"Pâtes Baroni" ad poster by Leonetto Capriello
TO READ JOHN MARIANI'S ARTICLE ON DINING OUT IN PHOENIX AND SCOTTSDALE IN DIVERSION MAGAZINE, CLICK HERE.
NEW YORK CORNER: Nisi Estiatorio by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Peck Has It All in Milan By John Mariani
THE FARE UP THERE: DINING IN VAIL AND BEAVER CREEK
by John Mariani
As winter slips slowly into spring in most of the U.S., the ski slopes of Colorado are still up and running till the snow finally disappears several weeks from now. In the area around Vail (left), including Avon, Beaver Creek, and Edwards, this is, in fact, high season, and the resorts are catering, more and more, to an international clientele that has come to expect a good deal more than the usual burgers-and-chili-Caesar salad fare that has so often dominated the restaurant menus out there.
So, on a trip last month to the area, I was delighted to find that a number of new restaurants have opened whose menus are as well adapted to modern American cuisine as anywhere else, from a range of thin-crusted pizzas and truffled French fires to more game dishes that are appropriate to Rocky Mountain kitchens.
Westin Riverfront Resort
126 Riverfront Lane, Avon
Veteran chef/owner Tom Salamunovich has given the area a singularly modern restaurant with none of the pseudo-Alpine clichés of so many décors around Vail. You might start at the wide bar or cushy lounge (right) and just stay there for some delicious small plates of good food, like veal meatballs with polenta and beef broth. But the expansive, 140-seat dining room overlooking the Rockies offers an array of dishes that express modern American gastro-ideology, including a good deal of slow roasting and braising techniques.
As has become happily commonplace in American restaurants, charcuterie is featured at Avondale, all hand-crafted, and those veal meatballs are terrific too. They use the word "crafted" (what else would it be?) to describe their good, thin-crusted pizza with pepperoni, pancetta, and fennel sausage, and the veal and pork ragù on the strozzapreti pasta is lusty and rich, with grated jack cheese adding a western touch. Some of the best swordfish I've had in months was the line-caught example at Avondale, with a lentil vinaigrette and caramelized Brussels sprouts. English-cut pork spareribs, while tender and meaty, came to the table tepid and without much smokiness. Don't miss the unsuual "blistered" chickpeas with piquillo peppers on the side--I'd like to have this dish again and again. For dessert I favor the butter pecan gelato from a good list of housemade ice creams and sorbets. They also make their own chocolates here, and at $17 they offer "shared desserts," which includes a a fancy s'mores fondue, birthday cake, and chocolates, among other delights. But the list of artisinal international cheeses may well convince you to go that route, with a glass of Port.
Breakfasts are not only first-rate here but reasonably priced, not least the amazing and amazingly good buttermilk lemon pancakes for five bucks.
Avondale's winelist is solid, with an admirable collection of half-bottles. Prices on both wines and food are a bit below what you;ll find in many other area restaurants, which these days is a reason to go here rather than there.
Avondale is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Appetizers run $9-$21, entrees $19-$47.
Tom Salamunovich also owns Larkspur at the base of Vail Mountain's Golden Peak lift, which makes it a very popular skid-to-a-stop for skiers and snowboarders coming off the slopes, tromping through in their gear and settling down in this very comfortable, broad restaurant for the "Larkburger"--which is even trademarked!--to which may be added a decadent slab of foie gras. Otherwise there are all sorts of good things to eat--hearty fare for the most part, like the beef and hominy chili, the roasted five-onion soup, and even a chicken pot pie for a starter, full of peas, carrots, onions, and celery. A lobster-rocket sandwich with bacon and Saratoga chips is a fine alternative to a traditional club sandwich, and I love the idea of tomato soup with "three grilled cheese" sandwich and field greens, which just goes to show that the humblest of American dishes can be vaulted into the wonder zone. Everything here just refines ski slope cooking so that it is special and more than you expect.
At dinner chef Armando Navarro serves a luscious roasted pork belly with an apple-sylvetta puree, cipollini onions, and soy-honey glaze, along with items like Colorado lamb two ways, confit of duck leg, and sautéed grouper with pistachio and pesto sage.
The menu yearns to be palatable for everyone, putting tags next to gluten-free dishes, those that contain nuts, and the pronouncement that their water is "quadruple filtered," with 25 percent of all bottled water sales donated to the foresight blind skier program. Nice touch.
Larkspur is home to an award-winning 600 label, 7,500 bottle, glassed in wine cellar.
Larkspur is open for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner appetizers run $14.50-$17.50, main courses $27.50-$42.50, with a tasting menu at $85.
12 Vail Road, Vail
Kelly Liken is not brand new (it opened five years ago), but it has developed into perhaps the best, most personalized restaurant in the Valley, whose namesake chef-owner has the exuberance and commitment all good chef-owners need both to survive and thrive, which is why Bon Appetit named her one of the "Next Generation" of leading female chefs in America. Together with Dining Room Manager Rick Colomitz (right), previously at Grouse Mountain Grill and Splendido, she is defining the non-corporate, not-resort singularity that is increasingly rare in the region.
Kelly Liken does not do the "required dishes" of ski resorts, although she ferrets out the very best seasonal and local ingredients, even if she has to go as far as Petaluma, California, to obtain the quail that she grills to a pink perfection and adds herbed Israeli couscous and peach preserves with the kick of habanero peppers. The foie gras comes from the Hudson Valley (not much foie gras-raisin' going on in the Rockies), served with wild berries. There is also elk carpaccio with bulgur tabbouleh salad and mustard aïoli, and pan-seared scallops with wild arugula and Champagne vinaigrette, though you can't much taste the truffled-vermouth reduction that sauces it. Very good indeed is the crispy pork belly with a sunchoke puree laced with brown butter and a preserved lemon-celery leaf salad.
Not without good reason are her potato-crusted trout filets with caramelized Brussels sprout leaves, toasted pecans, and golden raisins listed as a "signature" dish--it is absolutely terrific, choosing a species that is too often flavorless and finding the best examples of them, then adding just enough spice and sweetness to make it all her own. There is also an excellent bison filet, and the Colorado honey-glazed duck breast with “high altitude turnips,” creamy farro barley, crushed grapes, and a duck demiglace is masterfully done, as is pot-roasted baby chicken with white corn grits, pancetta, pearl onion-parsnip ragoût, and rich chicken reduction. For dessert beg her for the caramel-topped sticky buns she makes in the morning then serves for dinner with toasted pecans and vanilla ice cream.
There is a very well-selected winelist here, sadly brimming with very expensive wines; there is not much under $50, but you can go with 50 labels by-the-glass, carafe options as a less pricey alternative. Otherwise you'll find more wines well over $150 than you will under $100. A 2005 Château Lynch-Bages here runs $300, when the bottle in a wineshop goes for about $50-$60. Other mark-ups are not so bad, but this is an area Kelly Lichen should re-consider.
But if you want distinctive cooking and the personal touch, this cheery restaurant, with a very faithful local clientele, would be my first choice in Vail.
Kelly Liken is open for dinner only. Starters range from $14-$18, main courses $35-$2. with a $100 tasting menu available.
8100 Mountainside Grill
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
50 West Thomas Place, Avon
Resort dining rooms tend to be large and breezy in Colorado and 8100, which opened in December, certainly fits the style, especially because of the big long bar facing a big long open kitchen (left) that gives the place its Mountainside Grill name, and chef Reese Hay, takes full advantage of it. Fine, smoky flavors match the fine, smoky aromas from the grill and your appetite will race as soon as yoiu sir down. He is also dedicated to listing the origins of his ingredients, so you are assured of the best available, from goat's cheese from Colorado to foie gras from Rougie, France, which he serves with apple and licorice root.
This is true Rocky Mountain cooking, starting with pan-seared sweetbreads with prosciutto, sage, capers and Delta Blue cheese. A rich-flavored filet mignon (a rare thing) comes with a classic Béarnaise and braised Leeks, while the Colorado lamb chop takes on sweet caramelized flavors of a shallot confit and stewed beans.
If not quite so Rocky Mountain in origin, the seared scallops with butternut squash purée, oven-dried tomatoes, pinenuts, and preserved lemon, is a stellar seafood dish, and he manages to bring out the best in halibut, from the Pike Place seafood market, by bringing aboard grapes, roasted pinenuts and quinoa risotto. I also liked his butternut squash ravioli with sage and pinenuts. All the side dishes here, from mashed potatoes made with Yukon Gold to sautéed cauliflower have the fresh taste of ingredients that just arrived at the kitchen door. The creamed corn with goat;s cheese is really, really addictive.
I should note, that of all the Vail restaurants I visited, 8100 was easily the best priced for generous portions and largess. It would also rank with the friendliest.
8100 is open for
breakfast, lunch , and dinner daily. Dinner appetizers run $11-$14,
offshoot of the original Beverly Hills Spago, this is a handsome, Tony
Chi-designed dining space richly done in polished woods and rough
stone, open kitchen, and walls hung with stunning black-and-white
photos of the Rockies.
Open for breakfast,
lunch, and dinner daily.
NEW YORK CORNER
Just six miles over the
George Washington Bridge ,one of the NYC area's finest and most
attractive Greek restaurants has debuted, with excellent food and fine
wines, an extremely well-trained staff, and, most of all, the
unmistakable and genuine feeling that a very caring, proud family is
behind it. In this case, that is the Mourkakos family, who have
partnered with Michael Liristis and Chef John Pilouras to open the
two-month old, restaurant Nisi Estiatorio, to immediate applause from
the locals who pack it on weekends. With Greek and Eastern
Orthodox Easter coming up in a few weeks, this is an ideal place to
in a taxi easing your way through Milan’s traffic maze and you’re
suddenly gripped by a desire to have 50 bottles of Dom Pérignon
Great New Ideas from the
room is hotel-boring. The nice Polish waitress had her name, Monika, on
a badge. That’s in case she forgets it. She can look at her
badge.”—Michael Winner, "Park ," Times
TO ALL P.R. CONTACTS: OWING TO THE HUGE NUMBER OF RELEASES ABOUT EASTER-RELATED EVENTS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LIST ALL BUT THE MOST UNUSUAL UNDER QUICK BYTES.
* In San Francisco
Luce offers a 3-course
“power lunch” menu in under and hour for $20.09, Mon.-Fri. by
chef Dominique Crenn. Call 415-616-6566 or visit
* In Charlotte, NC,
Southpark's Upstream is
now featuring a 3-course dinner for $30 pp. and 'recession-buster'
deals on both oysters and sushi from 4 pm-7pm daily. Call
* In Chicago,
Chef-Proprietor J. Joho of Everest
is encouraging wine lovers to choose their one, most favorite prized
bottle for "Cellar Celebration," and bring them to Everest for a
perfectly paired course. As part of the dining experience, wine
director David Johnston will present guests with the unique history
surrounding their wine. All wines must be 21 years old or older. There
is no wine service fee. Call 312-663-8920.
* From April 14-18 the St. Croix Food Wine
Experience will be held and Hotel
Caravelle is offering a "Caribbean Spice Everything Nice
Package" incl. 2 tix to every event of the week incl. dinner at
Government House prepared by Chef Kevin Rathbun, 4 wine seminars, tix
to A Taste of St. Croix, and more, for $4,749 for 5 nights
accommodations. Visit www.hotelcaravelle.com or call 800-524-0410.
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences."
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Jackson Hole. Click on the logo below to go to the site.
Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!",
is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with
children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle
McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family
travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide
its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and
practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy,
safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children
who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of
adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.
All You Need to Know Before You Go
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.