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Spago comes to Beaver Creek

Wren WertinVail CO, Colorado
AE Spago PU 12-6-07
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado Any party that starts with champagne is a good idea. Make it Dom Perignon, and its a great one. Spago officially opened its doors last week after a soft opening including friends, family and those savvy enough to make a reservation with cases of Dom, signature Spago food and celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck hobnobbing with the full house.

The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulchs new destination restaurant melds urban pop with mountain sensibilities. So, too, does the menu combine items from Pucks long list of greatest hits with dishes inspired by Colorado products. The culinary titan arrived in Beaver Creek Wednesday morning, just in time for a charity dinner in honor of First Descents a local kayak camp for youths battling cancer. Thursday was the official launch party. And now, theyre open for business. Its no accident the restaurant opened in December.We used to ski at Telluride. My older boys loved it there, said Chef Puck during the launch party. But we love Bachelor Gulch. Its really good skiing. Were here all the time now.He invited long-time friend and Olympic ski racer Franz Weber to join him. They took a milk run (early morning fresh tracks) in Bachelor Gulch Friday morning, despite hosting the late-night crowd the night before. More than 300 people attended the cocktail party, which included passed hors doeuvres, Dom Perignon and a dessert table with freshly fried doughnuts. These people know food, but more importantly, they know appetite.

Though Puck is famous the world over, the Bachelor Gulch Spago is only the fourth in the chain. Flagship Beverly Hills, Maui and Las Vegas all host Spago restaurants. Boulder native Mark Ferguson is executive chef of the Colorado restaurant.Being the executive chef for a celebrity chefs restaurant is an interesting dance. Hes both a chef in his own right and a translator of the Wolfgang Puck concept.He and I share a common goal of not only producing the best food, but the best experience, Ferguson said. Its about how much he takes care of the customer.The menu is long and varied. Though rife with signature dishes, about a third of the options change as often as every other day. And just because its not on the menu doesnt mean it cant be ordered. Being in the know is part of the Spago culture.We want to make sure people who are staying at the Ritz-Carlton dont have to leave, Ferguson said. We want them to stay, so we need to be a place where they can have a unique experience over and over and over.With Puck for 16 years, Ferguson was most recently in Las Vegas. Professionally, being on the ground floor of the Vegas culinary movement was great for Ferguson. But hed been itching to come back to Colorado for some time. When talk of opening a restaurant in a winter resort came up, Ferguson knew it was meant for him. He moved his family to Eagle in April. The father of two spent the summer on his bike the Motorcross variety. Im not as into pedals as motors, he admitted. Raised a skier, he spent the last 10 years snowboarding. After demo-ing a pair of parabolic skis, he fell in love with skiing all over again. It was a religious experience, he said. But despite his renewed zest for outdoor play, the restaurant keeps him pretty busy around the clock.



Thomas Salamunovich, chef-proprietor of Larkspur, Larkburger and, soon, Watermark, is happy to have Spago as part of the Vail Valley restaurant family.I love that theyre here, he said. They represent a certain level of professionalism. But theyre also friends.Salamunovich worked with Wolfgang Puck at San Franciscos Postrio Restaurant during an exciting time on the California culinary scene. Chefs were honing their identity as Americans and it was working. Spago is a great place where I can go and eat, he said. And its got a gorgeous interior.Large-scale photographs by John Fielder are splashed across the occasional wall, making graphic work of Colorados scenery. Two dining rooms are divided by a sky-high rock wall. An exhibition kitchen makes for an energetic display, while cozy booths buffer diners from the room. Brown-and-white cowhide chairs unify the Wild West with posh elan. Its certainly a jazzed-up space.Its exciting to see good energy and talent from outside Vail, said David Walford, chef-owner of Beaver Creeks Splendido at the Chateau. Walford and his chef de cuisine Brian Ackerman had a tasty meal at Spago before it officially opened. Though they might be considered competitors, Walford has a different take.I think in the long run its good for Vail, he said. Its really good for all of us.Only time will tell, but in the meantime, its a good idea to try and get a table. Its just plain fun.Special Sections Editor Wren Wertin can be reached at 748-2908 or wren@vaildaily.com.


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