Dinner with a sense of adventure – Wildflower | VailDaily.com

Dinner with a sense of adventure – Wildflower

Cassie Pence
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyInnovative presentation is as much as part of the Wildflower's blind tasting as flavor. Here, Chef Stephen Topple cooks up Langenstein, a baby lobster from New Zealand, wrapped in leak, left, and a scallop with saffron risotto. Ther result is a citrus colored course.

VAIL – Wildflower Chef de Cuisine Stephen Topple suggests only those with an adventurous spirit choose his blind tasting.Because after some quick questions about food allergies, away Topple hustles into the kitchen to create a multi-course dinner of surprise tastes and presentations that won’t ever be found on the regular Wildflower menu. Diners have no idea what’s coming, and their taste buds will have no idea what hit them.”I definitely want my diners to feel like they have tried something that they wouldn’t have normally tried. Something that they wouldn’t find in any other restaurant in the Vail Valley,” Topple said. “I don’t want people to be too shy. Let the chef cook something different for you.”Topple has ordered in special ingredients for the customized blind tastings. John Dory fish, different types of caviar, venison, veal chops, oysters and Langenstein lobster are just some of the items that might make an appearance during a blind tasting.

I happen to steer clear of red meat and poultry, so Topple cooked up five courses ($80) of seafood dishes that also highlighted late-summer’s bounty of fresh produce. As luck would have it, Topple is most proud of his seafood selection.Palisade tomato gazpacho arrived first in a ceramic white cup garnished with micro arugula. Topple’s version is a bit different than standard gazpacho, thinner and full of fresh tomato zip. The tang, Topple said, comes from a dash of white vinegar.The second course shined in summer citrus colors. Presented side by side on two square plates, Topple served Langenstein, a buttery-tasting baby lobster from New Zealand, wrapped in bright-green leek and a scallop atop sun-yellow saffron risotto. Topple also prepares the Langenstein wrapped in prosciutto. Restaurant Manager Mike Mihalow paired it with Duckhorn chardonnay, which cut through the richness of the seafood.”It’s not too fruity with an excellent finish,” Mihalow said. If feeling a bit indulgent, ask Mihalow to pair wines with each course. It heightens the experience as well as the taste of the food.

Third came John Dory atop spinach with a vanilla sauce. The vanilla – albeit unusual – complements the delicate fish. John Dory is white and flaky like sole but a little thicker, and a bit of a delicacy.”I’m really picky with my supplies,” said Topple. “I give my fish guy a hard time if the fish isn’t good enough.”A palate cleanser of honey dew melon puree served with a dollop of ginger sorbet in a martini glass broke up the seafood lineup, and a sweet and refreshing intermission it proved to be. It prepared us for the last entree of Alaskan sock-eye salmon marinated in beets with mustard potatoes. Dessert made use of fresh raspberries, scattered alongside a mini cheesecake with graham cracker crust. As special as you may feel after even just the first course, blind tastings are as much for the chef as it is for the diner. It rejuvenates creativity for an executive chef, and might even make him sweat a bit – Topple sprints from the table to the kitchen because he serves most of the courses himself.”It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s what I live for,” Topple said. “It’s also good for the other cooks in the kitchen. It opens their eyes to possibilities. For them, it’s great to see the chef actually work instead of sitting in the office doing paperwork.”

Diners can choose from a four-, five- or six-course blind tasting. The entire table must choose to do it and must choose the same amount of courses. Prices range from $65-$95. The chef will accommodate reasonable requests pertaining allergies and dislikes, like vegetarian, but if the requests are too restrictive, he may suggest ordering from the regular menu.If feeling even more adventurous, opt to sit at the Chef’s Table, which is next to the kitchen and a much more intimate experience with the chef and his cooking.For more information, call the Wildflower, which is located in The Lodge at Vail in Vail Village, at 477-3724.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Surprise diningWildflower blind tastingFour-course – $65

Five-course – $80Six-course – $90For more information or to make reservations, call (970) 477-3724Vail, Colorado

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