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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.

 

The feeling here is solidly Southwestern. Earthy but elegant crockery is used to display buffet items on a long curving table at one end of the bright room. Behind the table on a small platform, an acoustic guitarist sits strumming classical tunes with Spanish inflections. The atmosphere is most pleasant.

The strength of this brunch is its buffet. It goes beyond the usual, the expected. There's almost a--dare I say it?--health orientation to it. For example, the inclusion of luscious fresh berries and plain yogurt, of lovely mixed greens, of dilled cottage cheese, of a cucumber/tomato/hearts of palm salad. All wonderful, all delicious, all rare at the typical brunch.

Even required brunch items excel at the Terrace Dining Room. Peeled shrimp are fresh and firm, smoked salmon is dark and subtle tasting. Good (expensive) crackers, the sort served at "socially correct" cocktail parties, lie next to an especially satisfying slice of Brie. I also give high marks to the spicy Southwest chicken salad with pine nuts and avocado. A green and red pasta salad using sun-dried tomatoes, peas and red peppers is both festive and tasty.

Hot entrees are adequate but not exceptional. It takes a while for them to be delivered, and once they come, I wish I'd just saved room for another trip to the buffet.

As for dessert, what is it they say? "There's always room for a dark- chocolate mousse tart?" Well, that's what I say, anyhow. I also can't resist petits fours. The Wigwam's violet version with raspberry jam is charming. And there's so much more.

But you get the idea. I like this brunch. The service is friendly, the room is pretty and the cold buffet is worth a trip down I-10 any Sunday.

Were you one of those horse-crazy kids? Are you enchanted with things equine? I can relate. I was one of those little girls with a black-velvet hunt cap, who, every Saturday and all summer long, nudged a horse round and round some stern riding instructor who was constantly yelling at me to watch my posture and my hands and to look up.

I don't miss the scoldings, but while visiting Rattlers' at WestWorld, I feel a bit of nostalgia for my days with horses. If you're at all susceptible, this is what an equestrian theme park will do to you.

Rattlers' is WestWorld's brand new, 10,000-square-foot restaurant overlooking emerald green polo grounds. The attractive and sophisticated facility is beautifully appointed, from the authentic Mexican brick patio and copper horse lanterns outside, to the cowhide-upholstered love seats and hand-carved doors inside. And big? This place is giant. You and 1,199 of your closest friends can all eat here at once.

But it's the idea of weekend polo that drew me to Rattlers' brunch. At 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting, matches are played on the fields below the restaurant. The 270-degree view from Rattlers' three wraparound patios and large windows guarantee almost everyone a view of the action. Except if the teams aren't playing. Which they aren't, on this particular Sunday. Nope, the grounds are still wet from recent rainstorms. I am disappointed, but consoled by the gorgeous blue sky and cool fresh air we enjoy out on the patio. I tell myself our view of the McDowell Mountains is almost as exciting as a good polo match.

You order brunch from the menu at Rattlers'. Prices for brunch entrees range from $6.95 to $10.95. Kids under ten with I.D. eat free, so dig out those birth certificates. They'll love it here.

And so will you, especially if you're a big eater. The food is huge! My "wimpy amigo omelette," oozing with Monterey Jack and mild green chile, looks to be a "six-egger," at least. My accomplice's Belgian "waffle stompers" appear modeled on the footprints of Paul Bunyan. Hot cinnamon-apple topping, syrup and whipped cream are tasty additives. A hearty helping of "cowboy taters" comes with each brunch. I like these colorful home fries, spruced up with bits of red and green pepper.

 

On the downside, service is young, hopeful and inexperienced at Rattlers'. I call the restaurant the day before and a young man answers with a simple hello. Startled, I ask if I've reached Rattlers'. "Oh, yeah," he says, unperturbed by his error. "I forgot." This same youthful lack of concentration is evident elsewhere. It's not fatal and, one hopes, can be cured by a combination of steady business and experience.

You won't smell any horse manure at Rattlers', but if you're like me, you'll want to drive deeper into WestWorld to check out the day's other equine activities. I'll keep this brunch in mind for when my teenage nieces come to town. The food's not fancy, but it's reasonably priced and offers a change of pace from the usual brunch thing.

Think they're still into horses?
Nah.

Latilla Room, the Boulders Resort, 34631 North Tom Darlington Road, Carefree, 488-9009. Brunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday.

Terrace Dining Room, Wigwam Resort, West Indian School and Litchfield Roads, Litchfield Park, 935-3811. Brunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday.

Rattlers', WestWorld, 16601 North Pima, Scottsdale, 483-8800. Brunch hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

boulders

I know they have bucks because brunch here is a pricey affair for those of us not listed annually in Forbes.

terrace at wigwam

The strength of this brunch is its buffet. It goes beyond the usual, the expected. There's almost a--dare I say it?--health orientation to it.

rattlers' at westworld

On Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting, polo matches are played on the fields below the restaurant.


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