The bold flavors of Timber Hearth Grille | VailDaily.com

The bold flavors of Timber Hearth Grille

Wren Wertin

Photo: Bret Hartman

Walk into the Timber Hearth Grille and you’ll find a room as warm and cozy as it is refined. Situated on Cordillera’s Summit Course, the dining room overlooks the snow-covered greens, upon which horse-drawn sleighs glide. The tongue and groove construction of the massive wooden beams throughout the lodge, the cherry wood bar modeled on an 1800s mining town saloon, and the 40-foot tall stone fireplace all lend an air of old-fashioned tradition.

And though the food has its roots in classic tradition, Cordillera Executive Chef Richard Bailey isn’t about to be pigeonholed. Specializing in hearty proportions of upscale comfort food, Bailey’s menu starts strong and ends the same way.

The Dynamite scallops ($9) are served on the half shell, with a spicy mayo broiled on top. The tender scallops are perfectly cooked, and benefit from the savory crust. My husband and I also tried the appetizer special, a crispy lobster ravioli served in a sweetly spiced broth. If you get the chance, try it.

Those wanting something a little less exclamatory should try the bruschetta ($7), a miracle of simplicity with its marinated tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

“I love the quality of our food,” said Bailey. “And the staff is great.”

Bailey helps run Grouse on-the-Green and Chapparal as well, but the Timber Hearth is his baby. He’s helped by Chef de Cuisine John Ardini and Sous Chef Dan Lang.

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Bailey insisted we try the chicken salad ($8), probably the last thing I’d choose on my own. The man knows flavor. Served cold, succulent smoked chicken is heaped atop a honey-ancho mole-style sauce, with little accents of cilantro aioli. The occasional crunch of diced celery adds the perfect flavor. I’ll be returning for another go at it.

I’ve enjoyed many meals at the signature restaurant of the Cordillera community, and harbor fond memories of macaroni and cheese brightened with smoked duck and chicken stuffed with chiles. He’s always tweaking the menu here and there, so there are new gems to be discovered.

The star entree for me was the tomato and basil-crusted sea bass ($28), served with saffron asparagus risotto and a sweet peal coulis. The savory crust yielded flaky, tender fish. A staff favorite is the sesame-seared ahi tuna ($27).

Bailey harbors an affection for duck. This season, he’s serving a Liberty duck breast ($23) sweetened with a sun-dried cherry chutney and vegetable couscous. The meaty cut stands up well to the fruit. The grilled elk chops ($32) are for the more decadent diner. Crowned with foie gras and fig demi glace, the toasted cashew rice adds a nutty flavor.

The buffalo rib eye ($36) is lean, and the roasted pepper butter and caramelized onions add a dual sheen of creaminess. If he’s got fresh lobster ” and he often does ” I highly recommend the grilled tail. Enhanced with herbs and spices, Bailey and his crew have nailed the cooking method, leaving the lobster still succulent and flavorful. Ask for extra napkins and ignore your fork ” it will just slow you down.

“This is the perfect place,” said the chef. “People can take a sleigh ride before dinner, then sit in the dining room and have a great meal. Afterwards, they can take their wine, or order some coffee and dessert, and sit by the fire and listen to Bill Mullen play the guitar and sing. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.