The Left Bank’s new face
Special to the Daily
The Left Bank has been one of Vail’s renowned restaurants for more than 40 years, and this summer, it debuts its new look and feel, while still maintaining executive chef Jean-Michel Chelain’s classic cuisine and his wife.
The Chelains have blended a contemporary tone into the former vintage French country restaurant. A new floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar graces the dining room, allowing guests to view about a thousand bottles of The Left Bank’s impressive wine list, which runs nine pages long and is comprised of up to 85 percent of French wines.
The renovated bar area now accommodates more people, with ocean-blue lounge seating and tables surrounding the sleek, black bar top expanding the lounge area, Chelain intends to make French cuisine more accessible to people.
“We try to make everybody comfortable, because when they see French cuisine, they’re a little scared of it,” Chelain says, explaining that the bar menu allows people to eat more quickly and casually, as opposed to dining for a couple hours in the main restaurant.
Chelain transforms typical bar menu items into works of art. Rather than serving messy chicken wings, he debones them and fashions meaty lollipops. He tops his freshly made mini pizzas with truffles or salmon and peppers. He serves his filet sliders on homemade buns with béarnaise sauce. His fresh scallops come with sweet potatoes, and he serves his homemade lobster bisque in an espresso cup.
Dessert in the bar area spoils guests with chocolate espresso mousse, caramelized apples on a fresh pastry puff, a chocolate cookie ice cream sandwich and a chocolate soufflé.
The bar opens at 4 p.m. to accommodate patrons of Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, The Vail International Dance Festival and other Ford Amphitheater events, and house Rosé glasses of wine are just $5 with a bar menu purchase.
However, the ultimate Left Bank experience takes place with a leisurely four-course meal, or a la carte selections, in the dining room.
The courses begin with a choice of pan-seared sea scallops served with braised endive and goat cheese; raw, seasoned salmon; thinly sliced beef tenderloin; or tomatoes layered with fresh buffalo mozzarella. A light, fruity salad follows.
Chelain changes his menu three to four times throughout the summer, but signature entrees include a Colorado rack of lamb produced especially for Left Bank for its superior tenderness and flavor. Other specialties include sea bass cooked in a lemony butter chive sauce; tiger shrimp flambéed in Cognac and served in a lobster broth; baked chicken breast stuffed with ratatouille in a tarragon and shallot sauce; pepper steak; and pork tenderloin roasted with Colorado peaches and pearl onions.
“We buy the best food from the market, and we respect that product; it should taste like that product — veal should taste like veal, apple pie should taste like apples with a dash of cinnamon, not cinnamon pie,” Chelain says. “What we’re doing is reinventing (traditional French cooking, taking) the same ingredients and mixing it with different spices.
“You want to bring it to a different level, or maybe break it down, adding a little twist to it without killing it. The thing you’re eating, you want to flavor, to match, but you want to taste the crab, the veal, the beef; it’s one of the most difficult things to do.”
Chelain’s French upbringing and culinary training established high personal standards and expectations, which he continues to meet with every serving. It’s this dedication to consistency and excellence that contributes to Left Bank’s long-standing distinction.
This story first ran in EAT! Magazine, available in stand-alone locations throughout the community. The stories are sponsored by each restaurant.