Swept Away

Even if you're not a fancy hotel guest, you can be pampered like one.

So you survived the summer and you're enjoying the fact that the weather has turned a bit brisk, even if it does bring with it a tide of moneyed folk who come to lighten their load, bask in the desert clime and loll about in some of our world-class resorts.

Perhaps you might want to find out how the other side lives. Well, it's true that in the summers most resorts and hotels offer off-season rates to those of us stuck here in the city, but what fun is that? You stick out like a sore thumb and who wants to lie poolside in 115-degree heat? It took Arizona years to overcome the debacle of the visitor who cooked herself to death while passed out in a drunken stupor poolside.

No, the time to enjoy resort-style living is right now in the full swing of the season when there is no break in the prices, but the business is brisk and the clientele glittery. Now is the time when spiffy staffs are geared up and ready to offer exemplary service.

And if you can't afford the rather pricey room rate, then you can always sweep into a hotel, descend into the dining room and order a meal. If you can't be a guest, you can at least feign to be one and soak up some of that pampering.

The Westin La Paloma is a world-class resort, and as such the fanfare, hoo-ha and whoop-di-doo are all there. From the minute you pull up to the majestic archway to the moment you sweep down the staircase to settle into the poolside bistro, you are reminded on every possible scale that grand things are there to happen just for you. After all, you deserve them, don't you?

In the event that the staggering sweep and scope of resort décor doesn't cheer you up and remind you that you are a special and exceptional individual, the staff is coached and trained to make sure you feel worthy. If you're having a bad-hair day, a no-hair day or just a I'm-a-shithead kind of day, you can pull right up to La Paloma, order a table for one and reflect on the magnificent mountain views while the servers do their absolute best to impress upon you that you are the center of the universe. It doesn't matter that this fawning comes with a price tag; so long as fawning is going on, you feel much better about yourself. At La Paloma, they'd probably lick your feet if you pulled off your shoes and wedged a platinum card in your smelly toes. Some things in life you really can buy.

When you settle in at the Desert Garden Bistro, you'll want to face the enormous floor-to-ceiling glass windows that give you a view of pools, ponds and even a waterfall. Luckily, at this time of the year, with the weather a bit chilly, you're spared the sight of sunburnt bodies, but the view of the mountains is a glorious one.

The menu, however, is a bit on the reserved side. Our server assured us that due to the 9/11 events (how quickly we succumb to our own need to abbreviate and distance ourselves from the event) the menu was scaled down. We all had a moment of respectful silence, and then proceeded to place an order.

To start, we ordered the Japanese shrimp ($13). Five plump shrimp had been split, breaded and deep-fried. Served on a bed of pickled ginger slaw and accompanied by a ramekin of plum dipping sauce, there wasn't anything inherently wrong with the dish, but it wasn't anything special. We returned to gazing at the view. Which was special. And made us feel special. The server, highly skilled and a genuinely kind person, returned to make sure we knew just how special we were.

Well, we didn't think we had reached any higher states of consciousness yet, but we were pleased that this particular server had a graceful sense not to overdo the fawning. To keep her happy, we went ahead and ordered a Caesar salad. A beaming server rushed off to place our order. The salad itself was your basic Caesar. Swimming in a mild dressing, sporting some shaved Asiago and a few Roma tomato wedges, this probably wasn't worth $9.50, but our server's constant yet never overwhelming presence certainly was.

At our server's careful and attentive suggestion, we ordered the Fresh Norwegian Salmon ($20). A large filet of salmon wedged into a mountain of mashed potatoes was perfectly serviceable. The lemon butter sauce provided a deft note, but we found ourselves more or less toying with the food, secretly longing to see our server again ... just because she was so swell.

As if she could read our minds, she materialized and was delighted when we ordered the pork loin chop ($19). The loin was large and drizzled not with the promised roasted garlic compound butter but a peppercorn demi-glace. Our server was quick to point out how clever we were, what discerning palates we had, and she rushed off to retrieve not only the compound butter but an additional pitcher of demi-glace as well. We can't remember the last time a server was astute enough to be pleased at us discovering an error. We complimented her swift judgment. More mutual admiration was exchanged.

By this time, with our egos practically bursting, we ordered dessert. Our server, sensing our adoration, gently confided that the dessert selection at the moment was limited. She could not wholeheartedly recommend the chocolate torte, but assured us that whatever we selected would be great. Because we were great. Naturally we ordered the torte and the cheesecake ($6.50). It was true, the chocolate torte was mostly ganache, sported a berry or two and was largely inedible unless one is inclined to eat a wedge of chocolate icing. The cheesecake, however, was a tender, modest dessert. But no matter, this course provided our server with the further opportunity to compliment us on our very savvy palates. She charmed us with stories about the resort, her devotion to service and her commitment to make sure we had enjoyed our stay.

Should you need to have a quick pick-me-up or be restored to some falsely inflated sense of self, may you soon find yourself at a windowside table with an intelligent server who can cunningly remind you just how wonderful you are. The food? Well, I suppose you can manage to swallow just about anything so long as you know how very special you are.