Singin’ the Blu’s
VAIL – Nestled into the bank of Gore Creek, Blu’s has one of the best views in the village. But once Executive Chef Rich Kellogg shows up at the table nobody even remembers the river. The man is a blur of energy, excited about life, liberty and the pursuit of a really good meal.”My goal is to serve food my friends want to come in and enjoy,” said Kellogg, nodding his head as he delivered a steaming plate of pasta arrabiata with a flourish. “It’s a place anybody can feel comfortable.”It’s also a place anybody can find something to eat. The menu runs the gamut from gourmet pasta and sleek steaks to down-home southern fare, with plenty of international influence thrown in. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Vail Village eatery is usually crowded with local restaurant folks and tourists alike. Kellogg is obviously on the same friendly terms with his ingredients as he is with his peers. Instead of making them jump through hoops and put on airs, he trusts them to speak for themselves – with a bit of inventive culinary coaxing. His caprese salad ($6.95) is a case in point: The tomato, mozzarella and basil stack is a classic, and he doesn’t mess with the clean flavors. To keep it interesting he layers in earthy, meaty portobello mushrooms and drizzles the whole shebang with a smooth balsamic syrup.
Those looking for something a little heartier can try the duck quesadilla ($7.95), served open face with melted havarti and marinated mushrooms. Plum sauce plays a sweetly pungent counterpoint to the Long Island duck.T.J. Armstrong opened Blu’s in 1983 with a couple of partners, and the restaurant has been a local fixture ever since. The red brick walls give a cozy, lived-in feel, while a wall of windows showcases Gore Creek. There are no fancy linens, just consistent food speedily served by friendly staff. Now the sole owner, Armstrong is also one of the co-founders of Taste of Vail. In honor of the festival, which celebrates the Vail lifestyle, Blu’s will feature a special menu with wine pairings throughout the weekend. A juicy veal T-bone is one such specialty item. Pan seared with the slightest hint of herbs, the succulent meat is both savory and subtle. The accompanying sautéed spinach is bright green and fresh. “The whole point of eating vegetables is because they’re healthy,” explained Kellogg. “I don’t want to cook all the good stuff out of them.”
For tried and true, dive into the penne arrabiata ($12.95). Traditionally a spicy vegetarian dish, Chef Kellogg makes a minor addition with an abundance of house-made wild boar sausage. The resulting dish provides a long, slow burn that lasts for the duration of dinner. The piquant sauce is studded with tomatoes and sweet peppers.Those with a sweet tooth should peruse the dessert list, provided by The Lodge at Vail pastry crew. A baker in his former life, Kellogg knows how to choose his stuff. The macadamia nut pie, reminiscent of a pecan pie but denser and more interesting, is a great choice. The best part of dessert at Blu’s is the cappuccino, which begins with Sicilian beans. Almost chocolately, the brew is smooth and rich. Chef Kellogg is self-taught, choosing to be schooled on the line instead of the classroom. Such a decision is consistent with his approach to cuisine. He doesn’t find inspiration from cookbooks, but from ingredients. Though he’s not adverse to wooing women with his savory creations, what keeps him at the stove is the diversity of his work.”After 22 years in the business, I’ve never had the same day twice,” Kellogg said.
All of that experience has had an effect on how he does his job. “I used to react,” he said. “Now I act.”He admits it’s easier because of his stellar crew. Sous Chef Isaias Velasco runs the show when Kellogg isn’t there. And everyone in Kellogg’s kitchen has been a dishwasher – even him. “It’s easier to communicate if we know what all the jobs in a kitchen are like, not just the one we happen to be doing,” he said. “At least we’re all talking apples.”
Judging from the food, which arrives quickly and spot-on, apples work. Blu’s RestaurantBreakfast, lunch and dinner
193 E Gore Creek Dr.476-3113Vail, Colorado