Ritz-Carlton Weekend Getaway

68-900 Frank Sinatra Drive, Rancho Mirage

Spending a couple of days at the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage is like being carried off to a fairy-tale kingdom where the blessings of life are abundant and everyone is a prince or princess. Perched atop a 650-foot high plateau in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains, you can easily sense the grandeur as you make your way past the last curve that sweeps you up to the grand entrance of this prestigious resort. And as you step from your car into the lobby lounge, the exclusive world of luxury surrounds you with magnificent Italian marble, Persian rugs, Waterford chandeliers, custom brocade wall coverings and an extensive collection of European and American antiques.

Palm Springs has always been my idea of the perfect weekend getaway and no one does it with more style or class than the Ritz Carlton. The surroundings alone incite a feeling of quiet elegance and discreet charm. The bona fide friendliness of the staff makes a stay at the hotel even that much more enjoyable. All of the 240 guest rooms are sumptuously appointed with every possible amenity you would expect of an elegant resort. French doors open up to private balconies with picturesque views of the rugged Santa Rosa Mountains, the Coachella Valley or the spectacular swimming pool.

Your glorious day may begin with a game of tennis, a dip in the pool or a stroll around the grounds. If the tranquil beauty of the place isn't enough to cure what ails you, then perhaps a visit to the luxuriant world class spa just might do the trick. The two-story, 5,000-square- foot facility offers a range of pampering treatments that include massage, exfoliation, wraps, facials and Ayurvedic services. For spa aficionados who believe they have experienced everything, the Ritz Carlton offers the ultimate massage treatment - the Pancha Karma - where two professionally trained therapists massage you with warm sesame oil in synchronized motion to cleanse and restore the body, mind and spirit. Another one-of-a-kind beauty treatment is the Champagne facial. Perfect for the holidays, this restorative one-hour facial uses a champagne yeast extract, an effective substance that acts as the key ingredient to activate and stimulate the skin's metabolism while fighting free radicals, thus transporting you to a state of utter relaxation.

Now that you're all relaxed, it's time for dinner. If it's Friday night, expect to be dazzled by the most elaborate seafood buffet imaginable. Served in the casual elegance of The Café, this buffet features every conceivable type of fresh fish flown in from around the world - from beautiful jumbo prawns, to bay scallops with Asian noodles, Ahi carpaccio, Maine mussels, grilled salmon with jasmine rice and crispy fish cakes, to assorted sushi, smoked seafood platters and a prepared-to-order seafood sautee station that prepares the most marvelous creations.

The Café serves the regular dinner menu as well as breakfast and lunch daily. Restaurant choices at the Ritz ensure that there is never a need to leave the property. At any time, you'll find a dinner at the Ritz's signature restaurant, The Dining Room, a celebration of the art of dining. Most restaurants could never duplicate the experience - the intimate room amid silk upholstered walls graced with museum worthy art pieces, tables set with fine white linens, hand-blown crystal and bone china gleaming in soft candlelight is complete with a staff that anticipates your every wish.

A meal here could easily stretch on pleasantly for three hours and it probably will if one orders the tasting menu, "a prix fixe" of either three or four courses, showcasing the talents of Chef Alain Redelsperger's French Mediterranean cuisine. Born in Strasbourg, France, Redelsperger began his career in Paris with apprenticeships at Le Toit De Passy where he trained with Yann Jacquot and later as sous chef with Chef Michel Rostang, a Michelin Two-Star chef. He then relocated to New York City to work as executive sous chef at Le Regence Restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Athenee and then on to Citrus in L.A. and Chez Michel in San Francisco. His sophisticated, articulated cooking shows the influence of his long French training and one would not argue the fact that Redelsperger is quite clearly a gifted artist who demonstrates eloquently the range of his prodigious gifts, as he satisfies patrons with one visual masterpiece after another.

From his luxurious, warm velvety foie gras with truffle vinaigrette to his sweet water prawns sautéed with baby artichokes, he provides enough artistry for a gourmet shoot of "Bon Appetite." A pause between courses is achieved by an intermezzo European tradition of aperitif vinegars served in graceful, slender-necked glasses to clear the palette, paving the way for his extravagant specialties. These include succulent, oven-roasted rack of lamb, Chilean sea bass sparked with a splendid apple curry sauce, superb wild mushroom risotto, a signature Maine lobster salad with celery and Chayote remoulade with Osetra caviar and crème fraiche.

The pleasure of the food multiplies as each course is matched with a perfect wine accompaniment. And the grand finale is a lavender honey crème brulee. A dinner in The Dining Room provides the ultimate in dining extravaganza; though, my suggestion to conclude the perfect getaway would include a splurge at the Ritz's famous Sunday brunch, where caviar dreams and champagne wishes really do come true.

Tel: (760) 321-8282.

Carole Valentine, December 1999
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