Cafe Reviews


Be My Valentine: If your sweetie requires high-end, high-up dining, you've got lots of choices. Among the best: Top of the Rock (the Buttes, 2000 Westcourt Way, Tempe, 225-9000): Dark enough to take the other woman--or man--this circular room furnishes a beautiful, 360-degree view of the Valley. But the food is so good you might not even care if the blinds are drawn and the lights turned up. Check out the lobster Napoleon and pesto-crusted rack of lamb. Etienne's Different Pointe of View (Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs, 11111 North Seventh Street, 863-0912): A snazzy room, a dazzling view and a sophisticated staff will get you in the mood for romance. So will the fare. The macadamia-nut, wheat-germ-crusted ahi tuna, moistened with mango and pepper salsa, is probably the best fish dish I've had in town.

Mary Elaine's (Phoenician, 6000 East Camelback, 941-8200): Formal, elegant and a bit stuffy, this is the place to pretend that you're Fred and she's Ginger. Marvelous, Mediterranean-accented food, from the pan-seared foie gras with roasted peppered pineapple to the braised turbot with fennel and olives. If the only view you need is of each other's eyes, these restaurants will furnish another form of nourishment: Rancho Pinot Grill (6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 468-9463): A small, charming spot with high-octane fare, graciously served. The menu, changed daily, features tasty delights like goat cheese and caramelized onions baked in phyllo dough, and rosemary-infused chicken with Italian sausage. Such Is Life, Altos (3602 North 24th Street, 955-7822): The best new restaurant of 1994, this upstairs addition to Such Is Life serves outstanding Spanish food with a Basque touch. Mushrooms saut‚ed in garlic and port are mesmerizing. Check out the outstanding paella, too.

Arizona Kitchen (Wigwam Resort, 300 East Indian School, Litchfield Park, 935-3811): Some of the best-looking, best-tasting Southwestern food in the Valley. The grilled medallions of venison, drenched in blackberry zinfandel cocoa sauce, are exceptional. So is the guajillo-chile-flavored ice cream, served in a striking turquoise "bowl" of hardened sugar. Mikado (7111 East Camelback, Scottsdale, 481-9777): Japanese food on Valentine's Day? Why not? The sushi room upstairs is a bustling place, with topnotch unagi, freshwater eel that's reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Downstairs, treat yourselves to seafood nabemono for two, a hot pot swimming with aquatic life. Avanti (2728 East Thomas, 956-0900): It's been around for 20 years, and this romantic Italian-continental restaurant, with its black-and-chrome, art-deco interior, is still doing it right. Dig in to the town's best gnocchi, and topnotch versions of cioppino and cräme br–l‚e.

Got more love than money? Whisper sweet nothings at these inexpensive spots: Pearl of Asia (5025 North Seventh Avenue, 265-9818): Vietnamese food that will spice up any relationship. Chao tom will get you in the mood. It's shrimp ground into a paste, fashioned into an oval ball around a stick of sugar cane, then deep-fried. Pull the shrimp off, wrap in greenery and chew. Then suck the juices out of the sugar cane. Honey Bear's BBQ (5012 East Van Buren, 273-9178): The tangy-sweet Tennessee barbecue sauce may not be Chanel No. 5, but it gets most guys just as excited. And there's something sensual about gnawing on ribs, don't you think?--