Vail dining: Larkspur Restaurant – an eye to detail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – With his triangular goatee and impish eyes, it’s easy to peg Vail chef Armando Navarro as a trickster. But after eating one of his dishes it’s plain to see: He needs no tricks.
The executive chef of Larkspur cooks like a musician might, with an intrinsic sense of rhythm and layering that get the full benefit of his well-educated, well-practiced art.
“His food is unlike anybody else’s,” says Josh Stevenson, beverage director. “The way he puts textures together and builds on them, or serves the same ingredient two or three different ways in one dish.”
There’s a fluidity to Navarro’s culinary style that’s immediately accessible. Though it’s easy enough to navigate the menu, if you have the time for the chef’s tasting menu then go for it. A mix of menu items and special one-offs, it’s the best way to get a feel for what Navarro and his team are all about.
While you’re at it, ask for Kevin Furtado’s wine pairings. He’s officially the wine director and sommelier, but at heart he’s a matchmaker, looking to entwine the food and the wine into one experience. His list runs from the Old World to the New World, and gets off the beaten path.
The menu changes frequently because it follows the seasons.
“I like to stick with what’s in season,” Navarro explains.
Even the airy dining room has an essence of seasonality, with a wall of wooden hummingbirds and artwork that changes with perspective. Up front is the bar, a lively spot with wide-angle views of Golden Peak. It all serves to set the stage for some of the menu’s stars.
The homemade ricotta ravioli is a real standout. Topped with shavings of parmesan cheese and a hint of lemony-buttery goodness, it’s a sad moment when you’re down to the last ravioli. Sadder still when it’s gone. The garlicky roasted tomato sauce is at least a little bit of consolation.
As for the scallops, even folks who aren’t fans should give them a whirl. Pan seared in a cast iron flat pan, they’re surrounded by a blend of briny capers, golden raisins and toasted almonds. Caramelized cauliflower plays off the scallops’ own sweetness. Bring it full circle with a glass of Rene Mure 2006 Pinot Blanc. It seems to pair with each individual element, as well as with the whole.
Navarro gets much of his produce from two local farms, one in Edwards and one in Gypsum. But for lettuce, herbs and sylvetta (rocket or arugula to some folks), he only has to walk out the side door to the raised beds.
“I like to travel, but I don’t like my produce to travel,” he says.
The sylvetta shows up in several places, including the roasted pork belly appetizer. A carryover from the winter menu – nobody was going to let this one go without a fight – the pork is roasted, then finished in a pan. It crowns a silky mixture of apple and sylvetta puree, and is given a bright smack with pickled ramps. The sweet-savory-zippy combination celebrates the mighty pig. It’s probably illegal in several states. •