Eagle County’s adventurous eats | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s adventurous eats

Kim Fuller
Special to the Weekly
Animal Crackers, from Mountain Standard, includes chicken and beef chicharrones, beef tendons, crispy pig ears, tossed with Sriracha lime salt.
Anthony Thornton | athornton@vaildaily.com |

Wash it down

Craft cocktails are getting pretty adventurous as well. Restaurant Kelly Liken has two on the list right now that are creative and fun.

• “Chia Berry Picker”: The chia seeds in this sweet-and-tart cocktail make for some fun textures on the tongue. Made with Genepy de Alpes, an alpine liquor that most haven’t heard of, the cocktail is worth a sip, and the superfood seeds don’t even get caught in a straw.

• “Welcome To The BBQ”: A chipotle salt and citric acid rim on this drink work well with a cherry shrub (a vinegary syrup made with three ingredients: fruit, sugar and vinegar) and tequila to make you think you are enjoying some summer barbecue. The cocktail itself has no sauce in it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get in the spirit.

Well, do you dare me?

It’s a divine delicacy, you say?

Fine, a foodie’s gotta do what a foodie’s gotta do.

A lot of these ingredients would not be edible as raw, or even remotely appetizing on their own, so what this cuisine really comes down to is how the flavors and textures are displayed and received, on the plate and on the palate.

So, here they are, some of the more unique eats offered in the valley. Even if you don’t like them, at least you can say you’ve tried them. C’mon now, cow balls really aren’t that bad …

Support Local Journalism

➺Rocky Mountain Oysters

The Gashouse, Edwards

The Gashouse owner Andy Guy said he always has four to five fresh oysters on the menu at his Edwards restaurant. Rocky Mountain Oysters, however, are not mountain mollusks.

“Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles,” Guy said. “We pound them thin, lightly bread and deep fry them.”

Think schnitzel, with a side of traditional cocktail sauce.

“I would compare them to a pork cutlet,” Guy said. “Yeah, an earthier pork cutlet. They are surprisingly very good.”

“Earthy” … I guess that’s one way to describe the Colorado beef delicacies.

“Some people have a hard time getting past what they are, and they just take a little nibble,” Guy said. “I have people who are coming all the time for them and love ’em.”

And, of course, what’s an adventurous eat without a prank or two. Guy said people play tricks on their friends at The Gashouse frequently — as often as two or three times a week.

“People will order them, and we bring them to a table and their friends eat them, and then they tell them what they’ve had,” Guy said.

And that’s the moment when anyone would exclaim, “Oh, balls.”

➺Smoked duck and sweetbread sausage with foie gras

Boxcar Restaurant & Bar, Avon

Unique textures seem to hold a lot of people back from venturesome eating, and foie gras offers no exception. Hunter Chamness, co-chef and owner of Boxcar Restaurant in Avon, said people either love foie gras or hate it.

“If you overcook foie gras, it’s just not good,” said Chamness, who sears the foie gras at Boxcar to give the surface more of a caramelized crunch.

Boxcar offers the duck liver delicacy as an $18 supplement on the duck sausage dish. The sausage is made with duck leg, which is folded into poached sweetbreads, ground down, wrapped with herbs into a casing and wood smoked.

A huckleberry sauce on the dish is made with a touch of foie fat in there, Chamness shared, so the pairing was easy to craft.

“It’s already an elegant dish,” he said. “So we wanted to top it off with something more elegant and that much more decadent.”

The fruit from the huckleberry and a side of pickled fennel cut the fat of the sausage and the foie, so it’s actually a great way to try foie gras if you never have.

➺Ruby trout fillet with crisp veal sweetbreads

Splendido at the Chateau, Beaver Creek

Sweetbreads aren’t what they sound like, so forget all about the cinnamon-raisin swirl loaf that may have popped into your mind. Think instead of the thymus gland and pancreas of veal, or calves. It’s common cuisine in France where David Walford, chef-owner of Splendido, once lived and worked.

“Some people think of them as the leftover parts, and some people think of them as gourmet food,” Walford said.

At one time, he said, sweetbreads were thought of as peasants’ food, since the rich got to eat all the more desirable parts of the animals.

“But now we think of sweetbreads as quite delightful,” Walford said. “They are very mild tasting and tender, not squishy at all.”

And pretty delicious alongside a fillet of ruby red trout, skin seared crisp, served with a lemon, caper and brown butter sauce, cipollini onions and baby sea beans.

The sweetbreads are “country fried,” Walford said, poached and dipped in buttermilk and seasoned flour.

“I love sweetbreads,” he said. “There’s a lot of strange foods I don’t like to eat, but sweetbreads are one of the things I love.”

➺Harissa-grilled baby octopus

Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail

If you’ve never tried octopus (fried doesn’t count), then now is your chance. This summer, Restaurant Kelly Liken is serving the cephalopod mollusk grilled with merguez sausage, grilled fennel and white bean salad, lemon harissa vinaigrette, parsley and fennel puree.

Three octopuses are plated in full form, so it’s definitely a dish that is even visually adventurous. Tentacles and all, foodies will have a full opportunity to see what exactly it is they’re eating — with no deep fried batter to hide behind.

This second course offering is light and very well balanced, bringing together land and sea with the savory addition of sausage and beans.

Feeling a little less daring, but still curious? Consider a bit of caviar your gateway to adventurous eating. Kelly Liken’s current menu also has a soft poached hens egg topped with sturgeon caviar. It’s a good intro into more adventurous textures, and trying the salt-cured fish eggs atop the piece of poached perfection is a good way to get your taste buds warmed up.

➺Animal Crackers Mountain Standard, Vail

Again, these are not the crunchy and sweet treats you remember from the circus box. The “Animal Crackers” at Mountain Standard are a compilation of animal extras — the plate offers pulled beef tendon, pork chicharrones (pig skin), crispy pig ears and chicken skin, all tossed with a Sriracha lime salt.

The tendons and chicharrones are dehydrated and then fried; the pig ears are pressure cooked, seasoned, sliced and fried; and the chicken skin is seasoned with salt and pepper, and then cooked between two sheet trays on low until crispy.

It’s what dining room manager David Richardson called the “nose to tail concept” — a growing trend where every part of the animal is eaten.

“It’s about using the less-known parts, like the skin and the ears,” Richardson said. “It helps to have a more adventurous palate; more of a foodie mentality.”

The tendons are not far from the crunchy and light texture of a rice puff, just seasoned and oddly shaped. The pig ears taste like rotisserie chicken skin but are more crispy, and the chicharrones are kind of like thin fries or frites. Dip all the “crackers” in the lemon aoili served alongside to smooth out the salty flavors.

This appetizer definitely turns on your thirst (especially for a glass of Lioco Rose), so it’s a good shared option to add some flavor to happy hour and get your palate prepped for dinner.

➺Uni and more

Matsuhisa, Vail

If Matsuhisa’s menu didn’t have English translations, then you might not know when you were ordering the edible part of a sea urchin, called uni in Japanese.

Eating uni is definitely considered adventurous, at least on this side of the Pacific. Uni is the testicles of a sea urchin, considered a delicacy in Japan. It ranges in color from a rich gold to a light yellow and has a mushy and slimy consistency that is, uh, unique. The taste is more tame than the tongue-like look and the texture, if that helps entice you into an edible adventure.

At Matsuhisa, uni can be eaten in the form of sashimi, prepared a multitude of ways, in a quail egg and sake shooter, and also in the form of uni butter, mixed with shredded hearts of palm salad.

A sweet-and-spicy Honey Badger cocktail, or the “premium” Nobu house sake is probably the best way to get your palate ready for adventurous action, maybe adding in an order of aji taradito sashimi. Don’t know what that is? That’s OK, try it anyway.

Ask for the chef’s “Omakase” to get a full experience of what the kitchen and sushi bar are looking to highlight on any given evening. It’s an adventurous request in itself, but truly the most complete way to experience the cuisine at Matsuhisa.

Support Local Journalism