When sommelier Jeremy Campbell returned to Vail last year from Portland, Oregon, he had a number of job prospects in the valley, and it wasn’t his intention to return to his original post at Restaurant Kelly Liken. The culinary world in Vail is wide and distinguished, after all, and he was looking to explore new territory. But when the opportunity to return to his former digs presented itself, he just couldn’t pass it up.
You see, Restaurant Kelly Liken isn’t just a job, or even a career; it’s more like a family, working together to create a dining experience that’s intimate and inventive. The feeling of mutual respect among the staff gives a positive charge to the atmosphere that starts when development coordinator Sarah John greets you at the door and lingers long after the last delectable bite of dessert. And the intensely seasonal nature of the menu — unabashedly American, with Colorado flavors through and through — makes it a dynamic expression of time and place.
Start your meal with an aperitif, such as the Dolin Blanc Vermouth, which Campbell describes as “not dry, not rouge, but somewhere in between.” Served on the rocks, it’s the perfect way to whet your appetite for a first course
of asparagus: tender spears that have been grilled, poached and shaved and plated with First Snow goat cheese,
bacon lardons, sourdough croutons, tangy watercress and a house-made bacon vinaigrette.
The second-course standout is the vibrant new chilled English pea soup, with house-made ricotta curds, ricotta whey “snow,” olive oil confit strawberries and shaved radishes. A glass of 2011 St. Urbans-Hof “Kabinett” Riesling elevates the sweetness of the strawberries, and the acidity of the wine pairs perfectly with the bitter slices of radish. Or savor the harissa-grilled baby octopus with merguez sausage, grilled fennel and white bean salad and lemon-harissa vinaigrette accented with parsley and fennel puree. The simple, strong flavors and spicy African elements marry well with the 2012 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko, a Greek white with great body and minerality.
Campbell breaks out the red for the main-course Colorado lamb loin, accompanied by preserved lemon-marinated kale, black olive oil and sorrel and thyme gremolata, with castelventrano olives and fingerling potatoes. The subtle gaminess of the dish demands the attention of the 100 percent tempranillo 2009 Emilio Moro “Malleolus” Ribera del Duero, with touches of oak and earth.
A rich, minted milk chocolate mousse with mint ice cream and crystalized mint leaves or rhubarb and berry profiteroles with chardonnay ice cream bring a sweet ending to the meal.