Owners’ touch: Montauk Seafood Grill | VailDaily.com

Owners’ touch: Montauk Seafood Grill

Alex Miller

AE Montauk DT 9-8

VAIL ” There may be no better recommendation for any restaurant than the knowledge that the people who own it also run it. There’s simply no substitute for the level of quality and attention owners bring, and a good case in point is Montauk Seafood Grill in Lionshead.

About six months ago, Tom Ludwig and Dmitri Souvorin ” along with some investors ” purchased the venerable restaurant near the base of the gondola. Ludwig, a waiter at Montauk for a number of years, now functions as the manager. Dmitri, who was working in the kitchen as sous chef, is now the head chef. Together, the two run a tight ship ” if you’ll excuse the metaphor ” that’s all about service, great food and a fun atmosphere.

Even with the gaping mudpit just outside ” part of the massive reconstruction project taking place this summer ” Montauk was packed on a recent Thursday night when my wife and I stopped by for dinner. As always, Ludwig was working the room, backing up the regular waitstaff and making sure everything was just so. He started us out with a bottle of something sparkling ” a French brut rose from Alsace that went perfectly with a shrimp cocktail and Montauk’s signature ahi tuna sampler.

The delicate ahi is a good example of how even the freshest fish can be brought far inland with no compromise in quality. The old notion that one need be near a coast for good seafood has been made obsolete by overnight air-freight services, and Ludwig points out that the Internet has had another positive effect.

“It’s changed everything,” Ludwig said of the ability to e-mail fish wholesalers. “Dmitri is in touch with these guys all of the time, and we find out in real-time what they’ve caught – and it’s here the next day.”

In addition to its regular menu, Montauk runs a nightly grill list of what’s freshly available. They’ve also got a raw bar featuring things like littleneck clams from Virginia, or oysters from Nova Scotia, Washington state or Prince Edward Island.

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While Montauk is primarily a seafood restaurant, Ludwig and Souvorin embrace a broader palette that includes a “Crispy Eggplant Napoleon” and a Tuscan bread salad (with mozzarella and roma tomatoes) on the appetizer menu. They’ve also got a cut of Black Angus filet mignon that’s out of this world for taste and tenderness ” an excellent counterpart to the fish and shellfish that rounds out the menu. A free-range roasted chicken also appeared on the specials list, as well as a NY strip and a center-cut pork chop.

Not a bad place for seafood lovers who have dining partners more turf-inclined, Montauk prides itself as much on presentation as it does on the quality of its food and service. The owners have created a dining room with warmth and vibe, a fun atmosphere that’s further augmented by an extensive and eclectic wine list. Asked for a recommendation on a good red wine, Ludwig produced something from Australia called “Gnarly Dudes.” Big, bold and smooth, the wine worked fine with the seafood as well as the beef.

“We’ve been trying to expand our list beyond just California,” Ludwig said. “There are so many countries making great wine.”

With an entree sampler of king crab leg, filet mignon and Alaskan halibut, we got a good taste of what Montauk diners can expect. Finishing up with a trio of deserts ranging from an ice-cream pie and creme brule to a blueberry crisp was a decadent end to a truly exceptional dining experience.

Although it’s high-end, with entrees ranging from the $25-$40 range and appetizers in the $10 range, Montauk is a casual place that even has a children’s menu. Right now is a good time to try it, since the restaurant is running a special: 50 percent off entrees and 25 percent off bottled wine.

And with the new Arrabelle hotel yet to be built, the restaurant is enjoying a great view of the mountain ” an interesting backdrop indeed for diners enjoying the bounty of the sea.

For information or reservations at Montauk Seafood Grill, call 476-2601.

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado