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A restaurant where sharing is encouraged

Wren Wertin
Thomas Salamunovich started his local cooking career at Vail's Sweet Basil and later opened Larkspur at base of Vail Mountain in Golden Peak. He will open at restaurant at the Westin resort in Avon and Larkburger in Edwards.
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AVON After an international search for the restaurant proprietor of the new Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa in Avon, East West Partners have found their man. Thomas Salamunovich, chef-owner of Vails Larkspur, will open Watermark. He brings with him members of a well-practiced restaurant management team, including Adam Baker, Allana Smith, Kevin Furtado and Nancy Sweeney. Though the property wont open until fall of 2008, Salamunovich already has the concept dialed in and laid out in detail. We very much want to be a restaurant about the people who live here, said Salamunovich, an Eagle-Vail resident and father of three. The stand-alone property will encompass both a dine-in restaurant and a quick-service cafe focused on take-out foods and beverages. A new gondola, steps away from the restaurant, will run between Avon and Beaver Creek Landing base of Beaver Creek Mountain. Watermark wont be a lofty place. It will be fun and simple we want to utilize good products and let them stand on their own, Salamunovich said. At the kitchen table, its a given that folks eat family-style: plates of food are passed around, and people take as much or as little as they feel like eating. Yet put those same people in a restaurant, and they behave differently. Everyone orders their own items.We want to encourage sharing. Weve figured out how to do it in Asian restaurants people certainly share sushi and Chinese food, Salamunovich said. We share at home, but we dont in a restaurant setting. Watermark strives to be different. We wont even use the words appetizer or entree.Instead, the menu will be progressive, Salamunovich said, from smaller, lighter, inexpensive items to heavier, richer, bigger options. Hand-tossed pizzas and steaks will be in their own categories.Why are we serving pizza? America loves it and the possibilities are endless. he said. Its easy to share. And steaks, well, its another opportunity to showcase Colorados Coleman Natural Meat and we love it.

Watermarks menu will capitalize on all things ripe and ready to eat. Instead of using an ingredient in one or two dishes, Salamunovich intends to make whatever is in season the flavor of the month. And hes unapologetic about it. Asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms, greens theyll have their 15 minutes of fame every growing cycle.

We can use an ingredient many times, because we should, he said. Thats when its at its best. We come from the earth, we cook from the earth. And that connection is something we feel strongly about. So it makes sense that we need to go back to the ingredient and focus on it.So cherries might be braised for one dish, roasted for another, sauteed in yet another and served up fresh as well. If its ripe, its abundant. Its also cheaper, thanks to the laws of supply and demand. And that aspect will make it easier for locals and travelers alike to enjoy the restaurant at an everyday price, Salamunovich said. Restaurants are the modern-day town halls: a place where people gather, he said. We hope Watermark will become that.Baker echoes the sentiment. Were focused on being a fun, approachable dining place where people are comfortable to eat on a daily basis, Baker said.Ingredient-driven has become a buzzword in the restaurant world. Its trendy to serve local produce, but it takes more than one Palisade peach to have a local-centric menu. Its a year-round endeavor.Salamunovich said hes committed to serving locally grown products. When speaking of fruits and vegetables, he associates them with their growers. Theyre not just beets, theyre Wynns beets. Its a commitment we want to make, Salamunovich said. If we dont support local producers on a regular basis, then theyll never be able to become mainstream enough so we can enjoy them continually. We have to commit to the process.

In addition to the sit-down restaurant, an adjacent cafe will serve people who are on the go. Youll be able to enter either from the hotel or the public plaza, pastry chef Allana Smith said. There will be a full-service coffee bar, as well as grab-and-go items.Folks can order breakfast and eat it on the gondola, or stuff sandwiches in their pockets for later in the day. There will also be an area focused on hot foods that can be taken upstairs to a hotel room or home to another neighborhood for an easy dinner. Because all of the rooms will have equipped kitchenettes, guests might prefer to cook in their rooms. The idea isnt to be a full grocery store, but by buying half a dozen items, somebody could make a satisfying meal, she said. The cafes food will share the same ideals as Watermark, such as all-natural beef in the lasagna, and an extensive cheese selection, primarily from the West.The 8,000-square-foot, stand-alone property has been designed to capitalize on the river view. Like all the public areas of the hotel, its got south-facing windows. When I think about it, I just get excited, said Chuck Madison, a partner with East West Partners. Its a unique location within the Vail Valley to be on the river and have views. Weve opened ourselves to the outdoors and created a great indoor-outdoor relationship.That philosophy extends to the spa and the rooms themselves. On balmy days, the restaurants window walls can be turned sideways and pushed away, bringing the outside in. Architect Asfour Guzy, who helped create such notable spaces as Blue Hill at Stone Barn and Moss Gallery, both in New York, is involved in the project.

Though the Westin is the hotel, East West Partners, a locally owned firm, is the developer. Madison and Harry Frampton, another partner, are both involved in the project.

They chose the Westin because its a new name in the valley. The Westins parent company, Starwood, has a loyalty base of 700,000 people, meaning theyre actively loyal to the hotel brand.In recent years theyve sought out resort destinations, so they already have a built-in clientele of people who are interested in skiing, Madison said. So that will bring new customers to the valley.Its become a nationwide trend for high-end hotels to invite well known chefs to own and run the restaurants attached to the hotel. New York City, Las Vegas and San Francisco all have resort-like properties which garner as much attention for their dining rooms as for their guest accommodations. Such celebrity chefs as Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse and Emeril Lagasse all have restaurants within hotels.Successful independent operators with a track record are universally more successful with a restaurant like this, Madison said. You get this entrepreneurial flair, and they have the drive to be successful, be the best, which you dont typically get when you have a lot of people just working for another group of people. Ownership is important.Salamunovich certainly has street cred in the valley. He began his local career as the executive chef of Sweet Basil, and helped open the high-energy Zino in Edwards a few years later.Following this experience, he and his wife, Nancy Sweeney, designed and opened Larkspur Restaurant at the base of Vail Mountain in the Golden Peak Lodge. Now Salamunovich, Sweeney and Baker are opening Larkburger, a gourmet burger joint, in Edwards later this year. He obviously doesnt believe in idle hands. A California native, Salamunovich went to culinary school in San Francisco and accidentally walked into the California culinary revolution, he said. Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters were busy turning food inside out, and the classically trained Salamunovich soaked it all up. He stood next to Wolfgang Puck for days on end learning exactly how to make a gourmet pizza. He picked food in the garden and threw dinner parties with the bounty. He then left the West Coast for France, and eventually found his way to Vail, but with Watermark, hes having a homecoming of sorts. Hes updating California cuisine and putting a Colorado stamp on it which means there will be a little bit of Mexico, a little bit of Washington, a little bit of Oregon and a whole lot of Thomas Salamunovich.Wren Wertin is the special sections editor for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at 748-2908 or wwertin@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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