Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dining in the Vail area

In Colorado we stayed in Avon, which is about 8 miles from Vail proper. This is a playground for the super rich and the dining scene follows suit. That's not to say that the old Colorado cowboy culture has been completely subverted, though. During our stay we enjoyed everything from rustic cowboy fare at The Gashouse to the ultimate in fine dining at Kelly Liken's eponymous restaurant. In between we had soft-shelled crab po boy's, tenderloin sandwiches, amazingly good Chinese, and a spectacular dinner at a slopeside mountain cabin. Our least expensive meal was breakfast at Daylight Donuts in Breckenridge ($17) and the most expensive was at Kelly Liken in Vail ($440).

The Good

Our first night in town we looked through the dining guides and came up with a few ideas, then asked the front desk staff which one they liked. They all raved about Fiesta Jalisco's, which you may have guessed is a Mexican restaurant. It was a short (but very cold) walk to the restaurant, where we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. The restaurant was packed and insanely crowded, and we heard several locals who were leaving say they had never seen it that busy.

The (American) traditional chips and salsa was served with a coleslaw made from shredded cabbage dressed in lime juice. It was incredibly good, and our waiter said it was a traditional accompaniment with fish tacos in Puerto Vallarta, a coastal town in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

The food was very good but the standout was the Original Margaritas. They consisted simply of tequila, cointreau, and lime juice. That's it. They were also shaken with ice and served in a martini glass, not on the rocks or frozen. It was a delicious concoction and one I'll be sure to work hard to perfect. Do I have any taste testers who will volunteer?

The Better

Colorado is known for wild game. They hunt everything that walks, flies, swims or crawls, and you can find it on a menu somewhere. Many restaurants specialize in wild game, so we sought one out. We were very happy to find The Gashouse in Edwards, about 15 minutes away from Avon. The decor features mounted animal heads of everything from deer and antelope to cape buffalo.

The must-have dishes were the buffalo carpaccio, which was lightly smoked but still served raw, and the truffle and parmesan cheese fries. Both were superb.

The Even Better

One night Myron booked us at Zach's Cabin, which is located behind the Ritz Carlton in Bachelor's Gulch, a part of the Beaver Creek ski resort. We arrived a few minutes early and had wonderful pre-dinner drinks at Spago's bar. At the designated time we went out to a sled that was drawn by a snow cat (for those unfamiliar think bulldozer, but lower to the ground and wider), which took us up the mountain to a cabin in the woods.

The restaurant is a classic log cabin, complete with a double-sided fireplace. We were seated in a cozy corner table and the magic unfolded. The decor and ambience were wonderful and the service spectacular. The elk tenderloin was butter tender, and baklava cheesecake was to die for. It was a dollop of delicious cheesecake filling in a fillo dough shell, drizzled with honey. Sublime.

The only disappointment was that the wine list was shockingly overpriced. Bottles I have bought for $20 were over $100. The least expensive wines were still over $30 and I wouldn't even buy them at $6, which is what they are in Charleston.

The Best

Kelly Liken has been called rising star among female chefs and she has been featured in magazines ranging from Bon Appetit to Sky Magazine. I'm not sure where I first learned of her, but I was reminded of her presence in Vail by the in-flight magazine. We had done dinner at Zach's Cabin, which was fairly pricey, so we weren't sure we wanted to do something even higher end. Finally I decided that since we were there I was going to splurge and worry about paying for it later. That's the American way, right?

One of the options was a custom tasting menu with custom wine pairings. We put ourselves in the hands of Chef Liken and the very capable sommelier, Jeremy, for a completely blind five course tasting menu. We started with the cobia crudo, continued with braised pork belly, honey marinated duck breast, Colorado rack of lamb, and finished with an Earl Grey tea infused chocolate truffle cake. It was a nearly orgasmic progression. All five courses were delicious, the wine pairings were perfect, and the service superb. The only complaint I could offer is it was a little loud and sometimes hard to hear, but even that is highly subjective and dependent on who is dining that particular night. This was one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life, rating up there with our dinner at La Pergola.

The most striking thing I came away with was being introduced to banyuls, which is essentially a French port made from grenache. It is lighter and brighter in fruit than port and pairs wickedly well with chocolate (we had it with the chocolate truffle cake). If you like port you owe it to yourself to seek this out.

1 comment:

  1. Sign me up for the Margaritas!
    I'll help taste test anyday.