FEAST AND FAMINE

Workers of the world, unite at The Restaurant, and charge it to the company. The revolution's got to start somewhere.

Sprouts, the spa at Marriott's Camelback Inn, 5402 East Lincoln, Paradise Valley, 948-1700. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week.

Location Info

Map

The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix

2401 E. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: East Phoenix

Come to Sprouts for lunch and you'll find yourself in the company of well-toned women wrapped in terry-cloth robes. They have just come from using the resort's elegant spa services. Their faces gleam after Rehydrating Four-Layer Facials; their bodies glow after Bindi Herbal Body Treatments; their aching muscles relax after Jin Shin Jyutsu massages.

You don't need a degree in restaurant management to guess what these gals are going to want for lunch. Hint: It's not going to be duck confit, rib eye steak and Bailey's Irish Cream cheesecake.

They want spa fare--low-calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol food that won't undo the high-priced work they've just had done in the spa's body shop. Thoughtfully, management provides a full range of nutritional analyses for every menu item. I'm surprised the chairs themselves don't also double as scales. That way, patrons could calculate their weight after every bite.

The spa setting is magnificent. It starts with the drive through the breathtaking resort, to the spa building halfway up Mummy Mountain. Sprouts is in the lower level, overlooking the pool. The lunch room itself is bright and airy, with a Southwestern motif, principally hanging blankets and lots of cactus.

The food? Considering that calorie counting, not taste, is the driving force, it's not bad. But it is dull.

Sprouts offers two starters. There's a placid Southwestern vegetable chili (193 calories, 35 grams carbohydrates, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fat, 11 grams protein), stocked with beans, vegetables and a sprinkling of low-fat cheese. It serves its purpose, but a dash of chile pepper might have provided some zest without adding any more calories. Soup of the day is the other option. On this day, it was a "cream" of broccoli. If there was any cream in there, it must have been put in with an eyedropper.

Main dishes furnish the same sort of satisfaction folks might get from deciding to watch MacNeil/Lehrer instead of Roseanne reruns. They'll feel good about themselves. But no one is going to confuse what they feel with passion or ecstasy.

The garden pizza (434 calories, 68 grams carbohydrates, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 2.5 grams fat, 33 grams protein) is a small disk, sporting an indifferent crust and a substantial amount of vegetable topping. Broccoli, carrots and squash take up most of the space, along with a smidgen of low-fat mozzarella and a teaspoon of tomato sauce. It may have looked like a pizza, but I couldn't convince myself it actually was a pizza.

Grilled chicken salad (216 calories, 13 grams carbohydrates, 101 milligrams cholesterol, 3.5 grams fat, 32 grams protein) didn't have to be as boring as it was. It's just chicken over greens, with a bit of jicama and pepper, tossed with balsamic vinegar. Some tomatoes, artichokes or mushrooms would have made this salad a lot more interesting without throwing the nutritional figures out of whack.

Shrimp and snow peas (218 calories, 32 grams carbohydrates, 31 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fat, 20 grams protein) turned out to be shrimp and French green beans, since the kitchen ran out of snow peas. You get five chilled shrimp, served over mostaccioli. The only drawback: an incredibly snoozy yogurt sauce. Someone needs to tell the chef about herbs and spices. Tarragon, pepper, basil, oregano--something--is needed to perk this up.

Just when I despaired of finding anything with flavor, I dug into the seafood paprika (370 calories, 38 grams carbohydrates, 152 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fat, 45 grams protein), by far the best main dish. First, it's stocked with steamed mussels, clams, scallops, crab and shrimp--not vast amounts, but enough to enjoy. Second, it's served over fettuccine moistened with a lusty paprika tomato sauce that has real bite. This makes a fine lunch platter even if you haven't just gone through the Adobe Clay Purification Treatment.

Along with "fried" and "butter," "dessert" is another word you wouldn't expect to see on this menu. Nevertheless, it's there. Only, who cares? There's something called gingered fruit salad (95 calories, 20 grams carbohydrates, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 0 grams fat, 3 grams protein), berries and fruit mixed with plain, tasteless yogurt, bereft of any ginger snap. Other alternatives include frozen peach yogurt (88 calories, 18 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams cholesterol, 0 grams fat, 4 grams protein) and a power bar (225 calories, 42 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams cholesterol, 2 grams fat, 10 grams protein).

They say you can't be too rich or too thin. Well, Sprouts has put those priorities in order for me. Rich is a lot more fun.

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