For Zino, it’s good to be wanted |

For Zino, it’s good to be wanted

Wren Wertin | wren@vaildaily.comThe original Zino "Z" was salvaged by local veterinarian Steve Warren after it was taken down in 2003 when the restaurant closed. After hearing about the restaurant's resurrection, he returned it to Kevin Clair, who had it repainted and re-hung. Zino Ristorante opens to the public today at 5 p.m.

EDWARDS – Yep, it felt like Zino.

Edwards’ first upscale eatery, Zino Ristorante, has reopened its doors after a seven-year hiatus. Dinner service begins in earnest tonight. And if the vivacious soft opening this weekend for friends and family is anything to go by, it’s going to be a hit. Again.

There was an element of the theatrical to the restaurant’s test run – beautiful good-luck bouquets, excited chatter, party dresses, chefs in starched jackets standing elbow to elbow on the line as they quickly worked their way through ticket after ticket.

“It went better than expected,” said front of house manager Alisha Bosco, laughing. “I was really proud of Mike and how he handled the kitchen. Giuseppe and Kevin had everything else under control. The most important thing was everyone had such a good time at the soft opening.”

She’s referring to the three co-owners of Zino: Kevin Clair, Giuseppe Bosco and Mike Irwin. Restauteur Clair created the Vail culinary mainstay Sweet Basil, which he still owns with partner Matt Morgan. General manager Giuseppe Bosco was formerly the manager of Campo de Fiori in Vail (and key to the restaurant’s feeling of warmth). Executive chef Irwin co-owned Juniper with partners Doug Abel and Kirby Kelly. The triumverate is clearly prepared for the challenge of opening a new restaurant – or, rather, reopening an old restaurant.

“I don’t think a week has gone by that somebody, somewhere, hasn’t said, ‘I miss Zino,’ or ‘I wish you’d reopen Zino,'” Clair said.

Well, they’ve all gotten their collective wish.

Though the old Zino was certainly Italian, it had more of a Mediterranean or West Coast influence. This newest incarnation is a little more hardcore Italian, with selections such as grilled asparagus with a soft fried egg (seductive), salumi, grilled eggplant and tomato salad (sweetly delicious), spaghetti carbonara with pancetta (dead-on) and fettuccine with veal bolognese and mascarpone (“to die for,” described Giuseppe). But the most Italian part of the experience is the hospitality: big smiles. Nobody seemed afraid of laughing loudly or calling to friends across the room. It made for an easy ambiance.

The menu includes antipasti, soups and salads, pizzas, primi piatti (“first course” pastas) and secondi piatti (“second course” mains such as lamb T-bones, veal scaloppine and whole roasted chickens). Guests are encouraged to eat as many courses as they want.

“It’s the Italian experience,” Giuseppe said. “Portions are not super big. We want people to enjoy what they can.”

(Writer’s note: Take his idea of “not super big” with a grain of Italian sea salt. Though not enormous, they’re certainly more American than European in portion size.)

He’s confident the house-made burrata cheese with grilled ciabatta is going to be an instant hit.

“You’ve got to have it first thing – boom,” he said, snapping. “Just like you have to have tiramisu at the end.”

Zino was the original restaurant in the Riverwalk space, but others followed. RiverHouse (owned by Grouse Mountain Grill’s David and Nancy Dowell), Frites (owned by Gore Range Brewery’s Jim Errant) and Rick and Kelly’s American Bistro (owned by Restaurant Kelly Liken’s Rick Colomitz and Kelly Liken) have all occupied the space over the past couple of years. There’s something fitting about coming back full circle to the original, and that includes bocce ball.

Clair can be an awfully humble guy, but he’s not afraid to tell it like it is. “I have the best bocce courts in Eagle County,” he said definitively, speaking about his personal courts at his house.

When he first opened Zino, he installed bocce courts there, too. They were taken out for RiverHouse put back in for Frites and removed again for Rick and Kelly’s. They’ll be re-excavated for Zino soon, though in the meantime, there will be bocce on the lawn.

“The backyard will be fun in the summertime,” Alisha said. “There’s a sandbox, and families can be out there and let their kids run around. We wanted to create a place people can go that’s not too stuffy. The food should be great, but more importantly, everyone should have fun.”

And that includes the staff. A couple of servers from Rick and Kelly’s are staying on – Kate and Susanna – and a handful of Sweet Basil employees will be at Zino now, too – Nate the bartender, Rhena the server and Carol the hostess. But Zino Ristorante has its own feel and energy.

“We really want to thank everyone in town who’s been so supportive and kind about the restaurant,” Alisha said. “The community’s been so cool to us. We feel really lucky.”

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