Ludwig’s: confidential continental
The comfortable dining area is a circle of a room. The chairs encourage diners to kick back, loosen their belts and get cozy.
Executive Chef Jean-Luc Voegele is relatively new to the resort, but he arrived full of ideas. They’ve hosted a series of dinners – winemaker, Colorado, and Pacific Rim to name a few – and he plans on continuing to hold the evenings that focus on a particular ingredient or type of cuisine. The regular menu is available on these nights, too.
“I’m a chef because I like to eat good food,” he said. “I love it, the cuisine we do and the customer satisfaction. I love to play with new ideas. Also with my new team (in the kitchen) right now, it’s fun to have new guys.”
The menu reflects Veogele’s French training, and is a study in decadent gourmet dining. Large cuts of meat and fish are classically prepared with sauces and sides, and will leave even the hungriest of skiers full.
It’s important to Voegele that he has repeat diners, and he believes each successive visit has to top the last. Sometimes that means sending out a gift from the kitchen, a complicated and delicious morsel.
Both Voegele and his staff have a soft spot for the Beluga caviar atop smoked salmon rounds ($23), which is served with a dollop of lobster yogurt sauce. We opted for the sauteed sea scallops ($17), which were rich with the truffle oil and balsamic-port reduction.
The pear and macadamia nut salad ($9) is at once sweet and pungent. The oven-roasted pears are served crisp-tender, upon mixed greens with roquefort crumbles – as creamy as butter and quite strong in flavor.
Those seeking to warm up should try the lobster bisque ($9), creamy with an Armagnac accent, or the asparagus soup ($8), bright green and accented with smoked salmon-flavored chervil.
Voegele has taken several of his dishes – and his team – to competition. He’s cheffed in many places, including Hong Kong, and prefers to be challenged rather than complacent.
“I like to be in the loop, and do all kinds of things,” he said. “Be on top of what’s going on. In Hong Kong I was so happy, you could eat Japanese, Thai, Chinese food – it’s all authentic. As long as you respect the food, and do it the right way, you can make the best out of it. Even if it’s a cheap piece of meat you can do something nice with it.”
At home, Voegele might opt for a loaf of bread with some cheese, but at Ludwig’s he indulges his need to create and re-create, harkening back to his childhood when he helped his mother in the kitchen of the family restaurant.
Colorado lamb ($38) is always featured on the menu, as it’s too good and too local to pass up. Tender and juicy, it’s served in a sage and mustard crust. The Dover sole meuniere ($36) is prepared tableside by the server, and is cooked so the bones slide right off in one neat motion. The butter sauce is also served at the table, and coats the parsley potatoes and seasonal vegetables in addition to the delicate fish.
Voegele’s roasted loin of venison ($39) is only served in the winter. The large portion of venison lends a hearty flair to the sweet potato mousseline and caramelized apples. As it’s such a lean piece of meat, I recommend ordering it medium rare.
As Voegele is quick to point out, he works with a team. The initial menu proposals are his, but they only add an item after running it as a special for a month or so.
“Creating the menu is like a puzzle,” he said.
For diners unable to eat dessert – though the classic creme brulee is very nice – coffee is one of the small pleasure Ludwig’s offers. The small cups and saucers have a simple floral pattern, and the coffee is always hot and rich. They also serve espresso drinks in larger cups.
Ludwig’s suffers the problem of being hidden from people. Unless you know it’s there, you’d walk on by. Though this may be considered a boon by the people who are well acquainted with its comfortable rooms, Chef Voegele is obviously out to cultivate a reputation nationally.
“Instead of being the best kept secret in Vail, I want to be known as the best restaurant – the best food for the best price,” he said with conviction.
Ludwig’s serves dinner nightly at 6 p.m., and is closed on Mondays. The restaurant is located in the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail, across the street from the Interfaith Chapel. Reservations are recommended: 476-5656.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.