A DRINK WITH JAM AND BREAD

I feel very pampered and productive when I signal my server for my check. I have read all my mail in a most congenial atmosphere. I pay my bill and after one last gaze southward from the terrace, I head for the elevators and my waiting automobile.

Because of its central location, the Ritz-Carlton's afternoon tea should be viewed as a great midday, midtown getaway. The lobby of the Ritz is darker and more staid than the Phoenician's; it feels more like a Victorian living room than a resort. I'm alone once again when I visit this time, and I position myself at one of the more secluded tea setups so I can watch everyone else, but retain a bit of privacy.

Again, first on the agenda is picking today's tea. I choose Formosa Oolong, a mixture of Chinese green and black teas. While it steeps, I note its fruity aroma and the amateurish playing of the pianist in the corner. This is not Horowitz.

Location Info

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The Phoenician, Scottsdale

6000 E. Camelback Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: Central Scottsdale

Full tea at the Ritz is not the three-course meal I experienced at the Phoenician. Instead, I receive a large plate filled with all my tea items: sandwiches, scone, breads and pastry. I've been allotted a mere dab of my beloved Devonshire cream. It, too, is already on the plate. And frankly, if the presentation is not as spectacular, neither are the fixin's themselves. The ham on the ham-and-asparagus rectangle tastes like the packaged Danish product at the supermarket. A smoked salmon dainty is marred by bread that seems stale. Though bland, the better two sandwiches are a round egg-and-chive and a pinwheel of cucumber and cream cheese--at least the bread is fresh.

The one scone I receive (the menu says "scones," by the way) is muffin shaped and not outstanding. It tastes too much of baking soda. The skimpy portion of Devonshire cream pales in comparison to the Phoenician's generosity. Again I'm told it's real Devon cream imported from England and beaten in the kitchen, but this version is too airy.

As for sweet treats, my plate includes a fresh raspberry tart, which is fabulous, and a slice each of banana-walnut and fruitcake-like breads. The former is fresh and light, the latter too laden with annoying candied citrus rind. Fruitcake season will be here soon enough.

But I feel positively pampered by the attentive service. My tea is poured for me at the Ritz; all I do is sit on my divan, munch and review some notes. My only complaint is that the language of the staff sounds scripted and unnatural. Who, besides a robot, says "My pleasure" instead of "You're welcome"? Or "certainly" instead of "okay"? Probably people whose favorite adjective is "classy." I hate the phoniness of it.

It takes me about an hour to savor my tea and crumpets. When I'm through, I feel relaxed and ready to face the world again. File the Ritz-Carlton's afternoon tea under "R" in your Filofax for Refuge. Maybe the goodies aren't as thrilling as the Phoenician's, but an hour out of the bustle and traffic in a comfortable, plush environment does much to rejuvenate the soul. When you and the girls need a place to gather and discuss a shower, divorce, elopement or affair, head to Gooseberries. This restaurant, nestled in one corner of a gift shop, is a feminine place if ever there was one. The merchandise here has three themes: country, wedding or baby. No children or smokers are permitted.

"Cream tea" is a simple affair at Gooseberries. There's no fussy china, no fancy sandwiches or pastries. Just scones, lemon curd, Devonshire cream, jam and tea. The shop's very floral tablecloths are covered with plastic for protection.

Today I'm here with a girlfriend. When she and I are seated, we are not given the expected choice of teas. Rather, two cups are brought to our table, filled with steaming liquid. Our young waitress tells us it is a caffeinated blend of black currant, apricot and passion fruit teas--though it's as dark as coffee. When I request a caffeine-free selection, she removes my cup and returns with hot water and a nondescript herbal tea bag. A pot of tea never graces our table; cups are refilled somewhat stingily from a master pot. But the scones here are a treat. We receive a ribbon-and-flower-decked basket filled two kinds of scones: "fluffy cloud" and cinnamon-walnut, shaped like hearts. Hot from the oven, the cinnamon scones feature a toasty crust. I love them. I'm less enthusiastic about the "fluffy clouds." When I think of scones, I think of words like heavy and dense; these are as light and airy as their name implies.

Of our scone accompaniments, I like the zesty lemon curd--similar to the lemon sauce that topped my schoolgirl gingerbread desserts--and the liquidy Devon cream. Without the sandwich and pastry calories to worry about, I make use of butter and jam, too. The order of application? Butter, jam, cream, of course.

Reservations are required at Gooseberries, as scones are baked to order. For a casual, just-girls get-together, perhaps combined with a bit of shopping, keep this pleasant little tea room in mind.

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