A divine Mountaintop Tasting: Taste of Vail’s high-altitude event dazzles foodies under the sunshine | VailDaily.com

A divine Mountaintop Tasting: Taste of Vail’s high-altitude event dazzles foodies under the sunshine

After two decades of hobnobbing at high-quality food and wine events throughout the Vail, Summit County and Aspen region, I have to admit: This was a first for me in ski boots.

Granted, you didn’t have to show up to Friday afternoon’s Mountaintop Tasting atop the Eagle Bahn Gondola with hat head and helmet in hand; plenty of people broke out their finest suede jackets, faux fur leopard skin and cowboy attire to attend what was arguably the highlight of the ski season so far.

An enormous tent on the far side buzzed with tastings from more wineries than you could fill your “Taste of Vail: Elevate Your Palate” cup. Rosés, reds and whites from various fine wineries offered sips and samplings, while Marble Distillery sat not-so-quietly in the back of the tent, offering everything from Moonlight Expresso and whiskey to Gingercello, the latter of which was a modern adaptation of the Italian classic, perfect to kick off the tastings.

Though the food tents didn’t initially look like enough to fill me up, they didn’t definitely disappoint. Two hours was plenty of time to indulge in all of the spicy, savory and subtly sweet tastes that some of the best restaurants in Vail have to offer. I couldn’t bring myself to go back for seconds.

Even Moe’s Original Barbecue, which I don’t immediately think of as a fine dining restaurant, pulled out all the upscale culinary stops when it came to its soft and tender jerk tenderloin, with a lightly smoked flavor and slightly sweet, and complementary, coleslaw.

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Niman Ranch contributed most of the proteins for the Mountaintop Tasting. The organization is dedicated to supporting independent family farmers throughout the nation and providing meats from animals raised humanly, stress-free and outdoors, without hormones or antibiotics. The quality of taste comes through; on Friday, they provided “cones” filled with the best prosciutto, pepperoni and salami I’ve ever tasted, proving that, as they say, “the quality of an animal’s life impacts the quality of the meat.”

Two Elk in Vail provided tasty New York Steak Tacos with beef strip lion, pickled vegetables, queso and chipotle aioli.

A trio of tents lining the main corridor of the Mountaintop Tasting offered a range of flavors, from slightly spicy to mildly sweet. Bits and Pieces served up a slightly, but not too spicy, red chili pork with grated cheese to offset the spice. Leonora had one of the more filling samples, with pork that seemed more like a soft fish in the form of its braised pork tamales with salsa verde, lime crema, pickled Fresnos and cilantro (though, if you’re opposed to cilantro, you could ask for any of these samples sans cilantro). Hythe’s Lounge Revel delivered divine meatballs with a mildly sweet sauce made from pumpkin seed and tomato; with its oil-drenched focaccia crouton and crispy-fresh lettuce, it complemented the other two slightly spicy dishes in the line of tents.

As guests weaved their way through the food tents, stops like Icú Cuchina de Mexico served up a savory meat and mashed potatoes dish. To the left, the rib-eye (and its hearty sauce) from Cucina de Alma paired great with the red wine that the woman who happened to be following me offered. (One guest, behind me, graciously expressed her gratitude for the wine-bearing woman, saying she needed someone like that around her at all times — and that summed up the overall vibe of the Mountaintop Tasting: friendly, laid-back and unpretentious.)

Near the entrance of the Mountaintop Tasting (on the far side of the wine-tasting tent), catchy, electronic dance music contrasted cozy yurts, in which guests could relax, eat and drink.

Three other “treats” punctuated the entrance of the Mountaintop Tasting: Red Maple offered a different kind of cuisine — yummy, thin noodles with bacon — while Grill on the Gore offered a salty, smoked brisket on a crisp cracker. Meanwhile, Ketel One Botanical poured its crisp and subtly flavored vodkas, ranging from cucumber and mint to grapefruit and rose and peach and orange blossom.

Liquid Death and La Croix were on hand for nonalcoholic options, and the perfect ending to the afternoon came from Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea’s hot chocolate spiked with Ullr Nordic Libation.

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