Ludwig’s in Vail is serving an entirely gluten-free menu this season
IF you go ...
What: Ludwig’s, inside Sonnenalp Hotel, Vail.
When: Dinner served 5:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday during the winter season only.
Reservations: Recommended. Call 970-479-5429.
Price point: First courses from $12 to $21; entrees range from $29 to $49.
• Cream of lobster soup with wild mushrooms and butter poached lobster tail, $16.
• Homemade tagliatelle pasta, with seared black tiger shrimp, tomato and green onions, $29.
• Oven-roasted elk rack with sweet potatoes, red cabbage and blueberry sauce, $42.
VAIL — While there’s plenty of protein in Ludwig’s kitchen — lamb, elk, beef, duck and an array of seafood — there’s one plant protein that’s conspicuously absent this season, to the delight of those who strive to avoid it. Ludwig’s, a staple restaurant in Vail for decades, has gone entirely gluten free.
The biggest challenge chef Florian Schwarz is coming up against with his new all gluten-free menu at Ludwig’s in Vail is perception.
Families, most recently one from New York, sometimes come in to dine with a family member who is foregoing gluten. Used to having just two or maybe three items to choose from off a typical menu, the gluten-free diner is thrilled; their family, generally less so.
“People think there’s no way it’ll be good,” said Schwarz, the restaurant’s executive chef since 2013.
Those people would be wrong, which they soon come to find out firsthand.
“The best compliment is ‘I didn’t realize it was gluten free,’” said Schwarz, who went that direction with the menu after multiple inquiries.
“We had so many people who requested it,” he said.
The restaurant, which previously had a seafood-centric focus, unveiled its revamped menu in December. Ludwig’s is the only entirely gluten-free restaurant in Eagle County, and one of very few in the state: According to http://www.denverceliacs.org, there’s a pho restaurant in Boulder, a few bakeries in Denver and two restaurants in Colorado Springs that are labeled DGF, or dedicated gluten free.
For Schwarz and his team, developing the menu was an “exciting challenge,” though he admits their “very classic, French-trained” pastry chef, Bernie Oswald, walked out of the room after the idea was first broached. Oswald has been with the hotel for 14 years.
“But then he really got into it and took it as a challenge,” said Schwarz, who calls the Austrian-born Oswald a “perfectionist.”
The bread basket, served to diners to start, contained three styles of bread on a recent night we visited: white, olive and a multi-grain option. The white bread was phenomenal, with a perfect crust and texture and I wouldn’t have guessed its GF label. While the olive and multi-grain offerings tasted good, I could tell there was something different about them, mostly based on the texture. But from that point on, I wouldn’t have pegged the dining experience as any different.
If you go, start with the cream of lobster soup, which is poured tableside atop a small mound of wild mushrooms and hunks of butter-poached lobster tail. It’s decadent without being too rich. Gluten can be found in unexpected places, which is why every sauce and stock at Ludwig’s is homemade.
“Everything is from scratch, which is a good thing anyway,” Schwarz said.
What many gluten-free friends confess to missing most is really good pasta; the gluten-free varieties from the grocery store that I have tried seem to have a grainy quality in common. The homemade tagliatelle pasta, with seared black tiger shrimp, tomato and green onions, is not only unapologetically spicy thanks to the addition of chili oil, but its texture was spot on.
While it’s certainly dialed in now, it didn’t start out that way, Schwarz said.
“Our first pasta was beautiful, but you touched it and it fell apart,” he said. “You really have to step out of the famous box with what you know and what you used to do.”
If you’re craving something heartier, then opt for the elk with red cabbage, chestnuts and apple, which is just how Schwarz, who is from Germany, “knows it from back home,” he said, except for the addition of sweet potatoes, of course. A blueberry demiglace tops the elk rack; the sweetness of the sauce plays nicely with the tender meat.
Splurge for dessert: the Grand Marnier, strawberry and kumquat tart, served with orange sorbet and berry coulis, is worth the calories. It’s clear from its presentation that Oswald delights in beautiful, artistic displays when it comes to the grand finale.
“It was our goal to create a menu that demonstrates that eating gluten free does not mean guests have to give up quality, flavor or creativity,” Schwarz said. “We truly feel we have accomplished that.”