Destination dining in Vail |

Destination dining in Vail

Caramie Schnell
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Game Creek 1 DT 3-13-09

VAIL, Colorado ” Call it adventures in dining. Getting to Game Creek Restaurant, located in Game Creek Bowl on top of Vail Mountain, is as much a part of the experience as eating there. K. David Clawson, the restaurant’s executive chef, knows this firsthand. After all, he makes the gondola-followed-by-snowcat-or-skis journey four or five times a week.

“Going to work is an adventure every day,” he said. “It’s different every day. It plays off my hike a little bit when the trail was different each day ” I never knew what to expect.”

Chef Clawson is referring to the five months last summer he spent hiking the Appalachian Trail. Growing up in Virginia, Clawson hiked a few sections of the renowned trail in his younger days and always wanted to attempt all 2,175 miles, he said. After working at the Le Meridien Hotel for two years, Clawson decided to trade the kitchen in for some nature time. He celebrated his 50th birthday on the trail.

In November, Clawson, who oversaw culinary operations at the Lodge at Vail in 2005 and ’06, returned to Vail and took over Game Creek.

“I wanted to come back to Vail,” Clawson said. “I would say it’s probably my favorite place I’ve worked over the years and I wanted to get closer to the food again, instead of overseeing a luxury hotel. The Game Creek and Vail ” it worked out great.”

While hiking the trail, Clawson began to formulate the new menu in his head.

“I’ve developed my own dishes that over the years have become signature, winner-type dishes. I built the whole menu with dishes I knew had been successful in the past,” he said.

The Hamachi crudo appetizer is one such winning example. Though Clawson has tweaked the dish slightly over the past few months, it remains as one of the appetizer offerings. Three pieces of the buttery fish are layered with bright orange Colorado beets, green avocado, blood orange slices and drizzled with kalamata olive oil. The dish is so artfully presented it’s clear that Clawson views food as art.

“There’s a certain cleanliness to presentation, where each item is presented and it’s not a messy look, it’s a clean, crisp, healthy appearance where it all works together,” he said.

It helps that Clawson serves so many courses to each diner. That way there isn’t the pressure to make each dish a complete protein-starch-vegetable plate.

After coming on board it didn’t take Clawson long to introduce the chef’s table ” a five-course menu that he and his team create fresh each week.

“It keeps our creativity going and lets us use seasonal products,” he said. “It’s worked out really, really well.”

Last week Clawson ventured into fowl territory for the menu.

“We always wanted to try chicken, but it’s not very well received in a fine dining atmosphere, except for real chicken lovers,” he said.

Clawson ordered in whole organic, sustainable Petaluma chickens from California. The goal was to use the entire bird, so the chefs made sausage out of the thigh and leg meat and layered it between the skin and the breast. The chicken bones were used to make stock, which he combined with Martinelli’s apple cider to craft the sauce. Clawson also added wild morels, just coming into season in Oregon, to the dish.

“French classic cuisine was my initial influence before Asian,” Clawson said. “And Chicken Normandy was always my favorite thing …This dish just seemed to work ” it was organic, sustainable, seasonal and classic.”

Unfortunately the poultry didn’t sell very well ” “it’s kind of that ‘we can get chicken at home’ thinking,” he said ” but the few people who tried the dish loved it. Likewise, Clawson and the other chefs enjoyed cooking it, he said. Though it was “just chicken,” it was an adventure, too.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

What: Game Creek Restaurant

Where: Located on top of Vail Mountain in Game Creek Bowl. Take the gondola up the mountain then ride in a heated snowcat to the restaurant.

Open: Wednesday through Saturday nights beginning at 5:30 p.m. Last seating is at 9 p.m.

Fare: Contemporary American cuisine with global influences

Prices: Four-course prix-fixe menu for $79 per person, or five courses chef tasting menu for $99. Add wine pairings for an additional $45.

Kid’s menu: Yes, a four-course kids menu for children under 12 is $40. Offerings include creamy tomato soup with grilled cheese, shrimp with cocktail sauce and grilled filet mignon.

Reservations: Recommended. Call 970-754-4275.

Web site:


– Hamachi crudo with kalamata olive oil, Colorado beets, avocado and blood oranges

– Diver sea scallops three ways, including blackened with mango salsa

– Pineapple upside-down cheesecake with Malibu rum sauce

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