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Dining on the Wild Side
Sky-high resorts satisfy hunger of the tummy and soul at the same time.
By Kathleen Thomas
When you hunger for the beauty of the Great Outdoors, nothing satisfies quite like a visit to the Colorado High Country.
Under the truest of blue skies, your eyes drink in never-ending mountain vistas. Your ears pick out the tiniest notes of birdsong on the breeze. And in the banquet hall of Creation, your heart fills with gladness, and your soul runs over with a tranquility few other places can impart.
All that fresh air and sunshine can also make for a particularly hearty appetite. Why, you might even say you're so hungry you could eat a wild boar. Or an elk. Or a bison.
As your very good luck would have it, those are all options at several Colorado resorts as game dishes show up with increasing frequency on fine-dining menus.
Naturally, you'll want to check out each resort for yourself, but here is a brief sampling from several destinations, starting with that bastion of famous getaways, Aspen.
One especially good choice here is Pine Creek Cookhouse in the Ashcroft Valley. Its setting is cozy and definitely off the beaten track, surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks and accessible by cross-country skis or a horse-drawn sleigh in the winter and by auto in the summer. However you arrive, Executive Chef Kurt Boucher and Chef de Cuisine Richard Triptow make it well worth your while with Grilled Semi-Boneless Quail, Buffalo Burger, Pistachio Crusted Caribou and Muscovy Duck Three Ways.
PiÒons in downtown Aspen is another solid bet for game dishes, boasting an appetizer of Braised Duck and Black Truffle Pot Au Feu and dinner choices such as Grilled Muscovy Duck Breast and Sautéed Loin of New Zealand Elk.
An Aspen institution is the Hotel Jerome, where Executive Chef Todd Slossberg uses game for a wide range of dishes, even the Chestnut-Crusted Caribou Loin appetizer. Main dishes include Elk Tenderloin and Buffalo Prime Rib.
Rave reviews have gone to Gwyn's Aspen, located on Aspen Mountain, where you'll find a hearty Colorado Filet of Elk Tenderloin. And at Conundrum, the Grilled Elk Loin comes with caramelized apples, sweet onions and sugar peas — all with a sun-dried cherry sauce.
There's more still in Aspen. Downtown's Crystal Palace serves up a Wild Game Special Selection that, depending on availability, might include elk, antelope, wild boar, caribou and ostrich. Blue Maize offers yet another spin, where you can dig into Buffalo Fajitas.
The Brothers' Grille at Snowmass has an intriguing Venison Sausage Pizza. For a bit of "like Mama made" pasta, Aspen's Ajax Tavern has Pan Roasted Quail with Porcini Mushrooms and Spinach Risotto as well as Tavern Made Tagliatelle Bolognese of Venison, Pork and Porcini Mushrooms. And entrées at Guido's run a European gamut, with Les Noisettes de Chevreuil, or Medallions of Elk.
In nearby Basalt, the Bistro Basalt has daily specials that include game, seafood, prime rib and gourmet specials. At the Bisteca Toscana in Carbondale, Executive Chef/Owner James Nadell, Chef de Cuisine Kevin Ribich and General Manager/Chef Robert Lafollette have cooked up Penne Salsiccia with Homemade Spicy Wild Boar Sausage as well as Roasted Quail Stuffed with a Wild Boar and Sun-Dried Cherry Stuffing.
Also in Carbondale is Six 89, where Italian-meets-southwestern-meets-Asian in a wonderful World Cuisine. Dishes include Fresh Bucatini with Venison Bolognese and Venison Loin in Apple Smoked Bacon.
Now, while Aspen's list is obviously extensive, the Glitter Capital of Colorado is not the only "game" in town. The Vail Valley is also a great place for extraordinary meaty meals.
Stop by the Tyrolean Inn in Vail, where the appetizers include Grilled Quail and Antelope/Sesame Shrimp Napoleon. Entrées are equally impressive, with Orange Espresso Duck (OK, not technically game but still worth mentioning), Venison Medallions "Forestiere," Blackened Buffalo Strip with Creole spices, Smoked Pheasant Pasta, and Grilled Elk Loin Steak.
At Up the Creek Bar and Grill you'll enjoy a menu medley of Italian, French and even Scottish fare, and for game, you can dig into Roasted Caribou or Braised Rabbit. And as American as it comes, Half Moon Saloon in West Vail offers a very savory Elk Stew in a fresh-baked bread bowl.
Another Vail eatery with a game signature dish is Hubcap Brewery and Steakhouse, where Colorado Elk is tops on the menu.
Southwestern in flair, Bully Ranch at Sonnenalp Resort features a Buffalo Striploin while La Tour's French-American cuisine runs to the likes of Hazelnut Crusted Venison. Pepi's in Vail boasts tableside preparation, with game dishes among its American and Austrian offerings.
The aptly named Game Creek Club on Vail Mountain has several game dishes on its menu, starting with an appetizer called Carpaccio of Venison in Pumpkin Seed Oil. No one cuisine dominates here; you can enjoy such Rocky Mountain cuisine as Grilled Venison Loin or choose a southwestern or continental dish.
Mountain Grille in Lionshead is a game dish standout with its appetizing Colorado Egg Roll with venison, lamb and pheasant. To stave a bigger hunger, look to the Grille's Colorado Elk Loin.
At Vail Cascade, the innovative menu of Executive Chef Matthew Zubrod at Chap's Grill & Chophouse features Buffalo Barley Soup and Smoked Pheasant Soup as well as the signature dish — Chap's Colorado Trio of Lamb, Elk and Antelope. There's also a Colorado Buffalo Sirloin cooked to choice.
Though its history is shorter than that of Vail, Beaver Creek is nonetheless a bright and shining star among Rocky Mountain resorts. Splendido at the Chateau is a great place to catch some culinary stardust. Salads include Grilled Quail and porcini mushrooms; game entrées have a dramatic flair, such as the Red Wine Braised Venison Osso Buco.
Grouse Mountain Grill is known for its rustic style, which certainly lends itself to game dishes. An extensive meat menu includes the tantalizing Cranberry Braised Colorado Buffalo Short Ribs, and signature entrées include an Elk Rib Chop. Another fine Beaver Creek village restaurant is Golden Eagle Inn, where creative American cuisine shows up in a variety of dishes that include game, such as a Blackberry-Pommery Mustard Coated Roast Loin of Elk and Rocky Mountain Elk and Bleu Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms.
The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is a favorite resort for its ski in/ski out convenience, as well as for its landmark culinary accomplishments. Hotel Executive Chef Pascal Coudouy has implemented a number of changes for the 2002/03 season, including the family-style setting at the new Bivans restaurant. You'll find a hearty venison stew served at both lunch and dinner, with great game specials featured weekly on the menu — plus an outdoor terrace offering magnificent views of Beaver Creek Mountain. Another addition to the resort is Vue, a French gourmet restaurant, where Chef Coudouy will offer game specials with a European flair during the week.
Beaver Creek on-mountain dining experiences offer not only great fare but also exquisite views. Beano's Cabin is one such locale, where you can enjoy Pan Seared Buffalo Carpaccio. SaddleRidge is another lofty fine restaurant with a delightfully blended cuisine. Choose from Greek Style Octopus (wild game to some of us), Grilled Asian Duck Breast, Grilled Wild Boar Chops, Grilled Venison Chop and Mixed Game Burgundy Style — buffalo and elk.
Crossing Vail Pass to Summit County is but a short hop and major expansion to your epicurean choices. Copper Mountain lies at the foot of the pass and is home to the intriguingly named Swivel and its unusual fare. Copper says the Swivel, at the base of the American Eagle lift, was "inspired by The Jetsons and offers out-of-this-world soups and stews on a sunny deck at the base of the slopes." George, Jane, the kids and Astro are no doubt gratified to know that house specialties include braised elk stew.
At Keystone Resort, the Alpenglow Stube, billed as "the highest fine dining experience in North America," is both a geographical and gastronomic pinnacle with the Duet of Venison and Rocky Mountain Trout entrée.
On very solid ground at the base of the mountain is the Keystone Ranch, a splendid 1930s homestead that's been converted to a fine dining setting. You can partake of Venison Lunettes, Applewood Roast Plains Pheasant and the Ranch House Chef's Table, a nightly special of seafood and game.
Just up the road from Keystone is historic Ski Tip Lodge, a bed and breakfast with a gourmet restaurant that serves a four-course dinner that might include Sage and Maple Cured Wild Boar Chop.
At Silverheels at the Ore House in Frisco, you'll find game dishes as a nightly special. For instance, Executive Chef Bob Starehow and Chef de Cuisine Bruce Ganoung might prepare buffalo, antelope, elk, red deer and duck in southwestern-style fajitas, but there are other variations as well.
In historic Breckenridge, your choices in dining are plentiful, but a great start is the Hearthstone Restaurant for its Slow Braised King's Canyon Bison Shank and Granola Crusted Elk Chop. You'll also want to visit the Briar Rose Restaurant, where wild game rules in a wonderful Victorian ambiance.
Airy Café Alpine is definitively eclectic. Offering a mix of southwestern, Greek, Asian and Italian cuisine, the delectable entrées include Crispy Sweet and Sour Quail and Texas Rubbed Grilled Venison Medallions.
With a French flair, Pierre's Riverwalk Café has game specialties by Chef Pierre Luc, and the Breckenridge Cattle and Fish Co. overlooking Maggie Pond also offers dishes on the wild side.
A few hundred feet above town, just below heaven, you'll find the Top of the World Restaurant in the Lodge and Spa at Breckenridge and a menu by Executive Chef Rob Trumbo that includes Grilled Buffalo New York and a Colorado Surf and Turf of Grilled Elk Medallions and Seared Rocky Mountain Trout.
So now that you're in Colorado, take the time to fully appreciate the exquisite beauty of our mountains. Inhale slowly and deeply of our Rocky Mountain rare air and listen to the rhapsody of life all around you. As you unravel the mysteries of pine forest and freestone river, remember one thing: When you're so hungry you can eat a wild boar, our resorts are sure to please.