Summer foods abound
The taut skin of fresh Colorado sweet corn against the teeth, a light and buttery citrus beurre blanc, tomatoes that taste like they were pulled from the vine this morning, and may very well have been – If it’s after the Fourth and before Labor Day the valley’s kitchens are kicked into high gear for summer season, knee deep in the freshest produce from the region and beyond. Traditionally, cooking has been bound by the seasonality of fruits and vegetables as well as the fact that a rich, hot cream sauce tends to seem less appealing on a 100-degree afternoon than it does on a brisk winter’s night. But from the highbrow to the casual, local chefs are fusing the classics of summer fare with some of the freshest ideas on the gastronomic forefront.”I think you play around with the seasons, but you don’t adhere to them strictly,” says chef Mike Joers of Singletree’s Balata. “I’m going for a broader range of flavors.”Joersz’ eclectic summer fare, hovering in the nether-regions between comfort food and haute cuisine, is epitomized by his entree of orange and ginger-marinated grouper. The addition of a kiwi-lychee salsa turns an Asian influenced dish into a Mexican, Chinese and, uh, New Zealand-ish inspired plate – as confusingly complex as it is rife with flavor.On a lighter, and more breakfasty note, the guys at Riverwalk’s new Full Belly are keeping their fruit salsa on the breakfast table. Crepes and fruit salsa with a little vanilla cream cheese is their take on a delicate classic. Chef Fred (who prefers the informal moniker) was flown in from Philly to help his longtime buddies Jeff and Chad open Full Belly in the space once occupied by Cranberry Isles. The trio is hoping to attract a good local’s following with their affordable and well-chosen menu.Beaver Creek’s much-lauded Grouse Mountain Grill moves into the height of Colorado’s produce season with a salad of locally-grown tomatoes, tossing the Western Slope varieties in with those grown in their very own garden. Chef Rick Kangas finishes off his salad with gold balsamic vinegar, sea salt, olive oil and the standout flavor of the Front Range’s gold-medal-winning Bingham Hill blue cheese. The ever-elegant Tramonti, a Beaver Creek mainstay, is boasting a new menu this season. Among their summer offerings look for the grilled, chili-rubbed yellowfin tuna with heirloom tomatoes and crisp shoestring potatoes. For an harmonic accompaniment from Tramonti’s award-winning wine list, try the 2002 Camus Conundrum – a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Semillion, Muscat and Gewurtzminer. Make a reservation or you may find yourself shut out, even early in the week. In the understated sophistication of Daniel’s Bistro on the Arrowhead golf course, executive chef Anthony Mazza recommends the line-caught Pacific Rim snapper, lightly seared and accented with a grapefruit beurre, petit mache and fresh Colorado corn flapjacks – summer and Colorado all wrapped up in one dish. In the aesthetic department, the Country Club of the Rockies clubhouse and restaurant was recently refurbished, and the openness of the architecture lends a new al fresco feel to the dining room.Moving East, Bull Crabs – West Vail’s current hotspot for western-style nightlife – serves up the southern comfort of Fried Green Tomatoes in Italian bread crumbs and polenta, jazzed up New Orleans-style with a pink Dungeness crab remoulade. Many who come for the rough-and-tumble atmosphere will be surprised by the quality of the menu. Bull Crabs is without a doubt the best restaurant in the Vail Valley with a mechanical bull in the dining room. Ask anyone.Nearby at the low-profile but high-flavor Bagali’s, try the new Vodka Orange sauce over your choice of pasta – a fragrant melange of garlic, onion, orange vodka, orange juice and caramelized rind. Bagali’s is one of the valley’s best kept gastronomic secrets, due in part to their stubborn refusal to put a sign out front saying anything more than “pasta.” But don’t assume that means you won’t have to fight for a table. Overlooking Gore Creek in the heart of Vail Village, Up the Creek Bar and Grill pairs a tuna tataki salad with a KWV Sauvignon Blanc or Proseco sparkling wine for a summer streamside lunch. The tuna loin is crusted with Asian spices and pan-seared in sesame oil, served with the sharp compliment of daikon sprouts, julienne carrots and wasabi oil. For dinner try the blackened mahi filet, coated in “secret” pepper spices and pan-seared, presented with shrimp over a lobster cream sauce, Asian rice and fresh summer vegetables and paired with a Stag’s Leap Chardonnay or Jakoby-Mathy Riesling.A bit farther afield but more and more worth the drive, Eagle’s restaurant scene is popping these days. Among a recent bumper-crop of dining establishments is La Scala, a comfortable and affordable Italian eatery where chef David Campbell (formerly of Larkspur) creates an appetizer of prosciutto di parma, fresh Tuscan cantaloupe, mint and extra-virgin olive oil topped off with a port wine reduction. Don’t forget to save room for dessert.
Vail Valley Epicure is a weekly column following the events and changes in the local restaurant scene. If you are changing your menu, on the forefront of a new culinary trend or introducing a new chef please drop us a line at email@example.com or (970) 376-1811.