The Left Bank
Not only does it feel like the French countryside when you walk into the dining room at the Left Bank restaurant, but the French being spoken around you makes this restaurant feel as if it’s in a ski town in the French Alps.
French cuisine is something decadent, to be savored and enjoyed with every bite, and at the Left Bank that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
With a name like Jean-Michel Chelain, it’s obvious this restaurant isn’t trying to be something it’s not. Chelain, a native of Grenoble, in the French Alps, came to Vail in 1998 and has been at the Left Bank ever since. He bought the restaurant in 2006 and has continued its 40-year tradition of authentic French food in Vail.
While the menu has plenty of traditional French fare, Chelain has incorporated his own style and some very unique homemade recipes – some of which he has borrowed from his mother and grandmother – into the menu.
The food is authentic French, but it’s approachable, too.
“People sometimes think French cuisine is snobby, but it’s not all that way,” Chelain says. “It doesn’t mean people have to be afraid of it.”
There’s nothing to be afraid of on Chelain’s menu, which features a wide selection of both cold and hot appetizers to get the palate warmed up for the entrees. Many diners come in and have nothing but appetizers, which include things like pan-seared duck foie gras with candied plum, or seared scallops with celery root puree and citrus butter.
A rich lobster bisque finished with just the perfect amount of cream for a silky-smooth texture is spectacularly complex and flavorful.
Other traditional favorites include escargots, beef tartare and peachwood-smoked salmon served
with caperberries, onions and sour cream.
Chelain is big on getting quality ingredients, so much so that he jars his own produce like tomatoes and plums so he can offer quality local ingredients throughout the winter.
He’s also big on thinking outside the box of what is expected of French cuisine, meaning not everything on the menu is made with cream and butter.
“We use a lot of olive oil, too,” he says.
There are also unique dishes like the quail stuffed with veal and foie gras, served with mushrooms and au jus. The dish is rich, complex and pure decadence.
The Vol au Vent, a spinach-lined puff pastry shell filled with lobster and shrimp and served in a creamy saffron sauce, is the kind of dish you won’t want to stop eating until the plate is entirely clean. This dish alone will send your palate straight to France, and it might not want to come back.
The chocolate souffle, which everyone in the restaurant will tell you is world famous, is so perfectly done that one wonders how this temperamental dish can come out so beautifully at such a high altitude.
The souffle has been on the menu since the Left Bank opened in 1970, but Chelain says he uses the same recipe now as they did back then.
The dish takes 16 minutes to make, from the beating of the eggs to the baking, and each one is made to order from start to finish.
“The key is to put it in the oven and never open the door,” Chelain says.
But once it’s served, it disappears quickly.
180 Gore creek Drive / 970.476.3696 / leftbankvail.com
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