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Travel Tip: Vail Dining

A new generation of restaurants arrives at this Colorado resort town

Tim Fish
Posted: February 25, 2013

Note: The following is an excerpt of an article, "The View from Vail," that originally appeared in the December 31, 2012 - January 15, 2013 issue of Wine Spectator.

As one of the biggest and most popular ski resorts in the United States, Vail, Colo., has naturally been about the powder and the slopes. Upscale resorts and restaurants were an afterthought—but that has dramatically changed in the past decade. Today in Vail, single minded skiers coexist with those who demand to be pampered with fine food and wine after a long day on the slopes.

WHERE TO EAT

BEANO'S CABIN
Beaver Creek Resort, Beaver Creek
Telephone: (970) 754-3463
Website: www.beanoscabinbeavercreek.com/beanos
Open: Dinner, daily
Cost: Prix-fixe menu, $112
Credit cards: All major
Best of Award of Excellence

It's rare for a restaurant with a distinctive atmosphere to back it up with first-rate food and wine, but Beano's is an exception. Secluded atop a 9,500-foot mountain, it's accessible only by ski or snowcat in the winter. A large restaurant with towering stone fireplaces, log walls and antler chandeliers, it's something right out of the old TV show Bonanza.

The four-course prix-fixe menu offers the sort of hearty mountain specialties you might expect, such as pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin and spruce-crusted elk chop, but there's also fresh fish and oysters, pizza and pasta. The comforting flavors have just enough panache to keep things interesting. With 850 offerings, the wine list is strong on California Cabernet Sauvignon and France, and while prices may be high, there are some real finds, including values such as A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2009 ($55 a bottle) in addition to classics such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2004 ($1,475).

FLAME
Four Seasons Resort, 1 Vail Road, Vail
Telephone: (970) 477-8650
Website: www.flamerestaurantvail.com
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $24-$50
Credit cards: All major

This appropriately named steak house can compete with the best. Its 12-ounce bone-in filet is a beautifully marbled, dry-aged cut that's both tender and intensely flavored. Chef Harrison is serious about beef, but there's also a sense of fun to his menu, with creative starters such as bison pot stickers and the aforementioned Rocky Mountain elk corn dogs.

There are about 200 wines on the list. California dominates, although there is a smattering of other bottlings from around the world. Markups are high, but there are also many good wines selling for $75 and less, including Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2009 ($59). For a splurge, there's Château Pichon-Longueville Baron Pauillac 2005 ($550). The dining room is both warm and dramatic, accented by polished dark wood and vaulted ceilings. Tall windows offer wide views of the nearby mountains.

LA TOUR
122 E. Meadow Drive, Vail
Telephone: (970) 476-4403
Website: www.latour-vail.com
Open: Dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $29-$39
Credit cards: All major
Best of Award of Excellence

Set along Vail's pedestrian path, La Tour may look unimpressive from the outside, but chef-owner Paul Ferzacca offers a distinguished food-and-wine experience. Inside, the atmosphere is elegant yet unfussy, with four small rooms divided by walls of glass and decorated in local art.

The wine list is impressive, offering about 500 selections from around the world, but the strong suits are France and California. Prices are moderate for Vail, with Shafer Merlot Napa Valley 2007 selling for $110 and Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2009 a fine deal at $56. The menu is a lighter, contemporary take on traditional French cuisine. Rainbow trout, a traditional mountain dish, is sautéed to a crisp smokiness, while panko chicken paillard is paired with crème fraîche potato puree.

LEFT BANK
183 Gore Creek Drive, Vail
Telephone: (970) 476-3696
Website: www.leftbankvail.com
Open: Dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $30-$36
Credit cards: All major

In its early days, Vail was designed to look like a little Switzerland, and while the lederhosen are mostly gone now, Left Bank has preserved a classic Swiss-French dining experience that remains viable and nostalgically comforting 40 years later. The charmingly retro dining room is large, affording a soothing view of Gore Creek, which runs through Vail village, below.

The menu offers satisfying, classic French fare such as escargots, foie gras, steak au poivre and pan-seared duck breast with Port reduction sauce, just the thing to warm up with after a cold day on the slopes. There are about 300 wines on the list and, as you might expect, France dominates. The prices are fair for Vail, ranging from the delightful Château Pipeau St.-Emilion 2005 ($79) to Verget Bâtard-Montrachet 1998 ($450) and beyond.

SPLENDIDO
17 Chateau Lane, Beaver Creek
Telephone: (970) 845-8808
Website: www.splendidobeavercreek.com
Open: Dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $36-$48
Credit cards: All major
Best of Award of Excellence

The consummate food-and-wine experience in the Vail area, Splendido somehow stays fresh after nearly 20 years. Located in a mountain resort called the Chateau, the dining room has a hip but stately interior that finds its match in the staff's skilled service. Chef-owner David Walford offers Mediterranean-influenced American cuisine that's both exciting and artfully prepared. A meaty blue crab cake is paired with cucumber, fennel and lemon aioli, while pan-roasted Iowa rabbit with pancetta and sage is delicate and savory.

Wine lovers will have no problem finding a good bottle on the list, which is a notable collection of 645 offerings that emphasizes California and France. Although prices are steep, there's a wide range that includes the reliable Joseph Drouhin Rully 2009 ($56) as well as Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley T6 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2009 ($650).

SWEET BASIL
193 E. Gore Creek Drive, Vail
Telephone: (970) 476-0125
Website: www.sweetbasil.com
Open: Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Prix-fixe menu $45
Credit cards: All major

Many of Vail's best chefs got their start at this restaurant, which after 35 years continues to maintain a high standard with executive chef Paul Anders. The dining room seats 130 and possesses an understated elegance, with many tables looking out onto attractive views of Gore Creek.

The menu is comforting American, with influences from around the world. Colorado lamb shank is paired with piquillo peppers and olive tapenade, while Snake River sturgeon is grilled and served with apple-and-celery root puree and smoked walnut relish. Service is smart, if somewhat casual in its approach. Wine director Wade Vizena has gathered a strong list of nearly 500 offerings. There's a little of everything, although Burgundy and California stand out. The markup ranges widely, but there are plenty of bargains. Copaín Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Tous Ensemble 2010 sells for $60, Château Pétrus Pomerol 1990 for $7,200.


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