Phil Lindeman

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July 7, 2014
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Buffalos at the Ritz-Carlton

When the flannel-clad host at Buffalos offers you a seat on the patio, take it.

That’s not quite a juicy insider’s tip — a sun-drenched deck is almost mandatory in the mountains — but the tree-lined patio at Buffalos in the Ritz-Carlton is ever-so-subtly different than the norm. Take the outdoor décor: On a blustery summer evening, stands of aspen and pine trees fend off Mother Nature’s tantrums, while the lush, impossibly green hills of nearby Bachelor Gulch outshine a Thomas Cole print.

This is dining, au naturel, no tiki bars or fine art required.

And that different-yet-familiar vibe isn’t confined to the Buffalos patio. It’s a calling card for every inch of the 2-year-old bar/restaurant/hangout, found just steps from the lower terminal of Bachelor Gulch Express. When restaurant manager Chris Ciana wanted to rethink the original space as a laid-back alternative to Spago — a restaurant known for breaking the $50-per-plate mark — he knew Buffalos should live up to its namesake: simple and hearty, yet wild enough to turn heads.

It begins with your first sip of a seasonal cocktail. Like nearly everything on the menu, the draughts and spirits are born and bred in Colorado: Montanya Rum from Crested Butte adds a mountain-fresh kick to the cherry-lime mojito, and Spirit Hound Gin from Lyons pairs well with a cucumber-dill garnish in the crisp Tee to Green Gin and Tonic. Whiskey lovers will be pleasantly surprised by the not-too-sweet Peach Smash, a straightforward concoction of mint, lemon, sugar and peach whiskey from Denver’s Leopold Bros. It’s dangerously drinkable.

In the kitchen, executive sous chef Steven Sterritt shares the hometown mentality. His dishes feature as many local ingredients as possible, from organic produce to sustainably sourced meats, and he works a dash of unpredictability into the market-fresh theme. The summery corn chowder is a fitting showcase for Olathe sweet corn, but a touch of poached crab makes it a server favorite. And while the starter menu doesn’t shy away from staples — mussels, corn bread, Brussels sprouts — they’re elegantly balanced, like truffle fries seasoned just right to please kids, not to mention parents weary of fast food.

The main courses are a carnivore’s dream, featuring burgers, filet mignon, a roasted half-chicken and fresh trout, along with greens like the hearty kale salad. But even something as down-home as a bison burger is surprising. The burger is thick and rich, just as expected, until Sterritt makes it memorable with pickled jalapeños, Monterey-jack cheese and a house-made barbecue sauce.

Then there are Marcos Tacos. They seem like the trendy street-vendor variety, but they’re the definition of traditional, modeled after a recipe from an owner’s grandmother. The three corn tortillas are generously filled with top sirloin, chopped bacon, white onion and cilantro — that’s all — then served on a wooden pallet with a trio of fresh-made salsas, including creamy jalapeño-cilantro and spicy tomato.

Now, back to the patio. The dessert menu is scrumptious — offerings like huckleberry cheesecake and a playful-yet-decadent s’mores cup come as shareable bites or individual plates — but if the wild and familiar are still calling, head to the nearby fire pit at 8 p.m. for free s’mores. Such old-school delights pair perfectly with the Colorado sunset. •


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 27, 2014 10:43AM Published Aug 27, 2014 10:17AM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.