December 29, 2003
Taking the phrase “slopeside dining” literally, Mezzaluna is mere yards away from the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead. Located in the Lion Square Lodge, a wrap-around wall of windows offers an unimpeded view of snowplay swooshers.
It takes its name from the Italian word for half moon, as well as a two-handled curved knife.
Mezzaluna in Aspen, opened in 1993, is a hotbed of activity. Joe Cosniac and Deryk Cave are two of the partners; they own several restaurants in Colorado and Texas. Mezzaluna’s Vail counterpart, opened this season, shows every sign of being equally successful. The room is a glossy one, filled with granite tables and a large bar. A display pizza oven turns out fresh pies for the often hungry crowd.
“It’s pretty good, we feel lucky,” said Grant Sutherland, co-owner. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback already. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Sutherland is a soccer-coaching, appetizer-loving, Edinborough transplant of a guy with a fine nose for wines and terrific attention to detail. He and three others from the Aspen venue opened the Vail restaurant, including Bryn Lewis, a server. The night we ate there, all the tables were well tended by a variety of servers; Lewis was our waiter. If Mezzaluna had a signature server, surely it would be Lewis. His cottony London accent is so thick you have to concentrate on what he’s saying, making his tables come to attention when he drops by. He knows the menu intimately and has no qualms about making recommendations to the flummoxed diner, never mind the wisecracks.
Mezzaluna’s menu reflects diversity, with an accent on “something for everyone.” The starters alone could fill a person up. The calamari ($11) will certainly be a menu staple. Whoever handles the fryer knows exactly how to work it: the strips of calamari are neither greasy nor chewy, but are tender with a crisp coating. The spicy chili dipping sauce has kick with a bit of sweetness. The blue lump crab cakes ($12) are plump, and come with papaya mustard. One of Sutherland’s favorites is the apple and chicken spring roll ($10.50). The curry peanut dipping sauce is a must, as it adds both flavor and texture to the dish.
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The menu is the creation of Clark McDaniels, corporate chef and co-owner. According to Sutherland, McDaniels changes the menu every once in a while. Instead of focusing on typical Italian, he’s brought in some world flavors. The concept for the food is the same concept for the restaurant.
“We just want to be a fun place with a great atmosphere,” said Sutherland. “We’re not too stuffy, but we want to have a great level of service. And great food.”
For entrees, diners have the option of pastas or “big plates.” Don’t be fooled – the pastas are big, too. The penne with rock shrimp ($16.50) is a pleasing combination of perfectly cooked shrimp, diced avocado and tomatoes in a three-citrus cream sauce. It goes beyond the standard alfredo; though just as creamy, it’s not quite as heavy. We also ate the pepper-seared beef tenderloin ($26). Served atop a stack of greens (cabbage) with a heavy dose of gorgonzola sauce, there are wee truffled potato croquettes scattered about the plate. The earthy truffles lend decadence to the already rich dish.
For those wanting lighter options, the peanut-dusted ahi tuna ($25.50) is receiving good reviews, as are the wood-fired pizzas ($12-$15). If you can only have one dessert, order the banana bread pudding without any qualms. Dark and moist, the texture is naughty indeed. The browned sugar flavor gets a bit of depth with a splash of rum, and you will probably be compelled to finish the entire creation, no matter what your stomach has to say about things.
Sutherland and Lewis are both happy to be living in Vail these days, despite their many years in Aspen.
“In Vail, you have your more down to earth people,” said Sutherland. “I think it’s great here.”
Mezzaluna is open daily for lunch, apres and dinner. Reservations are accepted for dinner only, and walk-ins are encouraged. Dress is casual.