Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Visiting Frank Lloyd Wright

The Arizona Biltmore Resort
Corporate annual conferences can be tricky things.  I don't envy anyone who gets to plan them.  How do you find the balance between useful information and putting everybody to sleep??  And let's face it - after years of studying psychology and learning to analyze research, I'm more than a little skeptical of the latest 2-day change-your-life psycho-babble.  But this year's conference had something going for it that no other conference I've ever attended has had.  This year's conference was held in Phoenix, Arizona at the fabulous Arizona Biltmore Resort.

I was prepared to enjoy our stay here because a little research indicated that the hotel's design had been heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Now, before anybody gets in any place about who designed it, Albert Chase MacArthur is the architect of record, so he, by golly, gets the credit.  However, it's undeniably true that the old man had a hand in it.  Just how much of a hand remains something of a mystery.  I can't seem to find a straight story anywhere, so that will have to be one of those things that remain a mystery.  My gut feel (worth absolutely nothing) is that MacArthur had more of a hand than many of the stories indicate.  The influence is more Art Deco than I associate with Lloyd Wright.  Anyway, whoever had the upper design hand, the place is gorgeous!  For an architecture fan, the place is heaven.

The Main Tower
For some unknown reason, I didn't take my camera.  There wasn't any time, what with corporate functions.  Fortunately, my trusty Samsung Note 2's camera was up to the task and I got lots of photos.  I even had time to do a couple of sketches.  Neither is any good as I am beyond out of practice, but I had fun anyway.

The Sprites
Here's another Biltmore Mystery.  There are statues scattered around the grounds - the official book says six, but I only found five.  The statues were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  That much everyone agrees on.  He designed them for Chicago's Midway Gardens.  When the Gardens were demolished, the statues disappeared.  Depending on which version of the story you get, the six at the Biltmore are six of those original statues.  Or they are copies made from the molds of the original statues.  Or they are smaller copies of six of the original statues.  Who cares?  They're gorgeous in a very... well... Art Deco, geometric way.  They are dramatically lit at night and placed such that the sun casts their features in a different relief at different times of day.  I photographed the five I found (and sketched one of them).  Here are two of my favorites - the sprites in the main courtyard:
The Sprites in the Main Courtyard
Hopefully, this photo will explain what I mean by the dramatic lighting.  Here are the same sprites at night:
Sprites at Night
One sprite, all by herself, is placed by the fountain in the courtyard between the Valley wing and the Paradise Wing.  As our room was in the Paradise Wing, I consider her "my" sprite.  She's the one I sketched while playing hookey from one of the sessions.
My Sprite
The Restaurants
As if the architecture, comfortable rooms and unobtrusive, yet excellent service wasn't enough, there's the food.  Oh my!  There are two main restaurants. a deli and a couple of bars.  We never got a chance to try the deli, but we headed for the main restaurants every chance we got.  Wright's, the more up-scale of the two, is rated the number one restaurant in Phoenix on TripAdvisor.  There is definitely a reason for it. We decided to treat ourselves to dinner there the first night before the conference started.  Wow.  Just wow.

The service, as I've said, is exceptional everywhere in the Biltmore, but nowhere is it as noticeable as in the restaurants.  Tom, our waiter that evening, was great.  He explained the menu, the thinking behind the way the chef prepares dishes, and even tried to find out for me if the architectural drawings on the wall were MacArthur's or Wright's.  (And if they were copies or originals.)  (My guess is MacArthur's and they're copies of the originals.)

The food was well-prepared and the flavors were perfectly balanced.  I wish I could invent something as good!  The chef gets a half-point subtracted because the textures weren't totally there, which indicates to me that they were a tad overdone, but, hey, what do I know??  Dessert?  Get the souffle!  They offer three versions, but we never got beyond the Grand Marnier version!

Tom told us that he worked at one time in the second of the main restaurants, Frank & Albert's.  He suggested that we would enjoy breakfast there and to definitely get their French Toast. So the next morning, where did we find ourselves?  That's right!  Having breakfast at Frank & Albert's!
The Exterior of Frank & Albert's
I think the wing where Frank & Albert's is located is newer than the main building of the hotel.  I can't swear to that, however, because it looks just like the rest of it.  And yes, get the French Toast.  You'll think I'm crazy for recommending it when you see it.  It's a loaf of brioche.  Yes, a loaf.  It's filled with lemon mascarpone.  You'll think you're getting a brick.  You're not.  It's the lightest, most delectable thing I've ever had for breakfast.  George got the Eggs Benedict.  Instead of using lemon as the flavor base, they use a chili base.  They also replace the Canadian bacon with smoked pork.  It's yummy, too, but give me the French Toast every time.  We had breakfast there twice, lunch once and had Cheryl wait on us each time.  Get Cheryl if you possibly can.  She's a jewel!  We did have dinner once at Frank & Albert's, but we weren't as impressed.  I think breakfast and lunch are their specialties.  Well, those and...

Afternoon Tea

And then there's tea.  Oh  yes, there's tea.  Why Teatime magazine hasn't run an article devoted to the Biltmore, I'll never know.  Tea is served from Thursday through Sunday, from noon to 2.  Reservations are not only required, they must be made at least 24 hours in advance.  An area of the lobby next to the front windows is set aside for the tea.  We got the best table of all - a quiet table for two overlooking the beautifully manicured front lawn.

Two gentlemen guided us through the wonders of Tea at the Biltmore.  Kevin, the senior of the two, is the "tea sommelier."  He is very knowledgeable about teas and is generous about sharing that knowledge.  This is obviously his passion and it's a joy to see someone do what they should be doing.  I wish I knew the name of the younger gentleman.  I think he's a tea expert on the way up.

Tea consists of three (yes, three) courses.  There's the savories course, the bread course and the dessert course.  Although it all looks delicate, there's an impressive amount of food here.  You've been warned.
The Savories Course
Lobster salad, smoked salmon, Waldorf salad, stuffed cherry tomatoes...  There are seven little sandwiches and they're all delectable.  The bread course consists of two scones and poundcake.

The Dessert Course
And then there are the desserts.  There are six delicate yummies, which are very, very good... and very, very filling.

There are 10 types of teas offered and you can have a different tea with every course.  Kevin has his suggestions, and my suggestion is to take his suggestions.  At first, I was dismayed that no milk is offered with the teas.  However, even the black teas are light and really don't need milk.  My favorite tea story is about the African Solstice tea, a rooibos tea.  I've tried rooibos teas from Teavana and the Republic of Tea and really hated them.  Kevin suggested the African Solstice for the bread course as the vanilla scent of the tea would compliment the breads.  I turned up my nose at the suggestion, but he gently persuaded me to give it a try.  Need I say that I found a tin of African Solstice at a local shop to bring home with me??  In fact, I may go get a cup of it right now!
A Very Happy Tea Drinker
So, if you ever find yourself in Phoenix, go visit the Arizona Biltmore Resort.  Visit for tea, for a meal or, if you're very, very lucky as we were, stay awhile.

And if you ever figure out who really did design it, would you let me know??