LET'S DO BRUNCH

Welcome to the last installment of our continuing series Penelope Does Brunch. Today's episode is subtitled "Far Out," in which Penelope travels to such remote locations as Carefree, Litchfield Park, and an equestrian theme park in north Scottsdale. In addition to racking up mileage, Penelope finds good food and has childhood memories triggered by the smell of horse manure. But that's another story.

Keeping to our designated topic, let's take a trip up to the Boulders' Latilla Room. It's a stunning spring Sunday. Our fellow brunchers are a distinguished-looking older group, some of whom are dressed up, some casually clad. (Jackets are requested, but not required, for gentlemen at brunch. My accomplice looks quite natty in his.) Some seniors are accompanied by middle-aged children or college-age grandchildren. Some arrive in groups of ten. Some use walkers, some roll through in wheelchairs. All have two things in common: money and taste.

I know they have bucks because brunch here is a pricey affair for those of us not listed annually in Forbes. The cost is $25 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and that does not--repeat, does not--include alcohol. Fresh-squeezed juices, tea and coffee are yours for the asking, but you'll pay extra for cocktails or champagne.

I know these older folks have taste because the brunch here is good. Good enough to shell out 25 smackeroos? Excellent question; I promise to answer it. Later.

The Latilla Room itself is intimate and attractive. Ceilings are made of rows of rounded wooden slats ("latillas" in Spanish) supported by columns fashioned from ponderosa pine tree trunks. Walls are cool adobe-white. Curved booths are upholstered in dull pink industrial velveteen.

We are seated facing large windows. Outside the plate glass is a patio for dining and a pool area prominently signed "For Hotel Residents Only." Large terra cotta-colored boulders form the backdrop for this scene. They appear real, but we have serious doubts about the waterfall trickling down the rocks. ("Yeah, it's fake," confirms a bellhop as we exit. "They pump the water up there.")

Dining room service during brunch is adequate. It is not as attentive as at the Ritz-Carlton, nor as diligent as at the Palm Court. Our waitress is young and somewhat harried. Perhaps she simply has too many tables. She takes our drink order (juice, decaf), then tells us, "Go up whenever you're ready."

It doesn't take us long to follow her advice.
The brunch buffet laid out in the other room is a sensational spectacle that looks and smells exceptionally good. All the usual stops have been included--seafood (raw oysters, shrimp and salmon), salads, omelets, crepes, fruit, cheese, bread, entrees, desserts--plus an outside station where grilled morsels of mahimahi, chicken and duck sausage may be procured.

Frankly, there is nothing here I don't pretty much love. Of special note, I praise the salad of field greens, the curried chicken salad with grapes and almonds, the firm and flavorful cocktail shrimp and the hearty potato salad with corn and finely chopped red and green bell peppers. I also like the grilled mahimahi with chutney made of mandarin orange, coconut and pineapple, the pork loin stuffed with apricot and the whole-wheat pizza with sun-dried tomato pesto and smoked duck. Desserts are also uniformly delicious. Chocolate lovers will be delighted with the chocolate mousse tart topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. I also favor a banana cream tart, a nutty pecan square and a gingery Linzer torte cookie layered with raspberry jam. So, you ask, is there anything I don't like here? No, not in terms of comestibles. Nor in terms of the credible jazz filtering in from the adjacent lounge, performed by the Jack Dunham Trio.

The only negative I find with brunch at the Latilla Room is the layout of its buffet. Perhaps not much can be done, given the fixed space and presence of immovable objects like ponderosa pine tree trunks. Yet the organization of food items on the tables shows considerable forethought--minibagels and cream cheese are located near the smoked salmon, for instance. If the same attention were given to the room's poor overall traffic flow, the situation might be improved.

Twenty-five dollars sounds like an obscene amount of money to spend for brunch. But on food alone, the Latilla Room's brunch is worth it. I return to the buffet several times and clean every plate I fill.

What higher recommendation can I give?

God bless our freeway system. Patience and a half-percent sales tax have produced a modern road capable of delivering me from Central Phoenix to Litchfield Park in the same amount of time it takes to make a left turn at Camelback and 24th Street on a typical Friday afternoon.

The air seems cleaner, the day brighter, when my dining accomplice and I climb from the car in the parking lot of the Wigwam resort. I have always admired the look and pace of this resort, but until now never attended its Sunday brunch in the Terrace Dining Room. It's good to be out of the city. The Wigwam's brunch setup is unusual. It features a cold buffet spread with salads, seafood, cheeses, fruit, bread and desserts. Hot entrees, ranging from dilled scrambled eggs to grilled loin of lamb, are ordered from your waitress. Of the multiple selections offered, you may try one or all of them, and you aren't limited to one serving. The cost for this brunch is $18.95 per person. Tax and tip are not included, but champagne or sparkling cider is.

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