The king of mountain dining | VailDaily.com

The king of mountain dining

Stephen Lloyd Wood

As with any adventure, they say, getting there is half the fun.

Well, for hungry souls seeking hearty fare at what’s become the king of mountain dining, Beano’s Cabin, a starlit winter journey to and fro’ on a sleigh is just another fine detail in a satisfying, award-winning experience.

Named after Frank “Beano” Bienkowski, a homesteader, farmer and miner who raised lettuce and hay in the Beaver Creek Valley from 1919 through 1931, Beano’s Cabin sits hidden in an alpine meadow at the foot of Grouse Mountain and Larkspur Bowl. The remains of his tiny original cabin can still be seen from the 17-year-old, hand-sewn structure in which a sumptuous, five-course meal of fresh baked breads, homemade soups and specialty dishes of fresh game or fish has become a rich tradition worth the coveted AAA Four Diamond and Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

‘Nobody leaves hungry’

“It’s all about the dining experience,” says Chris Mayer, who manages the expansive and elegant ” yet romantic and cozy ” dining room, which on a typical winter night is bustling with up to 150 guests served by what’s widely considered the best wait staff in the Vail Valley. “And nobody leaves hungry.”

Indeed, the chef, Thomas Gay, now in his second winter season at Beano’s, is an expert at filling every available nook and cranny of your being with delicious sustenance while the attentive wait staff ” led by the effervescent Ray Lawrence ” brings on the perfect elixirs to put the powdery sleigh ride into perspective.

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Gay moved to Beano’s from the Wildflower restaurant at the Lodge at Vail, where he spent nine years, three as executive chef. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with an early career spent at Aqua, a specialty seafood restaurant in San Francisco, he took over for David Clark, who staked out his own reputation at Beano’s with rabbit, foie gras and wood-fired pizza before moving up the hill to the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch.

For starters

Gay first introduces a tiny copper pot of potato-leek soup with chives, a warm concoction guaranteed to prepare the palate for the first course, a crisp salad of arugula, candied walnut, Maytag blue cheese and dried cherries tossed in a lighter-than-air walnut vinaigrette.

From there, it’s on to a bountiful list of eight appetizers, of which each guest can select two. Choices include: a savory carpaccio of beef tenderloin; grilled portabello mushroom with goat cheese; smoked salmon; Southern-fried quail; quesadilla of smoked duck and Sonoma Jack cheese with lime cream, grilled salsa and cilantro; and grilled-and-chilled Ahi tuna.

Highly recommended is Gay’s specialty opener, an other-worldly Hudson Valley foie gras on glorious Maine sea scallops graced with watercress and mango ” and served with the classic companion elixir, Dolce, a California sauterne.

Moving on, the main course comes from a game-filled list of nine items, including: grilled venison; roasted pheasant breast; pan-seared Long Island duck; and grilled tenderloins of Colorado beef or lamb.

Seafood lovers can savor grilled Atlantic salmon or herb-and-peppercorn-crusted swordfish; vegetarians can stay true to their conviction with the roasted butternut squash risotto, sans the duck confit.

Something different

Beamed cathedral ceiling with antler chandeliers, a roaring fire in a massive stone hearth and expansive windows looking out into the starlit forest, however, may invite the adventurous diner to take on something different ” such as the ultra-fine, balsamic-marinated ostrich, served in delicate medallions with onion jam, artichokes and fetuccini noodles rolled on the premises a 9,200 feet above sea level.

“Definitely don’t be afraid of the ostrich,” says Lawrence, beaming.

The dessert menu, meanwhile, is to die for. High priority should be given to the warm banana corn cakes or the chocolate mousse with apricot ” along, of course, with their respective “recommended pairings,” the velvety Boulard Calvados or the 20-year-old Fonseca port.

“At Beano’s, we just don’t know how to say ‘no,'” says Lawrence, still beaming, as acoustic music ” perhaps by local songwriter Brendan McKinney ” fills the room.

“It’s a different experience here,” adds the chef, who graciously credits his staff for making it all possible. “I have a crew that supports me 110 percent.”

Twenty minutes

Beano’s Cabin is open to the public for dinner during the winter. The complete, five-course meal, not including alcoholic beverages, is $89. A menu for kids 12 and younger also is available early in the evening for $50.

During the ski season, mid-December through closing day, Beano’s is a 20-minute ride on a snowcat-drawn sleigh from Beaver Creek Village, with flights departing the reception office in the Talons Club every half-hour, beginning at 4:15 p.m. and ending at 9:15 p.m; in summer, June through September, Beano’s is an hour on horseback or an easy ride in a shuttle van.

For reservations, call 949-9090.