Dinner with friends | VailDaily.com

Dinner with friends

Wren Wertin

At the base of Beaver Creek, just past the guard house, alert drivers might notice a flash of house, nestled among green trees. Those with the presence of mind to turn in and investigate will discover Mirabelle, a cozy restaurant with true European style. The restaurant occupies what used to be a home, lending an ambience of an upscale dinner party to the meal. The restaurant serves dinner Monday through Saturday.

Proprietor and Chef de Cuisine Daniel Joly is a master Belgian chef – the only one living in the United States. The food he creates is rooted in the classical French tradition, yet it’s lighter than one might expect. Sauces are full of flavor, not butter. Peak out the window at the right time, and you might see the chef himself, clipping herbs for your meal, adding a bit of zing.

There are two ways to order at Mirabelle – a la carte off the regular menu or the four-course menu gourmand ($65), including a choice from the dessert cart. If the menu gourmand, which changes daily, stirs your interest, then go for it. Whatever is looking particularly fresh and appetizing to Joly inspires the special menu. Though four courses, it’s not overwhelming in size.

“The menu gourmand is a good way to order,” said the chef. “But of course I think so. Order what sounds best to you.”

When my husband and I dined at Mirabelle, he opted for the menu gourmand. It started strong with sauteed shrimp atop avocado mousse with a passion fruit flavor. A touch of cilantro made it exclamatory. I can’t resist Mirabelle’s sauteed lobster appetizer ($15.75). This season, it’s served with bitter watercress and a salad of sliced sweet apples. Small diced tomatoes are cooked just enough to condense their flavor, and add another layer of sweetness to the dish. Get a little bit of everything for the perfect bite.

Based on the chef’s recommendation, we also tried the Prince Edward Island mussels ($11.75). Served in a martini glass, they’re dressed with a creamy citrus dressing and are topped with a chiffonade of greens. The mussels hold their texture well, and their saltwater flavor is cut by the citrus. My husband’s second course was pan-seared sea bass.

“When I write a new menu, it’s very exciting,” said Joly. “I should be hungry by the time I’m finished.”

The list of entrees is extensive, from roasted elk medallions to vegetarian corbeille of vegetables. The Dover sole ($35) is one of Mirabelle’s signature dishes, and rightly so. The fish is delicate in flavor with a firm texture that seems created for pan-searing. Joly only uses fresh fish, never frozen. He lightly seasons and cooks it, enhancing the flavor with a light lemon buerre noisette. A crisp potato basket holds spinach, giving crunch and depth to the dish.

Anyone with even a passing fancy for lamb ought to try Joly’s. What sold my husband on the menu gourmand was the lamb chop entree, which also is available on the regular menu. Crusted with flavor and sauced with a rosemary infusion, the lamb is tender and delicious. Despite the cozy-posh atmosphere, or perhaps because of it, he and I stooped to gnawing the last bits of meat off the bone. It seemed sinful to waste it.

Ordering dessert is a grand affair at Mirabelle. The dessert cart is presented to the table, and each item is intimately described. The vanilla creme brulee with a hard sugar crust and a smattering of berries is always a good choice. Those craving chocolate are in luck, too.

While Joly spends his time in the kitchen, his wife, Nathalie, sees to the front of the house.

“We’re a true restaurant,” he said. “If we’re not good at what we do, we don’t make it. We love this valley. We’re very lucky to have the sophistication of people who appreciate good food.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.

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