EAT: Leonora blends South American and Southern culinary influences into small plates |

EAT: Leonora blends South American and Southern culinary influences into small plates

By Wren Bova
Special to the Daily
Executive Chef Tyler Peterson is famous for his fried chicken with hot sauce and honey.
Dominique Taylor | Special to the Daily

Editor’s note: This story first appeared as a paid feature in EAT magazine, highlighting restaurants across the valley.

As the signature restaurant of The Sebastian – Vail, Leonora focuses on tapas-style small plates. Drawing from diverse influences from South America, the Basque region and even the American South, the menu is a tasty expression of convivial dining. Most items are boldly flavored and encourage sharing — and conversation. While the wine list is designed to accompany the cuisine, a fun cocktail menu becomes an event itself.

Executive Chef Tyler Peterson comes from the South, and is famous for his fried chicken and biscuits, drizzled with honey and walloped with hot sauce. And in fact, Sunday’s running special is “fried chicken night.” But there are other gems that shouldn’t be missed.

Fresh fish is abundant on the Leonora menu, and there might be no prettier dish than the scallop ceviche. The delicate seafood is shaped into a crown on the plate, a fruity delicacy accentuated by aguachile and plumped basil seeds. Thinly sliced vegetables give a bit of textural contrast, and it’s wonderful.

The Guacapoke is a cross between guacamole and ahi poke; served with freshly fried tortilla chips, it’s a fan favorite. Two “toast” options offer self-contained three-bite snacks: The spicy crab toast gets its punch from Calabrian chile mayo, while the elk carpaccio toast offers a decadent kiss from rosemary cream and cremini mushrooms.

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And don’t miss the shrimp al ajillo. “If we took them off the menu there would be a big problem,” said Sous Chef Leo Tazza.

To fully embrace the tapas theme, try a Spanish skewer or four… King crab leg, bourbon-kissed pork cheeks, coconut lobster, aji panca beef — all small packages that deliver a punch.

Tazza is from Peru, and so the rotisserie game hens are near and dear to his heart. Reminiscent of poussin because of their size, the chef marinates them with Peruvian herbs and spices, then cooks them. Served with two sauces — one a chicken demi, the other a classic aji amarillo — it’s a savory, flavorful experience, and one designed to be shared.

In keeping with the shared tapas theme, even the elk osso buco is designed to share, cut 1 ½” thick and braised in a blueberry-wine sauce. Served with silky cauliflower puree and wilted kale, it’s an easy component within a full table of tastes.

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