Vin48 does asparagus justice.
For regulars at the Avon hotspot, this comes as no surprise. Executive chef Charles Hays has built a stellar reputation by rethinking common, otherwise run-of-the-mill dishes since 2007, and this summer’s asparagus small plate is cut from the same cloth. The jumbo stalks are grilled on the restaurant’s newest plaything — an in-house grill fired with fruitwood from Palisade — then topped by a house-made hollandaise and, to highlight the chef’s waste-not philosophy, a ham vinaigrette crafted from the succulent bones of another dish, the duo of artisanal domestic hams.
Pause. Although small plates (aka tapas) have become something of a foodie fad, Hays knows how to eke unexpected flavors from ordinary sides. He’s a gourmet magician that way: For the asparagus plate, pulling culinary sleight-of-hand with scratch-made sauces and locally sourced fruitwood manages to usurp trends, yet it never comes across as pretentious. It just makes sense — earthy, delicious sense.
“Real wood always does better than a gas grill, what someone has on their patio,” Hays says. “This summer we’ll use our grill to impart some new and different flavors, and we always like to find the freshest produce Colorado has to offer.”
Grilled veggies aren’t just a staple for backyard chefs — they’re a cornerstone of vin48’s seasonal menu. The robust bucatini primavera features produce bought at the Vail farmers market — think tomatoes to zucchini to whatever Hays happens to find — along with vintage il sinciro olive oil from a Boulder-based importer. At the end of each week, when the kitchen runs out of veggies to fire on the grill, the chef and his team scour the Sunday market for the next batch of mix-and-match ingredients.
This off-the-cuff creativity also gives rise to the restaurant’s other summer plaything, an outdoor garden. Hays imbues his recipes with herbs, kale, lettuce and fava beans grown just steps from the patio, while a brand-new rhubarb patch is perfect for red meats. The chef hasn’t quite decided on a dish, but his mind is already churning through combos — say, lamb paired with strawberry-rhubarb chutney for a daily special.
While the menu at vin48 changes constantly — Hays unveils a completely new set of dishes six or seven times per year — those daily specials have folks returning two, even three times per week. On any given night, the bar and dining room crackle with conversation: co-workers unwinding with happy hour pours, new couples sharing plates on a first date, friends laughing and gossiping as they decide on bites.
Thanks to a communal atmosphere, the small plate approach is a natural fit for vin48. Of course, vino has a knack for bringing folks together, and the restaurant is one of the Vail area’s most sought-after wine bars. The near-bottomless wine cellar boasts more than 300 bottles, from Napa Valley reds to a $253 bottle of 2011 Etienne Sauzet white Burgundy, all handpicked by wine director Greg Eynon to bolster Hays’ creative kitchen.
Again, if the chef’s twist on asparagus is any indication, vin48 is far from pretentious. Rather than cry over spilt champagne — on a bustling Wednesday evening, a diner accidentally knocked her glass moments after it was filled — the server replaced it for free, paired with a smile and well-timed joke.
Hays would be proud.