Hidden treasure – patio between Cucina Rustica and Wildflower
VAIL ” In the heart of Vail Village is a secluded courtyard. Surrounded by aspens, pines and a madly colorful garden, the patio areas for Cucina Rustica and Wildflower are adjacent to each other.
If weather permits, sitting on the patio is a must. With both shade and sun options, each table has a small pot of fresh herbs and flowers. The bustle of Bridge Street can barely be heard, despite its close proximity. And on special occasions such as brunch, a pianist plays from a repertoire of classics. The scene offers a feeling of being outside of time.
The Cucina Rustica is open for breakfast daily, from 7-10 a.m. It’s served grand buffet style. Table after table of homemade goodies meets the eye; it’s almost overwhelming. Breakfast focuses on the traditional: platters of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon and sausage, pancakes, cereal, french toast, fresh-squeezed juices and baked goods that go far beyond muffins.
The bakers at the lodge pride themselves on the quality of their breads and baked goods. Croissants and cakes incorporate all manner of fillings, from fruits to creams to both. Though a large selection, items are usually put out in small quantities, so they continue to look and taste good. The thick slices of smoked bacon are crisp and the sausages remain succulent. In addition to the many options, the staff will prepare omelets upon request.
Special to Sundays, the Cucina Rustica serves brunch from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. In addition to selections from the breakfast buffet described above, including a fully stocked omelet station, the chefs offer a myriad of salads, soups and a carving station.
“We’re trying to go with summer fare, and are trying to be a little more creative than just the same old ingredients,” said Thomas Gay, executive chef.
A complimentary glass of champagne kicks off the experience. As for the buffet, a mango, shrimp and avocado salad might be next to a potato and chorizo dish. Smoked salmon and bagels with all the trimmings, roasted chicken and prime rib are all tasty and filling. Desserts run the gamut from a fruit-filled English trifle to passion fruit cheesecake to chocolate-dipped strawberries.
The Wildflower serves lunch daily from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. It’s a decadent afternoon treat. The experience begins with a basket of what might be the best bread in the valley. Started from scratch daily, it has a texture that only comes from being given plenty of time to make a slow rise. A variety of herbs and cheeses are used for the different loaves. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are table mainstays.
The simple baby field green salad ($9) is as fresh as they come, and includes red onion, cucumber, tomato and feta cheese. A good appetizer to share is the cheese and fruit platter ($12). Arriving at the table in a three-tiered display, it’s served with grilled slices of Tuscan bread.
As for entrees, the pan-seared ahi tuna puttanesca ($13) will probably become a Wildflower signature dish. Seen occasionally in the past as a special, it’s served over house-rolled fettucine noodles and the garlic, caper and tomato sauce is light, so as not to overpower the tuna.
The grilled swordfish tacos ($12.50) with black bean and pineapple salsa are a staff favorite. For those wanting something sandwich style, both the grilled chicken sandwich ($12.50) topped with Brie and bacon, and the “Lodge House” burger ($12.50) should satisfy.
The dessert menu is primarily fruit-based, though there is a chocolate option for those with a need for cocoa. The ricotta cheesecake brulee ($7.50) won’t be found elsewhere, and as the name implies, is a cheesecake-meets-creme brulee affair. Served perfectly chilled, the thick creaminess of the brulee has a traditional caramelized sugar shell, and is topped with a blueberry compote.
The Wildflower made its reputation with dinner. Appetizers go from the light crab and watercress salad ($13.50) with ginger dressing and grilled plantains to the decadent pan-seared foie gras medallion ($19) atop papaya french toast brioche and peach gastrique.
Two dinner entree mainstays are the green-peppercorn-and-herb-crusted swordfish ($31) and the grilled Colorado lamb t-bone ($36).
“I like dishes to be simple, and then great flavors and textures – a balance between those two,” said Gay. “Mouth feel is a big thing for me. It has to be perfectly cooked.”
As the summer progresses, more Colorado produce will make its way onto the menu. Topping the list are corn and tomatoes. Gay prefers to give his chefs as much freedom as possible.
The Wildflower’s wine list has won the Wine Spectator Award for Excellence.
“It’s stylish but not over-involved,” said Stefan Schmid, the lodge’s food and beverage director. “We’re going for understated elegance.”
For more information or to make a reservation at either restaurant, call (970) 476-5011.
The valley’s commercial and residential property markets are similar in some ways — availability is tight and nothing is what you’d call “cheap.”