Dishing up edible splendor at Splendido
BEAVER CREEK – You’ll find no salt and pepper shakers atop the tables at Splendido restaurant in Beaver Creek. “A good restaurant shouldn’t even put salt and pepper on the table because that’s the cook’s job to season the food every step of the way,” said Executive Chef David Walford.Walford has been the chef at Splendido for 10 years, and prior to that he ran the kitchen at Sweet Basil in Vail Village for seven years. Born in Great Britain and raised in Colorado Springs, he started cooking during high school, just as “any old job” to earn him some extra money. Walford spent most of his youth skiing at Cooper and in Breckenridge. He explored college, but decided he enjoyed cooking more. He moved to Vail to ski and naturally got a job in a restaurant. “But I didn’t want to be a half-baked chef,” said Walford. “So a couple years later, I said if I am going to continue on with this as a career, I needed to get good at it.” So he packed up and headed west to California for a self-starting “unofficial” apprentice program. He worked in several notable restaurants, including Auberge du Soleil with famous chef Masa Kobayashi. Through contacts made in California, he traveled to France and worked in restaurants there, learning classical cooking techniques and French theory.”Working in France is completely different. French restaurants make everything from the beginning. They don’t buy anything already prepared,” said Walford.Splendido serves contemporary American fine dining, but Walford hires most of his staff because they have French experience.
“We use French technique, French theory, but we’re not a French restaurant,” said Walford. “We cook like the French do, but with American ingredients for American palates.” Splendido’s menuJust like in France, Walford and his staff refuse to take short cuts; everything, from the ice cream to the pasta, is made from scratch.Walford and his Chef de Cuisine Soa Davies create the menu, making major changes with the seasons, four times of year, and minor changes about 20 times a year to keep menu items fresh.Walford loves working with fresh seafood, although it can be a challenge in the mountains, he said. His wood oven roasted Maine sea scallops ($15) and jumbo lump blue crab cake ($17.50) are appetizers from the sea not to be missed. New this winter will be an iced seafood platter for two ($75) with a half lobster, four oysters, four clams, shrimps, crab and scallops.”The crab cake is all crab, no cake,” said Scott Yenerich, assistant dining room manager and sommelier.Very simply, a lump of crab sits on a chervil-lemon butter sauce. The scallops are similar in minimalism; the accompanying sauce is made from black pepper, lemon and tarragon with trompette mushrooms. Yenerich paired a 2003 Verget Bourgogne Aligote white burgundy to complement the fatty scallops and to cut through the rich sauces. “Seafood is easy to cook if you do two things. No. 1, you have to have great fresh seafood and that is a challenge around here. And No. 2, you can’t mess with it that much. Keep it simple. If you get too complicated, too salty, too many garnishes, too many different flavors with seafood, it doesn’t work,” said Walford.
Walford thinks serving fresh seafood in the middle of the Rocky Mountains is a nice treat for guests, but he also cooks native dishes that diners have come to expect from High Country restaurants, like Dakota buffalo filet mignon ($39) and wood roasted Colorado rack of lamb ($42).The lamb is marinated in pomegranate juice, herbs, garlic, lemon and olive oil and to take away any gaminess, it’s slow cooked in a wood oven.Although Chef Davies trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, she has a penchant for Asian cooking. One of her signatures on the menu is the ginger roasted wild striped bass in a lemongrass broth, soba noodles and shittake stir-fry ($30).Yenerich matched the light white fish with Domaine Drouhin pinot noir from Oregon, surprisingly a red that really makes the fish pop with flavor. A team of restaurant expertsThere’s no shortage of wine passion and knowledge among staff at Splendido. The wine list, assembled by Restaurant Manager and Sommelier Jim Lay, won the 2004 Best of Wine Spectator Award, the second time the list has taken the honor.Splendido’s 17-page list has a number of selections spanning many growing regions, styles and vintages.”We try to buy a little more with our clients in mind, not our own egos in mind,” Lay said.
Lay hires staff who can learn and retain knowledge about wine and then pass that knowledge back to the customer. Everyday the staff sits down and talks about 30-40 wines on the list.”We talk about wine a lot and discuss how they differ stylistically. We want to be able to describe the flavors to the customer and be able to match their palate,” said Lay.From the wine knowledge in the front to the kitchen’s expertise in the back, the staff at Splendido is an all-star team of restaurant experts. You can’t mention Splendido’s team without acknowledging Pastry Chef Trista “George” Couser, who is responsible for the restaurant’s signature dessert – the Valrhona chocolate fudge souffle ($12). The dessert is baked to order and served with a vanilla sauce that you can pour in the center. It’s the perfect decadent ending to a meal that one can only describe as edible splendor.”I might be the conductor, but the staff is the orchestra, and I would just be up here flapping my arms around with nothing coming out if it weren’t for them,” Walford said.Splendido is located at the Chateau in Beaver Creek. It’s open seven days a week for dinner. For reservations, call 845-8808.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 618, or firstname.lastname@example.orgVail Colorado