Omnivore’s veg: Vail Valley restaurants prove produce-centric dishes aren’t just for vegetarians anymore
When it comes to fine dining, meat lovers shouldn’t have all the fun — and more and more restaurants are catching on to that fact, offering vegetarian options that are just as innovative, flavorful and hearty as a steak or chicken dish. And just because they’re vegetarian options doesn’t mean they’re only for vegetarians.
Foraging has become a popular — and addictive — pastime for plenty of people in the valley and beyond. Mushrooms are especially gaining traction in the culinary world, since they’re filled with protein, vitamins and minerals. And, just like their diverse flavor profiles, various restaurants provide a variety of innovative menu items.
Leonora takes a spicy approach with its roasted mushroom with green chili enchiladas, black beans and ranchero salsa, while Stoke & Rye stuffs pieces of whole mushrooms into its ravioli, placed in a light, yet rich, broth. At Flame Steakhouse, glazed trumpet mushrooms provide a firm, meaty texture, served atop a cake of scallion and green pea jasmine fried rice, seasoned to perfection in a miso vinaigrette, which allows diners to enjoy a light and subtle saltiness, yet still savor the nuanced flavors of the dish. At at Revel Lounge at The Hythe, mushroom carpaccio is a fun, shareable appetizer.
“I want veggies to shine,” said Revel Chef de Cuisine Lucas Ardemagni. “To me, there’s nothing worse than overcooked stuff. I hate it when people don’t pay attention to how the vegetable is cooked. It needs to have some crunch, and be properly seasoned — just simple stuff like that. I think they can be approached simply but incredibly.”
Cauliflower continues to dominate the creative veggie options this season. Flame’s tempura cauliflower steak with pomegranate molasses and a mild and soft sumac labneh cheese blends the subtle sweetness of the light crunch on the outside with soft green and yellow cauliflower inside each melt-in-your-mouth steak. Leonora’s butternut squash curry features cauliflower, potatoes and jasmine rice, with cilantro, spiced yogurt, cashews, raisins and grilled nann, and it serves its roasted cauliflower salad warm with richly smoked pistachios and creamy goat feta. Gessner’s cauliflower steak showcases asparagus, smoked almond and a subtly sweet tomato sauce with crispy capers.
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“It’s fresh, and it’s going to fill you up,” said Gessner Executive Chef Pascal Coudouy. “It’s a complete dish in flavor, texture and presentation.”
Speaking of those three wonderful attributes, Vista at Arrowhead’s veggie tower entrée tastes more like an innovative Italian dish than stacked veggies, with its creamy curry parsnip puree, crunchy roasted cauliflower head, grilled zucchini, meaty portobello mushroom, charred tomato and grilled asparagus surrounded by a wonderful balsamic glaze and light tomato sauce, ultimately topped with an ample serving of fresh mozzarella.
Pasta and grains are always a go-to if you’re avoiding meat, but Vail Valley restaurants elevate the starches. Vista at Arrowhead’s sweet pea ravioli has been a hit for some time and Mirabelle, too, offers a version. Meanwhile, Gessner cooks its risotto in an asparagus broth and pairs it with truffle cheese for a creamy texture and flavor; topped with an egg it’s decadent.
Vegetarian sides, starters and salads also take center stage this summer.
Flame offers experiential, tableside service with both its Caesar salad and beet tartare. The light, sea salt-baked golden beet tartare pops with various savory flavors, along with miso-tomato confit aioli, scallions, pickled salad with red wine vinegar, rosemary oil, roasted black pepper, watermelon lettuce, cream (which vegans can request to omit) and Tabasco (customized mild to hot).
Even non-vegetarians will love appetizers and shareables, from Stoke & Rye’s Colorado fondue with crudites to Mirabelle’s corn souffle, a delightful harbinger of summer. Other fun items include Leonora’s crispy brussels sprouts in a spicy ginger soy chili dressing and Vista’s fried green tomatoes, with corn salad, black bean hummus and chipotle aioli to add a little kick.
Salads extend well beyond ho-hum, with Mirabelle’s vine-ripened tomato and mozzarella accompanied with pickled red onion and the restaurant’s own microgreens and summer mesclun salad in a Dijon mustard emulsion with aged sherry vinaigrette. Stoke & Rye’s salads deliver different flavor profiles; the burrata salad offers a slight sweetness with its cantaloupe, candied nut brittle and port wine glaze (order it without prosciutto).
Once a week, Flame Steakhouse’s chef Pankaj Bisht puts himself in vegetarians’ shoes and doesn’t eat meat or fish, which is why he believes, along with many other chefs in the valley, that vegetarians shouldn’t be limited to one or two items on a menu. He sums the philosophy of catering to vegetarians succinctly by saying, “Why not give vegetarians the same dining experience as a meat person?”