Special summer dinners in the Vail Valley offer memorable — and delicious — experiences

Special summer dinners offer memorable — and delicious — experiences

Chef Kevin Erving of Leonora adds the finishing touches to the lobster.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Special to the Daily

When’s the last time you had a chance to indulge in all-you-can-eat lobster, in the heart of the mountains? Last Wednesday, guests donned their plastic lobster bibs and helped themselves to a seafood buffet, filled with freshly-flown-in whole lobsters, salmon, shrimp, clams and oysters, accompanied by corn on the cob, build-your-own salad and Palisade peach cobbler dessert in a jar. It was all part of the Summer Series at the Leonora, which hosts weekly Wednesday all-you-can-eat outdoor buffets through Aug. 17. 

Though the ambiance is casual, the food, wine and flavors are definitely not typical experiences. Chef Kevin Erving has been creating innovative culinary dishes for more than 20 years. He’s a local chef, who came to Leonora last February after being the executive chef at Beano’s Cabin and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and launching The Remedy Bar food concept — among other prominent stations.

“My philosophy on food is simple: Treat each ingredient with the respect it deserves, and don’t overcomplicate it,” Erving said, adding an example: “An apple can be great. It’s just how much love you put into it.”

And Leonora puts plenty of heart into its Wednesday Summer Series. It begins with an hour reception featuring fine wines while live musicians, from soloists to four-piece bands, fill the mountain-crisp air with acoustic grooves. Then, food stations fill the patio with the aromas of culinary delights like fresh seafood, Italian and South of the Border make-your-own tacos. Each Wednesday-evening Summer Series dinner is designed to give diners a taste of the many flavors Leonora offers on its menu.

Wall Street Journal papers lined the tables, making for a festive New-England-style theme of fresh seafood meets the mountains.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Special to the Daily

“It’s like having an intimate dining experience with live music and a wide variety of menu items,” said Jesse Froeschle, marketing manager for The Sebastian. “Leonora is a sharable experience; the goal is to share flavors, have little bites and have a social dining experience so you’re not siloed into one experience. Kevin truly embodies the flavors and everything we do here. There are so many flavors on the menu.”

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Erving loves the concept of tapas, as well as big, bright flavors. He cooks with the seasons, using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.

“I try to make them fun, and the barbecues are so much fun — they’re not stuffy,” he said.

Wednesday’s seafood extravaganza began with Erving pouring out an enormous pot of bright red lobsters, along with corn on the cob. The lobster was cooked to perfection, as were all of the other seafood items, like garlic-infused clams, a nice, spicy shrimp appetizer and shrimp paella. Wall Street Journal papers lined the tables, making for a festive New-England-style theme of fresh seafood meets the mountains.

Diners at Leonora donned their plastic lobster bibs and helped themselves to a seafood buffet on July 27.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Special to the Daily

Four wines from California and New Zealand rounded out the evening. The Foxen Chenin Blanc, one of the most unique and compelling Chenin Blancs made in the U.S. hailing from Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, delivered a tremendous, yet “understated” flavor complexity, with hints of white flowers, mint, orchard fruit and lime. The Ojai Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara County lent a nice balance between delicate richness and zesty acidity, with fruit flavors, subtle herbs and a classic McGinley stoniness in the finish. The Sineann Pinot Noir Pisa Terrace from New Zealand added a generously fruited and dark wood spice to the lobster and salmon, and the certified organic Wild Hog Vineyard Zinfandel from Sonoma reminded wine lovers about Zins, which have fallen out of fashion a bit in recent years.

All in all, the Summer Series combines the highest quality buffets, which aren’t easy to find anywhere in the nation, with fine wines and memorable al fresco dining.

“It’s not just dinner,” Froeschle said. “It’s an experience.”

Upcoming eats:

Summer Series at the Leonora:

Aug. 3: Italian BBQ, a casual, all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, $90

Aug. 10: South of the Border BBQ, make your own (all-you-can-eat) tacos with exquisite flavors, $85

Aug. 17: Seafood BBQ & Shellfish Boil, with an abundance of whole lobsters, fish, clams, shrimp and more, $150

Note: Optional wine pairing: $38.

Reservations: 970-477-8050

Another option: Creekside Dinner, by Grand Hyatt Vail

Aug. 5: Chef Orlando Benavidez from Denver — Bits & Pieces Con Cerveza

Highlights include crispy plantain roasted beets with a charred carrot chile vinaigrette over chef’s local greens, pork cheek carne adobada, seared halibut with mole verde and a churro donut with burntsalted caramel and red chili citrus chocolate. Held on the Creekside Terrace; $150. Reservations: 970-476-1234

Salad fixings were served as part of the buffet.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Special to the Daily
Leonora featured an all-you-can-eat shellfish buffet on July 27.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Special to the Daily

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