Oh, the joy of being a dog. Especially a dog with wealthy parents, um, I mean owners.
More than a decade has passed since luxury hotels began throwing welcome parties for platinum-card-carrying pet owners .
But with pets a $50-billion-a-year industry, it was only a matter of time before they began offering dining menus that had gone to the dogs, literally.
Chefs at some of America's toniest hotels have hunkered down in their kitchens to create pets-only room-service delights: ranch-raised New Zealand venison, steak and eggs scrambled with aged Tillamook cheddar, wild Chinook salmon with brown rice.
But do these over-the-top pet meals really satisfy Mr. Dog? Or would he rather just gnaw on a bone? And, if he's happier with gourmet foods, which hotel has the winning recipes?
These burning questions seemed like an excellent research project for my pal Darby, a wheaten terrier whose favorite pastime is eating. Would he mind becoming a food critic?, I asked.
Without a blink of his big brown eyes, he stepped up to the plate.
Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara
Darby loves this hotel and so do I. Perhaps we could stay a week, instead of a night, and research the menu in depth. On the other hand, maybe our editor would fire us.
This sumptuously landscaped oceanfront hotel, opened in 1927 as the Biltmore and still called that around town, has long been a retreat for Hollywood celebs. Bing Crosby used to knock around croquet balls on its perfectly manicured lawns.
The 20-acre property, known as much for its landmark Spanish Colonial Revival architecture as for its jungle-like gardens, gets bonus points from me (I get a vote too) because it charges no fee for pets.
Another bonus: People with dogs usually stay in a cottage instead of a room. This is like saying to my dog, "Would you prefer steak or kibble?" The cottages really put the "wow" in bow-wow — private, most with patios or balconies, with wonderful places to walk Darby just outside the door. They feature wood floors, large Spanish-tile baths and casually sophisticated Spanish Colonial furniture. When we checked in, we found a dog bed, welcome mat with two bowls (one with a bottle of water in it, the other with doggie biscuits) and a box of cleanup plastic bags.
Darby gobbled the biscuits and gave me that "I'm still hungry" look. So I ordered all four items on the pet menu: Lick Your Chops dry dog food, $5; Rin Tin Tin chopped sirloin cheeseburger (hold the bun), $6; Tail Wagger grilled boneless chicken breast, $7; and Mighty Mutt filet mignon, served rare, $10.
The food was chopped into bite-sized pieces. Nothing fancy, but it was hearty. Darby didn't waste time: He ignored the dry dog food, devoured the Mighty Mutt filet mignon, then bolted for the cheeseburger to see how much he could gulp down before I grabbed the bowl.
Clearly, the Biltmore's menu was a hit. But not nearly as big a hit as another amenity the resort offers visiting pets: in-room massages ($120 for 30 minutes). The lights were lowered, candles were lighted and a massage technician focused on letting Darby experience "complete renewal from head to paw," according to the hotel brochure.
When he tried to get up after she'd finished, he could hardly stand. He was so relaxed that his legs wobbled. Color me green with envy. Based on a five-paw scale:
Hotel: 5 paws
Dog fare: 4 paws
Peninsula Beverly Hills