Kelly Liken, Vail, American/local products
Vail CO, Colorado
Restaurant Kelly Liken
Gateway Building, Vail
An American restaurant
If you spend any time talking to chef-owner Kelly Liken, you’ll discover she’s passionate about American food and local products. When she’s not in the kitchen she’s delivering dishes in the lively dining room, which feels more cosmopolitan than mountain-style. Carnivores, vegetarians and those in between can happily share the same table. Though the selective menu is Named for its chef-owner, Kelly Liken is unapologetically American. Chef Liken is fiercely passionate about finding local, organic products that are in season and preparing them so the flavors are magnified.
There’s no reason in the world you shouldn’t begin your meal with something festive in the glass. The Kelly Liken team puts a lot of thought into the cocktail list, which doesn’t stop at alcoholic offerings. Sweet apricots and blueberries, zesty cucumber and spicy cardamom might all be found on the ever-changing list. They currently have a section on classic American cocktails, which includes the Ramos Fizz, circa 1888, from New Orleans, and the Cable Car, circa 1996, from San Francisco. It’s a hands-on history lesson, served up.
The bison tartare melts like butter. The lean meat is embellished with a honey and lemon emulsion that serves to intensify the bison’s gentle flavor without competing with it. It’s served with grilled brioche and large parmesan shavings. The essence of the flavors lingers on the plate even after the food’s been consumed, which is a roundabout way of saying you’ll want to lick the plate. Served with one of those seductive sauces Chef Liken is famous for, the Colorado rack of lamb is protected by the perfect amount of fat. Even a small bite fills the mouth with flavor. The accompanying cumin-scented baby carrots are roasted to extreme sweetness, and strive to steal the show. The crab salad in a red pepper coulis is a great example of capturing the essence of a dish, and the clean flavor of the pepper works in counterpoint to the basil oil.
Wine director Rick Colomitz delivers a story-morsel with every glass he pours. He and Chef Liken might have visited the vineyard in France, or perhaps he’s excited about the way the terroir of a wine reacts with a particular dish. By the end of the evening those tales ” part anticipation, part education ” become a part of the meal. The list is enormous, and includes 50 wines by the glass. His racy pairings are designed exclusively to elevate the food. (He’s married to the chef, so he has no choice.)
Now that’s service
I’ve eaten at Kelly Liken several times, and they have some really nice touches. Once, I delivered my car to the valet with the dreaded fuel light on. As I munched my way through dinner, he filled up the gas tank. And I always think about my dinner the morning after, since they send every diner home with a little bag of baked treats that’s best eaten with coffee and memories.