The Wildflower: The meal is a journey
Summertime is wild time ” the best season of all to enjoy The Wildflower.
Located on the east side of The Lodge at Vail, it can be accessed from Vail Village by walking down twisty, turny paths surrounded by rioting flowers in full bloom. At the end of the short jaunt is a fanciful restaurant that specializes in dining as an experience, not just a meal.
It’s an enchanting room, full of larger-than-life flowers and a walls made entirely of windows, letting in views of the gardens.
In order to start things off on the right note, all diners receive a complimentary glass of bubbly, an Italian Prosecco di Conegliano with a touch of fruitiness. It’s a good foil for whatever two-bite amuse bouche Chef de Cuisine Steven Topple opts to send out of the kitchen.
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“The amuse is a gift,” explained the chef. “It awakens the palate, a surprise dish. That’s part of how we set ourselves apart from other restaurants.”
Another way they set themselves apart is by not rushing diners through a meal. Though folks who need to zip in and out can be accommodated, an evening at The Wildflower should be a leisurely one. The seats are so comfortable, and the room so vivid, there’s no need to rush. And Chef Topple’s cuisine is worth savoring.
The Wildflower serves lunch and dinner daily, and has a three-course crepe brunch on Sundays. They also serve tapas in Mickey’s Piano Lounge from 3 p.m. The menus for each meal differ, but there’s a parallel nature to all of the food. Though he’s an Englishman, Topple takes pride ” and a certain amount of glee ” in dishing up creative American cuisine with a heavy emphasis on seasonal produce.
The bread is served warm, with both butter and a daily hummus. This is the first of many clues that Chef Topple reveres all food products, not just meats and fats. The son of vegetarians, he often opts to deepen flavors with roasted vegetables and reduced stocks instead of salt and cream. Such a culinary philosophy means diners will leave feeling full and happy, not overstuffed and miserable.
If you’re in search of the perfect crab cake, try Topple’s version ($12). A large, plump disk, there are no fillers. Served with a vanilla-spiced mango chutney and a lemon vinaigrette, the sweet-citrus combination hits it exactly. My personal favorite was the English pea soup ($6), bright green with a generous drizzle of chive creme fraiche. A chicken and mushroom dumpling floats amid the soup.
Other hits include the slow roasted beet carpaccio ($8), fanned out with some of the creamiest Laura Chenel goat cheese out there. A tangy herb salad livens up the rich dish, and an earthy walnut vinaigrette complements the beets perfectly. The salmon tartar ($10) won high marks from my date, who usually finds salmon “too fishy.”
Clean and fresh, the chunks of tartar were great atop the slivers of potato with a dab of creme fraiche. And for those wanting the ultimate in rich appetizers, the pan seared scallops ($15) sit like a crown atop a pile of risotto, creamy and mysterious with the essence of truffles.
That same risotto accompanies the grilled veal medallions ($28) with foie gras butter sauce, probably the richest option on the menu. Other entree highlights include the Sonoma duck breast ($28) with herb spatzle and an orange au jus, and an eggplant and mushroom tortellini ($18) tossed with roasted tomatoes and a Vidalia onion sauce.
We particularly liked the herb-crusted Colorado lamb loin ($28), served with sweet onion chutney and a rosemary sauce.
Leave room for dessert, especially if you’re a chocolate fiend. The flourless chocolate cake has a molten center which rushes out at the first sign of a fork.
One of the joys of eating at The Wildflower is the careful attention of sommelier Garth Koelhoffer, who delights in pairing wines with food. Always on the lookout for that next great bottle, Koelhoffer’s wine list is diverse and scrumptious. He’s got everything from moderately priced wines by the glass to deluxe vintage ports. And he’s more than happy to describe the ins and outs of his pairings.
Unlike many experts, he’s able to explain his craft in layman’s terms, so it’s not confusing.
In addition to selections from the regular menu, Chef Topple creates a three-course tasting menu which includes an appetizer, entree and dessert. It’s popular with repeat customers.
Lunch service begins daily at noon. Sit on the patio and enjoy the blue skies and the murmur of conversation. If it’s a particularly warm day, try the chilled cantaloupe and champagne soup ($6), light, fizzy and sweet. The Cobb salad is popular, available plain, with grilled salmon or fried chicken ($8/$12).
So is the goat cheese spring roll ($8) with sesame dressing and a garden salad. Larger appetites might be interested in the Cajun-spiced turkey wrap ($11), a smoked lobster BLT ($14) or the fried shrimp po’ boy (14).
For those looking for a decadent Sunday afternoon treat, dive into the Champagne and crepe brunch ($28). After beginning with a fruit amuse and a glass of bubbly, diners get to choose two types of savory crepes and one sweet crepe, all of which have a fine texture.
The savory crepes come with a choice of buckwheat or regular batter. Though it sounds a contradiction, the cream cheese and chive crepe tasted light. Topped with a roasted red pepper sauce and an herb garnish, it disappeared quickly from the plate.
Another favorite was the crepe stuffed with scrambled eggs and diced maple ham, topped in a cheese sauce. Those wanting something different can dive into a smoked lobster crepe topped with a lemon chive sauce.
Our favorites, though, came from the sweet crepe list. Topple has all sorts of options: Nutella, raspberry cream cheese, banana and walnut, blackberry and apple.
But I’m a traditionalist, and the Meyer lemon with a lemon creme anglaise was the simplest and best to my palate. We also had one filled with vanilla ice cream and served with raspberry coulis, another hit. Coupled with a latte, it was tasty.
Whether you visit The Wildflower for brunch, lunch or dinner, one thing remains constant: You’re in for a treat.
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