Friday, March 9, 2012

The Great Getaway: Part 2

At last, the Rose and Peach were able to tear themselves away from shopping! That’s no easy feat for the pair, who finally arrived in the desert on Friday afternoon and headed straight to the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa at 41000 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage (

Located in the Coachella Valley, between Palm Desert and Palm Springs, this California mission-style resort recently underwent a $35 million makeover and features a 27-hole, Ted Robinson-designed golf course running through the property; a 20,000-square-foot European spa; the new Splashtopia water feature, complete with lazy river, slides and a sandy beach; 25 tennis courts; 240 acres of lakes, gardens and fountains; and several restaurants, such as the bluEmber — the centerpiece of the resort’s first-ever Eat. Drink. Savor. Epicurean Weekend March 2-4.

After checking in, we confirmed our spa appointments for Saturday afternoon facials (can you believe the Rose found a fellow Brit from Birmingham at the spa counter?); browsed (or “mooched” around, another British phrase courtesy of the Rose) in the spa boutique and hotel gift shop; and then headed to our room.

We unloaded our suitcases and immediately checked out the view from our ground-floor patio, which overlooked a pond with large boulders (perfect for sitting and pondering), a rushing waterfall, and numerous moorhens and ducks.

The feathered friends would turn out to be an integral part of the weekend, as the Peach evidently is an animal whisperer, the Rose said (obviously green with jealousy over her friend’s ability to cause any animal within a 300-mile radius to seek her out and make friends with her). The Peach, in return, feels beholden to feed all of these creatures, which requires runs to the store to supply the demand (with banana nut muffins being the preferred meal of choice and chicken quesadillas coming in a close second).

This entire scenario was a tad upsetting to the Rose, especially since all of the birds decided to depart as soon as she appeared at any given time during the Peach’s various gatherings. However, the Rose did manage to recover nicely by relaxing in the sun and partaking in a drink (namely, a vanilla latte from the on-site Starbucks shop) to help soothe her hurt feelings!

Having fed the entire resort population, the Rose and the Peach noticed they too were in need of some feeding as well. Seeing as the entire focus of the weekend was food and drink, we made our way to the first event: a five-course wine dinner at the property’s bluEmber restaurant under the helm of executive chef Sean O’Connell (pictured below). After working across the globe at locales from Hong Kong to The Bellagio Las Vegas, just to name a few, O’Connell came on board Rancho Las Palmas about a year ago and has since introduced new programs and culinary offerings ranging from wine dinners to a Chocolate Indulgence Bar offered every Sunday from 5-9 p.m.

At a “gastro reception” before the dinner, we met up with Scott Young, a luxury wine specialist with The Hogue Cellars (, who told us we (well, the Rose) would be sampling five Washington State wines from the Columbia Valley where the winery is based. We were then seated at a table with five other people (including two fellow journalists) to enjoy a variety of wine and cuisine prepared by chef O’Connell, along with local guest chefs Charles Andres of Roy’s Restaurant and Mark Sickenberger from Mission Hills Country Club.

The meal consisted of the starter course — a smoked salmon tartar with poached quail’s egg and wasabi dressing, paired with a Genesis by Hogue Unoaked Chardonnay — and dishes such as a melt-in-your-mouth chipotle barbecue Californian lamb rack served with delightful sides of artichoke-potato fondant, cauliflower fondue and minted Madeira (our agreed-upon favorite course of the entire weekend).

Apart from the lamb, we also particularly enjoyed the canvas of beets and watercress salad, which was prepared by chef Andres and included a surprising beet gelatin vinaigrette with a lemon taste (paired with a rather “limpy” Syrah, per the Rose). And yet another surprise came at the end of the meal with dessert, where a candied crabapple placed in the cappuccino chocolate cake was completely unrecognizable by each diner at our table.

The Rose’s top wine pick of the evening? The cabernet sauvignon served with the third course (chef Sickenberger’s pan seared bass), which she called “a dream,” adding that “it just calmed the nerves and had an ability to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime and anyplace.”

All in all, the wine samples really helped the Rose to relax and enjoy the company, which included an interesting mix of folks from the Los Angeles and Palm Desert areas. One of the Peach’s favorite parts of the evening was chatting with her seat mate, Gail from Ventura, Calif., who told me she once had a job teaching animals to do tricks for movies, the most famous of which was the pooch Axel, from “102 Dalmations,” who she taught to sneeze on cue.

Eventually, the Peach managed to wrangle the Rose away from the dinner (boy, can that one talk!), as she needed to get her secret fix — wild blueberry scones from Panera Bread. So, a midnight dash (it was really 9 o’clock, according to the Peach) was made to purchase these goods. Alas, Panera was closed, much to the Peach's dismay, so she settled for the next best thing: banana nut muffins from Vons. The pair returned to the room, only after the Rose promised to make the trip to Panera with the Peach first thing in the morning.

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