Nothing fussy here
“I really go in whatever direction the people in the room are taking me,” said Finnie. “Even in a place like Beaver Creek we get a wide spectrum of people.”
One night he’s playing Motown, the next it’s musicals. It depends on who’s sitting there and the overall feel of the room. He’s got plenty of music trivia at his disposal, so he might embark on a theme for a three or four-song set or simply query the room between songs.
“I’ll play anything, but there are some songs that are on the $100 list,” he said, laughing.
He’s currently jazzed up about Mose Allison, an old blues and jazz piano player popular back East. He’s also learning a couple of Zappa tunes, which aren’t easy to pull off on the piano.
“I love learning new stuff,” he explained. “And there’s so much that’s been done over the years. I really want to feel like I can get close to filling anybody’s request.”
We tossed out Julie Andrews, and he came back with “I Must Have Done Something Good,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Chim Chim Cheree” and several others.
On the night my friend and I visited Splendido’s piano bar, I wasn’t excited at the prospect. After a draining day at work, I didn’t want to have to be on my best behavior – I wanted to relax and unwind. We walked in, fell into large leather chairs, took Dining Room Manager Jim Lay’s wine recommendation, and – well – began to relax and unwind.
Finnie offered up occasional playful banter, all the while playing tunes. Discovering we were movie buffs, he challenged us to name the movie themes he tossed out. Sometimes obvious – “Little Shop of Horrors,” which we knew but couldn’t name right away – sometimes obscure – “City of Angels,” which required a hefty hint.
Finnie moved to Vail in 1989 to work as the music director of Majiks. His love of musical theater took him to Aspen in ’97. Since then, he’s split his time equally between the two towns, playing for private clients, as well as restaurants and theaters.
“Doing what you love to do – that’s what everybody ought to be doing,” he said. “Sitting at the piano and singing is my second-favorite thing to do.”
(No comment on his first-favorite activity.)
Having such a fun time, we didn’t feel like leaving. So we ordered a medley of appetizers out of Executive Chef David Walford’s kitchen to complement the wine. The lobster-saffron risotto ($18) is a creamy dish with chunks of perfectly cooked lobster scattered throughout and a zesty lemon accent. The curried kabocha pumpkin soup ($12) is a dream of flavor, and not exceedingly heavy. If you share the soup with another, plan on fighting over the rock shrimp ravioli that float in the broth.
Chef Walford has long been a name on the culinary scene. He moved to Vail to be a ski bum in the ’70s, and worked in kitchens to support his skiing habit. When he decided to become a chef, he moved west and trained in Napa Valley. After working in France and then San Francisco, he returned to Vail as executive chef for Sweet Basil. In the fall of 1994, he moved to Splendido, and has created an international reputation for the restaurant.
The dining room overlooks Beaver Creek Village, and is adorned with colorful Chagall prints. The cozy tables are dressed in white linens, and are usually full of eaters. The kitchen holds not an inch of wasted space, and can be seen through the glass wall at the end of the room.
Having been sufficiently wooed by wine, starters and song, we got down to serious business and ate Walford’s Colorado rack of lamb ($38). Oven roasted and served with a rosemary sauce, we could cut them with our forks. The accompanying sheep’s milk souffle and orange-cumin carrots offered a sweet and decadent contrast to the flavorful and earthy lamb.
The restaurant is known for its souffles ($10), which are baked to order. The warm honey-roasted pear ($8) stole the show, though, with its sweet-tender fruit, cranberry ginger ice cream and toasted almond frangipane. It’s the classic example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
Splendido is located in the Chateau of Beaver Creek. They serve dinner from 6-10 p.m. Reservations are recommended. For more information, call the restaurant at 845-8808.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.
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