Sweet Basil undergoes remodel
VAIL – A classic Vail Village restaurant now has a sleeker, more sophisticated look. Sweet Basil, which serves American cuisine, recently reopened after 12 weeks of renovation. The date of reopening was June 29, their 29th anniversary.”I think it’s night and day,” said head chef Paul Anders. “It’s still familiar to people who have been here before. They’re going to recognize the general shape. But certainly the look and all the decor and everything is very different.”Kevin Clair, who founded Sweet Basil, updates the restaurant every five to seven years.”Through the course of the history of the restaurant, Kevin has always reinvested in the dining experience,” said Matt Morgan, Clair’s managing partner. Still, Clair said this was the most extensive renovation he had ever done, having gutted the restaurant and added 900 square feet.”This is far and away the most extensive and the most expensive,” said Clair, who would not reveal how much was spent on the renovation.
This was the perfect time to do the renovation, the owners said. “There were a lot of factors that came together to indicate that this was the right time,” Morgan said. The ongoing streetscape project in Vail Village expanded to Gore Creek Drive this past spring, which obstructed the entrance to the restaurant. Also, the 40-year-old residential and commercial building that houses the restaurant needed to get fixed up with sprinklers to comply with the fire code.”That would have had us closed for three to four weeks anyway,” Morgan said. ‘Cleaner lines’Under the guidance of contractor Mark Hallenbeck with Hiland Construction and the design firm Atlantis Architects, the owners addressed some of the concerns they had heard from customers: that at certain tables it was too hot or too loud, there weren’t enough window seats, there weren’t any casual walk-in tables and there was nowhere to sit to have a cocktail. Sweet Basil expanded its front to add five or six seats to the bar and casual tables up front for late-night cocktails with a full-service menu. The owners eliminated “less desirable” tables near the bar where it would get too loud and added 500 feet to the back so they could add tables that overlook the creek.
“You see the biggest change when the tablecloths are down (for dinner time),” Anders said. “It’s a little more upscale than it used to be, not that it wasn’t upscale before, but now it’s got an even more trendy, kind of chic look to it at night, a kind of clean, cool look, really welcoming, but you feel that it’s definitely somewhere you want to be seen.” The design of the restaurant features continuity of the same soft curve along the floor, ceiling and bar, as well as cherry wood accents. “It’s got a lot more cleaner lines, sexier lines,” Anders said. The bar is covered in dark alligator leather and red onyx mosaic underneath and a cultured, cream-colored caesar stone on the surface. Natural gray stones are featured on sections of the walls. Morgan described the restaurant’s look as “mountain contemporary” and “timeless.”The restaurant was also outfitted with new lighting, featuring small, low-voltage halogen lights on exposed tracks and hand-blown, tortoise-shell glass pendants that, which Clair said look great at night. “Our goal is to be the best restaurant in the state and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Clair said.
Lighter sauces, local produceAnders worked on the summer menu while the restaurant underwent construction, coming up with 65 new lunch and dinner items.”It’s not so easy when you’ve got a guy cutting sheet rock five feet away from you and you’re trying to figure out a menu,” Anders said. “So, that was a challenge. We had to work around the construction guys.”The menu changes with each season. From July through September, the restaurant buys fresh produce from the Western Slope of Colorado, such as tomatoes, cherries, peaches and sweet corn. “We try to use as much of that as we can when it’s available,” Clair said. Anders described the new menu items as having “concise, powerful flavors in a really light presentation.” He said he uses vegetable extraction and juices as bases for his sauces so that they are thinner and lighter. “When it’s 90 degrees outside, people don’t want to eat the heavier cream sauce,” Morgan said.
Some 100 square feet was added to Anders’ kitchen, which he said expands the size of their food preparation area and pastry area.”It’s basically just the ability to not be so crowded and be able to spread out a little bit and just have a nicer work environment back there,” Anders said. No time for a grand openingThe owners initially planned to re-open Sweet Basil two weeks earlier, but ended up waiting for the temporary certificate of occupancy, which Morgan said essentially means “you’re good to go.””We were ready, yet we really didn’t have that stamp of approval,” Morgan said. Once they received the certificate, they immediately re-opened the restaurant, which also happened to be during the weekend before the Fourth of July, the busiest time of the summer, Clair said. “We didn’t know we were going to open until a half hour before,” Clair said.
Beth Slifer, who founded interior design company Slifer Designs, eats lunch at Sweet Basil with her husband, Rod, about once a week and dinner when time allows, she said.”This summer, while our kitchen has been out of commission, we’ve eaten there very often,” she said. Before, the restaurant was “smaller, tighter and more cramped,” but Slifer gave the new look an “A plus.” “It is both energizing and relaxing at the same time,” she said. “They’ve added a lot more space, so that it is much more fun to hang out at the bar, and the booths are extremely comfortable with back support.”Nic Corbett can be reached at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado