Silver Sage: Comfort food with polish | VailDaily.com

Silver Sage: Comfort food with polish

Wren Wertin

Photo/Bret HartmanThe Red Sky Ranch guest clubhouse is open to the public for lunches and special functions.

I arrived at the wrong spot. I’d had a friend drop me off for my date at the Silver Sage restaurant in the Red Sky Golf Club. She was gone by the time I realized I was at the Guest Clubhouse, not the Members Clubhouse. So I caught my second ride of the evening, this time on a golf cart right before sunset. As we wound up and around the hills that cradle both the Tom Fazio and Greg Norman Golf Courses, I smelled the sage ” the Silver Sage, to be exact ” that covers the area. Some wrong turns end up being the right ones.

“Pretty much every seat in the restaurant has a view of the sunset,” said General Manager Stefanie Rainsford.

The Silver Sage is a mountain-style building, with enormous wooden beams and the decor to match. Offering views of the surrounding mountains beyond the golf course, it’s open to the public Wednesday through Sunday for dinner; it’s members only for lunch, hence the Guest Clubhouse for visitors.

“We do comfort food with a twist,” said Executive Chef Dan Kent of the cuisine.

So the fries have an essence of truffle in them and the creme brulee has ripe peaches on the bottom. Because it’s a summer restaurant, the menu at Silver Sage is able to be entirely ingredient-driven. Thomas Salmunovich, owner of Larkspur in Vail, oversees the restaurant with the help of Rainsford and Kent, who both work at Larkspur in the winter.

“It’s a very relaxed, comfortable, stress-free dining experience,” said Salmunovich.

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The restaurant offers a series of “standards,” such as steak Diane, roasted chicken, Caesar salad. But the real signature dishes come in the form of three-course tasting menus.

There are always three: garden, ocean and ranch, meaning veggie, fish and meat. Each comes with an appetizer, entree and dessert, all of which can be ordered a la carte, too. They change often, depending on what’s fresh

The best way to start dinner at the Silver Sage is on the deck, overlooking the 18th hole on the Norman Course, with a cocktail in hand. Then meander inside to one of the generous tables, sit down in an upholstered chair and kick back and relax.

“This place is set up as a place I’d like to come to on my nights off,” said the chef. “I think it’s a great date place. And we’re really trying to get more locals up here.”

Which is why the tasting menus are offered at prices reminiscent of off-season specials ($28-$32).

While mulling over the menu, munch on bread, crudites and the pesto of the day, generally made from herbs from the Red Sky garden. The majority of their produce comes from Wynn Farms in Palisades, a big favorite of local chefs.

“It’s so easy to cook in the summer,” said Kent. “Get some fresh food, heat it up a little, and serve it.”

His mixed greens and warm summer bean salad ($8.50) is an example of that philosophy. Tossed with a mere glaze of vinaigrette, it’s a great beginning.

For those wanting a heartier starter, go for the crab and scallop cake ($12.50). A variation on a standard, the shellfish is complemented by the lightly licorice flavor of fennel and sweet tomatoes. On the ocean tasting menu, the grilled shrimp and calamari salad ($10.50) app is served chilled and delicious with a hint of smokiness.

My date and I ordered Van Duzer pinot noir by the glass ($9), and were so pleased with it we stuck with it for the entire meal.

My personal favorite appetizer, though, was the simplest option of all: truffle parmesan chips ($3.50). The basket of freshly fried crisps renders ketchup superfluous, though they come with a dish of the red stuff just to cover all the bases and keep nostalgia intact.

Kent specializes in non-fussy food, the type that people want to come in and eat a couple times a week ” but not the type people want to bother with making in their own kitchens.

If you have even a passing fancy for chicken ($19.50), order it at the Silver Sage. Free range and organic, it’s simple ” and simply the best. The crisp skin hides succulent meat moist with its own juices, and the mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli offer that down-home touch.

Kent’s a big fan of the wild Pacific salmon ($22.50), cooked a perfect medium rare, with corn risotto, tomato-almond pesto and a riot of pea shoots.

But deep down inside, he’s a meat man. Actually, his father is, and he inherited a love of beef from him. So there are three beef options on the menu: tenderloin, rib eye and New York, all served with a traditional Diane sauce made from shallots, herbs and wine. Of course they all come with truffle-parmesan fries of varying thicknesses.

Dessert shouldn’t be missed at Silver Sage. We had a beautiful creme brulee with a crisp sugar crust and sweet peaches, and a Valrhona chocolate souffle with Colorado cherries and creme anglaise (both $6.50). They went well with first a glass of Fonseca port ($5), and later a latte. Judging from the java, coffee is a particular specialty of the restaurant’s.

Kent was a history major on his way to law school when he realized he was reading cookbooks and food magazines more than his other books. So he decided to go to culinary school instead. He was on the line at Sweet Basil when he met Salmunovich.

The Guest Clubhouse is located on the 18th hole of the Tom Fazio Golf Course, and is open to the public for lunch daily, as well as for private parties. Silver Sage is open Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are required, but ties aren’t.