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Billy’s Island Grill goes BIG

Erik Vienneau

Billy’s Island Grill has received the secret handshake from the local dining community. Just as the Daily Grind is dubbed simply “the Grind,” and this newspaper is just known as “The Trail,” Bill Suarez’s new Lionshead restaurant has quickly earned its abbreviated title, “the B.I.G.”The acronym is appropriate. After 30 years in the restaurant business, Suarez has plenty of big ideas from menus he’s experienced locally and picked up while dining around the country.He’s waited tables and tended bar at more than a dozen current or now defunct restaurants from the Lodge at Vail, the Slope and the Clock Tower to his 22-year waiter and management stint at the Ore House and his more recent part-time waiter position at Russell’s. He grew up on seafood-rich California coastline and often heads south of the border to gain further spicy culinary inspiration.His vision an affordable cross between the quality and consistency of Russell’s and the Ore House (both Bridge Street steak house fixtures) mixed with a Disney-like, dolphin-and-surf atmosphere has been in action since late July in the space formerly held by the Chart House. The place is unpretentious, reasonably priced (by Vail steakhouse standards) and has that “everyone knows your name” feel.But you don’t have to be a friend of Suarez’s to dig the B.I.G.As the all-star game is to the NBA, the menu parading from Billy’s kitchen has nothing but hits. From top-secret sauces like the Jamaican-jerk-inspired “voodoo” seasoning to the citrus-doused white sauce for the halibut tacos, there are plenty of “greatest hits” sauces from a sea of Billy’s favorite restaurants.Then there’s the food itself. The applewood-smoked bacon-wrapped Cabo shrimp with asadera cheese and the flavor blast of the serrano sauce served over blackened chicken or tuna add the flair necessary to enliven an otherwise straight-ahead menu.But, like any pirate, Suarez doesn’t want the world to know where he finds his secret bounty.The spicy voodoo seasoning used as a dipping sauce beside the ahi tuna is a mystery to chef Matt Jones and Suarez himself.”We have to buy the mix from two guys in California,” Suarez says. “They just send us a package of the stuff with directions on how to use it but without a list of what actually goes into the mix.”As for the unique prep for the Cabo shrimp, diners would have to follow Suarez to one of his favorite Cabo San Lucas back-street dives to find the source of inspiration.With a menu featuring entrees from the ahi tuna or king crab and sirloin surf and turf, diners may call the B.I.G. menu options basic, and Suarez agrees.”Nothing is foofy or amazingly creative on the entrees,” Suarez says. “The seafood is the highest grade and the seafood is as fresh as is available each night, while the steaks are hand carved right here.” He adds diners have been raving about the appetizers and desserts that surround the fresh and inspired entre selection.Suarez says chef Jones, a Johnson and Wales grad who previously interned at the Tyrolean, cooked at Chaparral in Cordillera and paid his dues at Denver’s Wolfgang Puck Caf, preps many of the mystery sauces while allowing his creativity to shine on a diverse appetizer menu.Back in his Tyrolean days, Jones saw the executive chef there bust out lump crab cakes that were so chunky they fell apart on the plate. Jones furthers that theme with his sauted jumbo lump crab served up simply with toast points and garlic sauce.The combo nachos are one of his more creative starters. Boasting thin slices of tuna and salmon served on wonton crisps with a cucumber salad, these nachos are like none you’d find at the corner Mexican spot. Then there’s his teriyaki steak bits and coconut crunchy shrimp, which are quickly becoming favorites.The other end of the creative flavor spectrum is found on the dessert list.Putting a new-school spin on an old-school dessert, Jones tops his key lime pie with a tasty meringue that looks like the froth on a cappuccino.Then there’s the piping-hot lava lava Godiva chocolate cake, which has streams of melting vanilla ice cream running down the bubbling slope of chocolate.Billy’s Island Grill, located in Lionshead’s Land Mark building, serves dinner every night except Tuesday, starting at 6 p.m. Call 476-8811.


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