Eat This Week: ’Tis the season to dine alfresco
Innovative outdoor options help local restaurants continue to make COVID-19 pivots
Eat This Week — Mondays in the Vail Daily
With dining room capacities in a state of flux thanks to public health orders, restaurants have had to become creative with their service. And some have opted for rather enchanting solutions.
Chef Paul Ferzacca has invested in an exclusive experience for La Tour diners. Faced with the reality of entering winter during the COVID-19 pandemic, the well-seasoned restauranteur has maximized the use of La Tour’s outdoor patio with eight charming “crystal cabins.”
“This is going to be a fine dining experience in your own private crystal cabin,” promised Ferzacca. “Obviously this is increasing my capacity from 25% to about 50% or so, which is really nice, because restaurants can’t survive at 25% capacity. So hopefully it will keep this landmark restaurant operating.”
The structures are heated and have four sides of clear windows, allowing guests to enjoy the ambiance of Vail Village from the comfort of their own table-sized chalet. Two to four people from the same party are recommended for each crystal cabin, and Ferzacca says there will be a minimum price required that covers a five-course menu but excludes beverages, tax and gratuity. The minimum will change depending on time of year and occupancy. For more information and to book, call 970-476-4403 or visit latour-vail.com.
Every dining establishment has needed to shift throughout 2020. Outdoor dining, which is classically limited in winter months, has certainly become the new normal for this season.
Matthew McConnell, general manager of Splendido at the Chateau in Beaver Creek, shares how 2020 has been quite the roller coaster of highs and lows for the restaurant.
McConnell said the summer months were busy, but now with reduced capacity in the restaurant and an unknown winter ahead, McConnell and Splendido chef-owner Brian Ackerman didn’t waiver on making yet another pivot and doing what Splendido does best — creating memorable experiences for guests.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us and for our guests,” McConnell said. “Obviously it’s in response to these challenging times of having to reduce our indoor capacity, so of course we wanted to think of a way to do that, but we didn’t just want to pop up a tent.”
Splendido’s outdoor patio has been transformed into the winter wonderland by the name of “Yurtopia.” Dining in them combines an experience of exclusive luxury with a charming winter aesthetic — ideal for a romantic date night or celebration meal with family.
Each yurt is constructed of waterproofed canvas with a custom-built wood base. Electric heat is used to warm the space and blankets are available for those chillier evenings. Guests can order from the regular nightly menu or have chef Ackerman create a unique tasting menu of Colorado flavors and wine pairings. Yurt rentals at Splendido are for the entire evening and have a food and beverage minimum based on the date and time of year they are requested. For more information and to book, call 970-845-8808 or visit splendidorestaurant.com.
Tents and more across the valley
Drunken Goat in Edwards just recently had an outdoor tent installed. Owner Casey Glowacki said they hope “to accommodate more patrons that would feel more comfortable dining in that type of setting.” The tent can also be rented for private events.
Doug Abel, owner of Juniper Restaurant in Edwards, said Juniper has erected a tent in the front of the restaurant this winter to accommodate guests in a safe, warm and comfortable environment.
“In addition, Juniper and Main Street Grill have also installed a tent at the entrance to the building to keep our common area warmer for our guests to utilize the breezeway and foyer area,” Abel said.
Abel said he and industry peers understand that dining in has its challenges during a pandemic and that they certainly appreciate apprehension.
“The best way to support your local restaurants during this trying time is to order takeout,” he added, “or purchase gift cards to give or use in the future.”
At Vin48 in Avon, they haven’t sat people at their signature curved bar since June, as an extra precaution for guests and staff. And for the upcoming winter they purchased multiple air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) placed throughout the dining areas and bar.
“By Christmas we will have four 10-foot heated yurts for our patio,” said Greg Eynon, Vin48 co-owner. “The yurts will seat one table each and will be available for the whole evening with a food and beverage minimum.”
Hotels have made extensive accommodations as well. Maya in the Westin Riverfront will be tenting its expansive patio to be able to accommodate more diners with social distancing precautions in place. For those who want to stay slopeside, The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch has lots of outdoor space, heaters, twinkling lights, comfortable open-air seating, champagne and a raw bar. New this year, daily street tacos will be served outdoors.
From the mountain to the village
Guests need to start planning their on-mountain meals at Vail and Beaver Creek as well. Capacity is being restricted at all on-mountain dining locations this winter in order to allow for physical distancing both for guests and restaurant staff.
“Guests who would like to sit down to dine can book their table through our new ‘Time to Dine’ platform on the EpicMix app — a convenient way to help you book your mealtime, so you can enjoy skiing and riding without worrying about the lunch rush,” explained Hannah Dixon, senior specialist of communications for the ski destinations of Vail and Beaver Creek. “We are also offering grab-and-go food at many of our dining locations for guests who would like to eat outside. Due to limited capacity in all of our on-mountain dining establishments, we also recommend bringing your own snacks and water to the mountain this season.”
Mia Vlaar is the economic development director for town of Vail. She says the town is introducing a food truck pilot program that includes two food trucks from Vail restaurants; one in each village will operate during peak times in order to provide guests and residents with alternatives to sit-down dining and address the reduced capacity at restaurants on and off the mountain.
“We know that we’re going to see more people in the villages, we already have,” shared Vlaar, “and then as it gets busier as we go into the festive season, we anticipate there are going to be more people looking for alternatives to sitting down in the restaurants with those limits.”
Town of Vail has been in conversations with Root and Flower and Moe’s Original BBQ for the pilot program.
“I want to commend both Sam Biszantz and Jeff Kennedy for stepping up and being willing to give this a try,” she adds. “We don’t have any plan for any robust food truck activation by any means, we just think this very minimal activation will help adjust to those capacity limits.”
Town of Vail also has placed about a dozen outdoor tables around the villages in conjunction with the open container allowance, and will also have new “domes” constructed that will house one picnic table.
Strolling musicians have already taken to the streets of Vail on Fridays and Saturdays, on the move and playing live during après ski time to provide musical entertainment — masked, of course.
“We still are continuing with our Vail après program which is really focusing on that après ski time frame,” Vlaar said. “At four o’clock everyone rings the bells and the musicians will be ringing their bells as well when they are out there performing. So Vail après will be another element that will hopefully surprise and delight after the ski day.”
Even if they don’t have personal crystal cabins or yurts, most restaurants are making it possible to dine or imbibe outside. In Lionshead, Blue Moose Pizza, El Sabor and Garfinkel’s are installing tents, and Concert Hall Plaza has put in awnings and breezeway walls. El Segundo in Vail Village has put heaters on their patio to make winter a little warmer.
“During après and dinner, we will have an outdoor bar on the patio where guests can get drinks and social distance on the heated patio,” said Ron Girotti, general manager of El Segundo. “Our goal is to not only provide a waiting area for people waiting for tables, but to create a fun outdoor bar experience for anyone who wants to hang out.”
Tents are already installed and being used in at The Sebastian and Vail Chophouse.
“In normal winters, we enjoy beautiful bluebird patio days,” said Tami Garrett, marketing manager for Vail Chophouse. “Often due to much-beloved snowy days and weathered mountain mix, we have many unusable patio days. Tenting allows us to guarantee that we can provide ample seating necessary to provide critical revenue support for maintaining staff and operational costs while also providing a safe and enjoyable dining experience for valley locals and guests alike.”
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