On Avondale’s plate: An ambitious concept
Vail CO, Colorado
AVON ” It’s 10 p.m. on Avondale’s first Wednesday night, and the restaurant is still more than a third full. Even though it’s late ” most people are eating dessert or sipping out of coffee cups or snifters ” the night isn’t over for chef/owner Thomas Salamunovich. The tall man stands in his chef’s whites near the back of the restaurant, talking quietly to a tall woman hurriedly taking notes in a small notebook. It’s less than 24 hours before customers start paying for their dinners, and Salamunovich wants things to be perfect.
“Like this,” he says, folding a young server’s black shirt sleeve over twice.
The evening’s dinner service is one of 16 “soft” meals the restaurant hosted; nearly 500 friends and family members ate free meals in the two weeks before the eatery officially opened. How Salamunovich wants the shirt sleeves rolled is certainly not the only detail he’s discussed with his staff. There’s a laundry list: Aprons need to be tied uniformly; there are rules about jewelry (up to six rings are OK but no bracelets or necklaces; small nose piercings are allowed but no other facial piercings); server’s jeans need to be stylish and of similar color.
Staff members took tests ” an entry exam, midterm and a final test ” before they began working with customers.
“We’ve trained them as much as I’ve ever seen in any restaurant,” Salamunovich says later, admitting that he would fail as a server because the job is so difficult. “The best analogy I can give is you can sit in as many drivers ed classes as you want, but you do not know how to drive a car until you start driving.”
No doubt, Salamunovich is intense. But that’s likely what makes him successful, too.
Along with Avondale, he owns Larkspur in Vail and Larkburger in Edwards. Another Larkburger is set to open in Boulder after the first of the year, and if all goes well, a third in the Denver Tech Center in March. He’s had his hands in plenty of other valley eateries, too ” Zino Ristorante and Silver Sage and Summer Thyme restaurants for Red Sky Golf Club. But Avondale is by far his biggest project. Along with Avondale’s breakfast-lunch-apres-dinner service seven days a week, there’s also the adjoining market with grab-and-go food, 24-hour room service, banquets, hotel employee meals and spa meals to consider. In all, some 250 people work at Avondale.
“If I keep listing it, I almost want to quit,” Salamunovich says with a nervous chuckle, glancing at his executive chef, Jeremy Kittelson.
“Yes, that’s when I get overwhelmed, is thinking about all of it,” Kittelson agrees.
It’s two days later, and Kittelson and Salamunovich, who look a little similar (likely because of their matching hairless heads), sit next to each other at the largest table in the place. Though it’s not quite 11 a.m., the nearby kitchen is bustling; at least 20 people are preparing for the first open-to-the-public Friday-night service. One man holding a tray lined with whole pale chickens brushes past quickly while another kneads pizza dough into individual balls. The two men have stepped away from the chaos to sit and answer a few questions before a staff meeting. Though Salamunovich is a little harried ” the buns that came in for Larkburger weren’t up to his light-as-air standards ” he takes a deep breath before talking about what it feels like to see his two-and-a-half year project come to life.
“I am totally confident because I work with some amazing people. … Is it going to be perfect? No. That’s an impossibility. The Vail Valley is such an interesting place because the expectations are so high, but the reality is the labor pool is so small, and we’re all fighting for the same,” he says.
Salamunovich switches topics seamlessly, moving on to the restaurant’s concept.
“We want truly professional service in a very casual environment,” he says, stumbling over the word “casual” because it’s not quite the word he wants. And looking around the restaurant, he’s right ” it doesn’t quite fit.
“We believe to dine at any level, you need to surround yourself with beauty. So this,” Salamunovich says, gesturing around the 6,000-square-foot room, “as a square-foot basis, isn’t terribly expensive. We just chose to use materials that are sound. You notice there are no tablecloths ” (the tables) are just tongue oil, so they’re really quite simple. The most elegant thing here is the curtains, which we close at night. And, of course, the ceiling is quite dramatic.”
Indeed, the acoustic ceiling is a contemporary bright yellow-gold color. The seating is a combination of tables and chairs, traditional booths and low, half-circle booths that are covered in a black-and-tan, alphabet-patterned cloth; they’re at once chic and fun. Come first snow, and apres ski, Avondale’s redondo ” a circular bar table with an open fire in the center ” will be the place to be sipping a warm Irish coffee. The view faces the Eagle River and Beaver Creek above.
“It’s a cozy nook off the bar ” very warm and intimate,” says Sue Barham, Avondale’s marketing director.
The food is seasonal and local whenever possible. Granted, those are words thrown around daily in the restaurant world lately, but it’s important to know Salamunovich and Kettelson both were on the locavore train long before it left the station. Kettelson most recently worked at Tapawingo in Michigan, and before that he was at the highly acclaimed Blackbird in Chicago.
Kettelson’s food philosophy is simple: “Its about a farm-to-restaurant connection; allowing the food to shine, not having to manipulate it too much. That is the philosophy of this restaurant: not to fuss up the food a lot.”
Much of the restaurant’s produce comes from a farm in Gypsum. Greens, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peaches, plums and more are bountiful right now, which is why they’re all over Avondale’s menu. Sometimes they play a starring role ” like in the Olathe corn raviolis with braised veal cheek or the Olathe corn soup ” other times it’s just a cameo: a scoop of creamy, sweet-corn ice cream on a still-hot plum crumble. One thing is for sure: These chefs are not afraid to experiment. The menu will likely be overhauled four or five times a year, but dishes ” especially seafood offerings ” will evolve daily, based on what’s fresh, Kittelson says. That’s not to say that the restaurant’s chefs aren’t busy preserving nature’s bounty right now for winter.
“We have about 500 pounds of beautiful tomatoes which we’re going to make into a tomato puree that we’ll use all winter for the pizza’s marinara and other dishes,” Kittelson says. “I think we made over 1,000 pounds of apricot preserves when they were in season.”
Come December, diners will surely be grateful for a taste of summer.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Restaurant Avondale.
Where: The Westin Riverfront Resort, 126 Riverfront Drive, Avon.
Open: Breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; apres ski 2:30 to 6 p.m.; dinner 6 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is serving lunch and dinner now; breakfast starts Thursday.
Fare: West Coast-inspired, seasonal menu.
Entrees: $13 to $25.
Kid’s menu: Yes.
Contact: Call 970-790-5500 or visit http://www.avondalerestaurant.com.
– Chicken liver-apple brandy mousse with house saltines and and gala apples ($8)
– Golden chicken soup with pasta and Gypsum arugula ($9)
– Olathe corn raviolis with slow-braised veal cheek and chanterelles ($18)
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