LIVIN' LODGE

Desserts feature more flaming tableside cooking operations. (Does this place even have a kitchen?) Bananas Foster, cherries jubilee and crepe suzettes are neatly fashioned. The latter, heavy with Cointreau, serves simultaneously as a sweet and after-dinner drink. If you're flamed out, the not-too-sweet apple strudel with rum raisin ice cream will also put a fine exclamation point on the meal. About the only time Palm Court stumbles is at the finish line. In a place like this, I expected my coffee to come with something a little more elegant than sugar packets. Perhaps a chocolate-covered strawberry or some petits fours would help the meal end with a bang, not a whimper. Like its clientele, Palm Court knows how to take care of business. Your next step? Getting ahold of the company credit card. The Grill, Ritz-Carlton, 2401 East Camelback, Phoenix, 468-0700. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, 5 to 10:30 p.m., seven days a week. The Grill at the Ritz-Carlton aims to comfort American capitalists with more than just dinner. It also feeds their hunger for the something that money alone can't buy: respectability. That comes from the room itself, which is almost suffocatingly clubby, in a fantasized English sort of way. It's done up with dark wood paneling, from which hang paintings of milord's dogs and ponies. Huge, sturdy wooden breakfronts, filled with china, and a fireplace topped with a marble mantel and sculptures of horses add to the effect. By the time a suggestible corporate vice president reaches the table, he's liable to be daydreaming about his country estate in Shropshire, and his dependent class of devoted, hardworking peasants. Even I fell under the spell for several minutes, musing about a mythical Seftel manse, and taking my mind off realities like a current APS bill that could be confused with the Gross National Product of Ecuador.

But on a recent Friday-night visit, management was unable to sustain the illusion. That's because the Grill featured a musical group that created dissonance on several levels. First of all, they were loud, loud enough to make conversation difficult. They were also persistent, supplying a strong argument for union-mandated musical breaks. Worst of all was their playlist. I am here to witness that it is simply impossible to eat veal Wellington and listen to a live saxophone version of "Achy Breaky Heart" at the same time. The music is jarring, and not very, well, ritzy. If the Grill ever decides to concentrate on quiet fine dining, the kitchen seems up to the task. Like Palm Court, this restaurant doesn't aim to start a culinary revolution. Instead, the emphasis is on quality. There's no faulting the meaty credentials of the three jumbo shrimp in the shrimp cocktail. But whether or not the $2.83-per-piece price would survive a cost-benefit analysis is a question your chief financial officer will have to answer. A bowlful of tender snails in a garlicky Pernod butter is a good starter option, although some odd fried onion strips threatened to overpower every other flavor. Fried lamb and potato turnovers are reminiscent of Indian samosa, and three of them come with rich goat-cheese dip. Velvety smoked salmon, with cräme fraŒche and capers, also rates highly. But there's little need to fill up on pricey appetizers. A substantial entree and dessert should satisfy even a robber baron's appetite. With a few exceptions, the main dishes offer unfussy preparations of grilled meats and fish. New York steak sports beefy prime quality, but the blue castello cheese crust is almost too light to be noticed. Dover sole is a fragile specimen. Here it's gently saut‚ed in lemon caper butter, perhaps a few seconds too long. The kitchen gets fancier with the enormous wedge of veal Wellington, a magnificent hunk of tender meat encrusted in puff pastry, sitting in a hard-hitting truffle-infused sauce. Adventurous executives who enjoy the thrill of the hunt should opt for the braised wild boar. Three mildly gamey medallions each came atop a wedge of rich foie gras, each again resting on a disk of black bread. Nothing shy about this combination of strong flavors. And the wild mushroom medley alongside had the oomph to furnish a worthy complement. Desserts are faultless. A hot apple-and-bread-pudding cake is as good as it sounds, especially with the homemade scoop of orange buttermilk ice cream. Another homemade ice cream, flavored with Grand Marnier and espresso, gilds an intense chocolate rum cake stuffed with chocolate mousse. And the berry-stuffed cräme br–l‚e is also right on target. The Grill is an elegant place. Please, someone turn down the music, and let the food sing for itself.

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