon with fennel orange sauce, shrimp fettuccine with pesto, and blue crab cakes with watercress and spicy chile remoulade. It's all so flavorful and artfully presented that you'd never think it's low-cal — except that the menu lists calories, fat, protein, and carbs for every dish. Good thing they make it easy to keep track of nutritional details, because after an hour-long hot stone massage, we're way too relaxed to worry about it.
Some people need to be dared to try foie gras or escargots, but not us. The only thing we don't like about them is that they aren't more popular. Luckily, Méthode Bistro satisfies our jones for exotic ingredients, and then some. Yes, they have foie gras — paired with chocolate croquembouche and lavender gastrique — while their snails are basil-fed (yes, they really taste like fresh basil), topped with almond foam and meuniere sauce. And for slightly more timid souls, chef-owner Matt McLinn's delightful, Mediterranean-inspired menu includes plenty of classic entrees, such as roasted paella with seasonal shellfish and chorizo, or ricotta gnocchi with Guinea hen and crispy artichokes. But for adventurous foodies on the prowl for exotic ingredients and novel preparations, his "Outside the Box" appetizer menu really delivers. Other options include veal sweetbreads with polenta, lamb tongue cooked sous vide with rosemary and summer truffles, and squab confit with foie gras-stuffed mallard hearts. (Either that just made you say eww, or it made you really hungry. High five if it's the latter.)

BEST PLACE TO RUB ELBOWS WITH THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Lola Tapas

Phoenix would be a much more neighborly city if only there were more restaurants like Lola Tapas. Spending so much time in our cars, in a land where pedestrians are few and far between, we won't just stumble on a sense of community unless we frequent the same places over and over — or unless we stop by Lola for an intimate meal with our best friends and a whole bunch of sociable strangers. Aside from a small wine bar in the back of this adorable, saffron-colored eatery — owned and operated by Daniel and Felicia Ruiz Wayne, the former owners of Lux Coffeebar — it's all table seating, thanks to a couple of dark, sleek communal tables that run the length of the room. Don't worry, your neighbors won't butt in on your conversation, although they just might inquire about that yummy-looking thing you're eating. From delectable jamon serrano with mahon and manchego cheeses, to garlicky garbanzo beans with sautéed spinach, to skewers of grilled marinated pork, the tapas here are certainly as appealing to the eye as to the taste buds. After a glass or two of thirst-quenching homemade sangria, filled with soft chunks of fresh fruit, you'll be schmoozing like an old pro.

BEST PLACE TO MEET A CELEBRITY CHEF

Sea Saw

You can watch chefs cooking on television, or perhaps at a culinary festival, but most of the time, in the real, day-to-day world of the restaurant biz, they work their magic behind the scenes. At Sea Saw, though, chef-owner Nobuo Fukuda and his team of kitchen protégés are as much an attraction as the food. With just a handful of tables around the room, and an open kitchen surrounded by counter seating, anybody who walks through the door is bound to get a glimpse of the James Beard Award-winning Fukuda preparing his inventive, tapas-style Japanese fusion cuisine. The place to be, of course, is right along the counter, where you can really get up-close and personal with the master at work. You won't necessarily get to chat him up too much — which is obvious as soon as you see the intense focus and urgent pace of all the kitchen staff — but watching the ebb and flow of dinner service, with the gratification of eating the end results, is truly memorable. Sea Saw really is something to see.
Elements
When we hit up the Big Apple, our friends like to dazzle us with a whirlwind of bright lights/big city excitement. But when they visit us, we don't even attempt to reciprocate. Why bother, when there's nowhere in the Valley that could compare with Manhattan's intensely urban vibe?

Instead, we show them our yin to their yang at elements, the jewel in the crown of the exclusive Sanctuary resort. Nestled into the side of Camelback Mountain, it's all about desert tranquility, with a dramatic view of the surrounding mountains and the dim twinkle of Paradise Valley in the distance. Hey, just because we don't do much in the way of skyscrapers doesn't mean we can't boast a mesmerizing view. (There's also plenty of eye candy at Jade Bar, the sleek, sexy watering hole adjacent to the restaurant.) As for the Asian-influenced American cuisine at elements, it's up there with New York's finest culinary hot spots. For proof, look no further than to executive chef Beau MacMillan, whose melt-in-your-mouth short ribs helped him beat New York celebrity chef Bobby Flay on The Food Network's Iron Chef America last year.

After a visit to elements, don't be surprised if your NY friends start sporting "I ♥ AZ" T-shirts.

Yasu Sushi Bistro
Despite the name, sushi isn't the only reason to visit Yasu Sushi Bistro. This stylish, pocket-sized restaurant also happens to feature ultra-buttery wagyu, Japan's most sought-after, exquisite beef. Here, you get to grill it yourself at your table. Other top-notch dishes from the sumibiyaki menu — items cooked over fragrant binchotan charcoal — include sea scallops wrapped in bacon, and tsukune, homemade chicken meatballs coated in a smoky-sweet sauce. As for the sushi bar here, it's a lot more intimate (that is, a lot smaller) than the standard kind — and downright minuscule compared with the sleek expanses at Valley hot spots where the décor threatens to outdazzle the eats — but that only makes the seats that much more desirable, as far as we're concerned. All the better to get face time with talented chef Yasu Hashino, who co-owns the restaurant with Yoshi Natori, the founder of Yoshi's. Hashino has a rep for being ultra-picky about his seafood, and it shows in the freshness and quality of his creations.

Even old favorites, like salmon or yellowtail, are somehow more sublime here. But for a truly thrilling meal, check out the list of specials, where you'll find more unusual offerings like sanma (mackerel pike), aji (Spanish mackerel), and ankimo (monkfish liver pate). Hashino won't buy fish that's more than a few gasps out of the ocean, so go ahead and be adventurous. There's no telling whether it'll be on the menu tomorrow.

Forget about time machines. If you want a blast from the past, just ride the Pink Pony into the sunset of Scottsdale history, back to the good old days when baseball greats like Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, and Willie Mays hung out at this Old Town landmark. Around for more than half a century, the old gal's held up pretty well — curvy, black vinyl booths and tiny cowboy boot lamps give it a true 1950s charm, while framed jerseys and autographed memorabilia make it feel like a cozy sports fan's hideout.

During spring training, Pink Pony's an obvious destination for pilgrims paying tribute to America's pastime, but even in the off-season, it's a reliable stop for hungry patrons in search of a stiff cocktail, a juicy slab of prime rib, and a healthy dose of old-school cool.

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