Great chefs know that presentation and surroundings... [more]
A Taste of High Country
By Lillian Ross
photos by j. kevin foltz
Perhaps you’re one of the growing trend of resort travelers who chooses a destination based on more than just depth of snow, challenging runs or summer amenities. If haute cuisine enters into your decision, you’re not alone.
Without you realizing it, resort chefs compete quietly for your business, especially if you’ve dined at their restaurants at least once. Remembering your outstanding dining experience, and wanting to repeat it, is a subconscious choice to return.
Extraordinary cuisine has become the norm at Colorado resorts. You just hope your visit is long enough to sample the exquisite presentations at award-winning restaurants, many of which boast chefs honored at New York’s James Beard House.
Aspen has as many outstanding restaurants as it has celebrities. Here, dining has evolved into a fine art.
The Ajax Tavern is the sister restaurant to Napa’s famous Tra Vigne. Thanks to the masterful cooking of young chef Dena Marino, this eatery at the base of the gondola is a favorite, offering the town’s finest fare.
Pinons is an upscale locale featuring elegant game dishes complemented by jaw-dropping views of Aspen Mountain.
Cache Cache offers French food in a lively see-and-be-seen dining room. The grilled salmon is divine, served with spinach, tomato fondue, basil and olive puree.
The Century Room in the Hotel Jerome is reminiscent of history from 1889. Butter-poached Maine lobster and stuffed loin of veal with scallops fill a room draped in burgundy velvet and Italian tapestries.
Olives, in the sophisticated St. Regis Aspen, showcases award-winning Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. This is the Aspen branch of Todd English’s Boston restaurant.
New this year: Umbria. Manrico Cashmere in Aspen is slated to open an authentic Italian trattoria upstairs from the cashmere boutique, serving up Umbrian regional cuisine.
This quietly elegant resort down valley from Vail has "superb taste" written all over it.
The Grouse Mountain Grill’s food and decor is ranked as "extraordinary to perfection" in the Zagat Survey for Top Colorado Restaurants, and has been named one of the top five restaurants in the state. While in the Pines Lodge, overlooking all of Beaver Creek, you’ll enjoy bacon-wrapped breast of pheasant, or jumbo lobster with sweet potato ravioli. The Grouse Mountain Grill has been honored by Wine Spectator magazine for having one of the most outstanding wine lists.
Perched on a hillside sits the Chateau, which houses the remarkable Splendido, a contemporary American restaurant in an Old World setting. Italian linens, French silverware and German crystal are foils for creatively presented Maine sea scallops, mesquite grilled elk or Dover sole a la Meuniere.
Victorian-styled Mirabelle has run out of room to display its awards. Daniel Joly holds the prestigious Master Chef of Belgium award. A DiRoNA awards recipient, a top rating in Zagat, and an award of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine add to the reasons you need to experience its light Belgian cuisine, its calamari casserole or Colorado lamb chops.
Inside the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, you'll find Vue, a great addition to the Park Hyatt's culinary offerings. The French-inspired gourmet restaurant provides an intimate atmosphere and offers breathtaking views of Beaver Creek Village.
The Beaver Creek Chophouse is a newer resort addition, popular with guests and locals. A "must" for steak lovers, spiced with a martini and cigar bar.
Offering tastes for every palate and every purse, this restored Victorian mining town boasts more than a hundred restaurants.
Those that stand out above the rest include Cafe Alpine, unquestionably one of the state’s best, featuring Continental American dining. Try the olive, fresh mozzarella and arugula-stuffed chicken with pine-nut risotto. The chocolate mousse tower is a dramatic dessert event. Berries fill a column of white and dark chocolate, topped with chocolate lightning bolts; it’s almost 12 inches high.
The Hearthstone serves its award-winning cuisine in the charm of a two-story Victorian landmark. Surprises await, such as garlic and granola-crusted elk chop with a Marion blackberry demi-glace; prime rib Neptune, a 10-oz. cut with blue crab, tiger shrimp and oliviase; and a fresh cut Ahi tuna medallion, spice-rubbed, served with a sweet soy reduction and plated with a rice noodle cake.
It isn’t every resort that places its best restaurant at the summit of a mountain. Reaching the Alpenglow Stube requires riding two gondolas to 11,444-ft. Here, North America’s highest gourmet restaurant offers exquisite alpine dining with a Bavarian flair. Its legendary six course culinary extravaganza might include pinecone pate, duck foie gras with pumpernickel soaked in kirshwasser brandy, loin of venison rolled in fresh herbs and wrapped in pancetta, or black-eyed pea and cranberry quinoa raviolis.
The Keystone Ranch Restaurant, on one of the resort’s golf courses, is an elegantly restored 1930s log homestead. Proud of its AAA Four Diamond rating, the Ranch is unique to outstanding Colo-rado cuisine. You might choose maple grilled Muscovy breast with sweet po-tato spaetzle. Tempting entrees include grilled range-fed veal or Ute Pass pheasant. Desserts are purely sinful.
The historic Ski Tip Lodge is a former 1880s stagecoach stop, now a charming and intimate country inn with an award-winning restaurant. You might be offered wild hare, buffalo and venison, Rocky Mountain freshwater bass, or ruby red trout with an orange and ancho chili glaze. Ski Tip Lodge was the first skiing guest ranch in Colorado; its history permeates your visit and your dining experience.
Who would have thought that a sheep pasture deep in the Colorado Rockies could evolve into a world-class resort with international flair? The melding of languages and fashions naturally spilled over into tastes and the desire for total cuisine diversity.
Larkspur offers a dining adventure of multicultural style that is almost im-possible to categorize. This profoundly elegant American brasserie projects a gourmet twist. You may find wild king salmon, Alaskan halibut, free-range chicken or brick-oven roasted lamb sirloin, each a sensory treat of generous proportions. Zagat gives Larkspur its top rating.
Perhaps the finest contemporary French cuisine in the Vail Valley will be found at La Tour. Choose champagnes by the glass to accompany Russian caviar (Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga). Winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, and honored by James Beard House, La Tour’s menu items include classic French onion soup, diver-caught sea scallops, sweet potato ravioli and crème brulee flambé.
Game Creek is nestled in a forested grove in the Game Creek Bowl on the backside of Lionshead at Vail. The European-style chalet is reached by gondola, followed by a ride in a snowcat-driven sleigh. Colorado regional American cuisine tempts the palate with grilled venison loin with red wine poached pears, grilled buffalo cowboy steak, and pan-roasted Colorado striped bass.
When nothing but a mouthwatering steak or fine cut of prime rib will do, head for Chaps Grill & Chophouse down the road in Cascade Village. It’s the last word when you want the best of the West.
Lillian Ross is a freelance writer who writes weekly travel stories for The Denver Post, and travel stories for Colorado Expressions Magazine.