Montauk in Lionshead focuses on service, atmosphere and food | VailDaily.com

Montauk in Lionshead focuses on service, atmosphere and food

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Weekly

Editor's note: This article was previously published as a paid feature in EAT, a compendium of restaurant snapshots featuring the best in Vail Valley dining. Look for it on newsstands everywhere.

This season, Montauk has surpassed its 30-year tradition of excellence by bringing back chef (and former co-owner) Dimitri Souvorin, refining its menu and undergoing an extensive facelift.

Montauk's new owner, Cameron Douglas, remodeled the restaurant and bar area with modern gray and marine blue tones, accented with medium-toned wood trim. Tables lining a wall of windows look out on the snowy, lit village, while booths, both in the bar and the restaurant, offer cozy seating.

Montauk's latest success as one of the top restaurants in Vail comes in the form of Douglas' three Ps: People, Place and Product.

"If you can hit all three — service, atmosphere and food — you've got a homerun," Douglas says.

The updated interior sets the stage for a comfortable and stylish yacht-club-like lunch or dinner experience. The knowledgeable staff walks guests through the streamlined menu, which features the best of Montauk's long-standing history. The new chef-driven menu showcases the freshest seafood; for example, Souvorin pairs Maine sea scallops with Asian flairs, like edamane, Thai chile, shiitake mushroom and baby bok choy, while he brings out the wild red snapper's taste with miso.

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Montauk's entrées include land-lover dishes, like the super-tender, fall-off-the-bone ginger-braised short ribs with mildly-spiced jalapeño pickled red cabbage, or the Black Angus filet mignon with caramelized onion and cabernet demi-glaze. But of course Montauk, long known for its emphasis on all things aquatic, also includes an extensive raw bar and seafood from the grill and steamer.

Souvorin masterfully blends fascinating ingredients in a light and balanced manner, so no one ingredient — other than the highest quality protein itself — stands out. Unique appetizers, like sashimi tuna mixed with pickled red onions and fresh avocado mousse in a crispy wonton taco or avocado toast with marinated red onion and housemade tomato balsamic jam, harmoniously blend slightly salty, tangy and sweet flavors.

In keeping with his commitment to showcasing fresh products, Chef Souvorin's crab cakes contain 99 percent crabmeat, and all of the seafood is sustainably caught and flown directly into Vail. The freshness stands out in firm mussels and octopus meat, the latter adding a pleasant surprise to one of his extraordinary salads.

"I've spent 23 years in Vail," Souvorin says, "and there's nothing I like better than skiing or snowboarding all day long, and then eating food that makes you feel good — that goes along with the healthy Colorado lifestyle."

The pared-down menu resembles the old Montauk offerings enough to keep long-time guests happy, but also offers new selections to draw a whole new generation of Montauk fans.

The extensive wine list offers greater emphasis on domestic wines, while the smooth craft cocktails, which don't overpower with liquor, but rather blend unique ingredients, are worthy of an evening dedicated to unwinding in the bar. Barrel-aged whiskeys, such as a cranberry-orange or pecan infusions, offer even more tasteful delights.

For the finale, desserts range from light sorbets and key lime pie to more hearty chocolate bread pudding, and, Montauk's 25-plus-year favorite: Sand Pie, made of a graham-cracker crust, Häagen Dazs chocolate-chip ice cream and hot fudge and caramel sauce. It's the perfect ending to a perfect night.

If you go …

What: Montauk Seafood Grill, an upscale, fresh seafood spot.

Where: 549 Lionshead Circle, Vail.

Cost: Entrees $28-$40+

Signature dish: Montacos and Lobster Mac N Cheese for appetizers and Gulf Wild Red Snapper, Hawaiian Ahi Seared Rare and Ginger Braised Short Ribs for entrees.

More information: Call 970-476-3165 or visit http://www.montaukseafoodgrill.com.