Chic décor and unique dining at Leonora | VailDaily.com

Chic décor and unique dining at Leonora

Brenda Himelfarb
EAT Magazine

Be prepared for a unique dining experience from the moment you enter Leonora. The ceiling-high column of 1,000 wine bottles in the center of the restaurant, the circular cushy booths and the chic décor is simply a milieu for the exceptional fare you will savor — which, from beginning to end, will surprise and delight.

Executive Chef Tyson Peterson has created delicious, innovative and mouthwatering tapas to be shared amongst a group of friends or eaten solo. And the food menu is bolstered by Peterson’s ability to fuse a plethora of elements from his experience with French, Spanish and Japanese techniques, to name a few — all fresh, and in Chef’s word, “simple.”

“We want to show color and liveliness,” Peterson says. “The old saying is true, ‘You don’t just eat with you mouth, you eat with your eyes as well.’ We want our customers to be excited when they see their food delivered to the table — making it more fun for everyone at the table to talk about it. The place is very lively, people always have fun and we want to have fun with the menu as well.”

This is one restaurant where you can’t order just one plate or two — or even three: each one enticing, drawing you in. Call it unforgettable mixing and matching.

For starters, try the yuzu kosho “peel n’ eat” Key West pink shrimp, doused with a fermented paste made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt. It will awaken your taste buds with its curious tang, and makes an excellent foil for its counterpart, the Old Bay “peel n’ eat” Key West pink shrimp: all robust and bursting with flavor.

Then, watermelon, heirloom tomato and feta cheese, splashed with balsamic dressing, can serve as an intermezzo, before you move on to the next course — perhaps edamame hummus with strawberry and sunflower seeds.  This incredibly creative dish, served with pita bread, is a wonderful surprise and melt-in-your-mouth light and delightful.

Other must-try dishes include mussels a la chalaca, a traditional marine dish of the Peruvian coast. Simply steamed mussels are covered with a vegetable medley and pico de gallo. Served in mussel shells, this dish will surprise.  And there’s no more colorful option than the outrageously delicious coconut lobster ceviche with mango and watermelon radishes.

If you want to venture out of the ocean, look no further than Chef Tyson’s Fried Chicken — clearly one of Vail’s best-kept secrets. Seasoned with barrel-aged fresno hot sauce and served with the chef’s layered poblano bacon biscuit and whiskey barrel-aged honey butter, this dish is to-die-for. (And it’s the restaurant’s “go-to” Sunday night $9 special.)

Chef Peterson keeps things fresh by starting with the best products he can find. He has seafood shipped in almost daily: lobsters, mussels and scallops from Maine, shrimp from Key West, and fresh fish overnighted from Hawaii. His produce is grown in Colorado with micro-greens from Knapp Ranch and Palisade farmers who, each Monday, send him a list of available produce for the week. Leonora is one of those places where you can sit for hours and not even notice the time pass you by. It is also one of those places to which you will want to return — again and again and again.