Vail restaurants pass muster |

Vail restaurants pass muster

Matt Zalaznick

Christine Williams, a manager at Sweet Basil –another village restaurant the health inspector says consistently gets stellar reports –says restaurants, particularly clean ones that serve top-notch meals, are an integral part of luring guests to Vail.

“We want great competition and great restaurants in this town, so it’s a destination for people,” Williams says. “We want them to come here for a week and have plenty of great restaurants to go to.”

Bill Carlson, who as Vail’s environmental health director inspects each one of the town’s approximately 150 restaurants twice a year, says technological innovations have made his work with restaurateurs more effective and efficient. It also helps chefs and owners make quick improvements if any violations are found, says Carlson, who is relatively new to Vail but has been doing restaurant inspections for more than 30 years.

“As a general statement, the restaurants in Vail are doing well,” says Carlson, who does his inspections by bicycle when the weather permits. “If a restaurant isn’t safe, it won’t be open.”

Carlson says it is not uncommon to find violations because of how busy some restaurants are, as well as the frequent turnover of staff in the food-service industry.

“There can be a constant influx of new and sometimes untrained personnel that need to be trained and given basic instruction on food safety and handling,” Carlson says. “It’s a constant battle to keep the bar high so employees are handling food in a safe manner and the dining public is receiving safe and wholesome food.”

“Non-critical’ vs. “critical’

There are two types of violations: “non-critical” and “critical,” Carlson says, the latter being more likely to sicken customers. Carlson says he believes 90 percent of the illnesses reported by customers after leaving restaurants are caused by poor hygiene and faulty food storage, rather than food poisoning.

“You can’t see temperatures, you can’t see reheating, you can’t see the health of a food handler or if they have good hygiene or not,” he says. “Those are, in my experience, the things that have led to problems.”

Vail restaurateurs are quick to correct problems when they are found, Carlson says.

“You’re generally going to find items of non-compliance,” he says. “Whenever something needs to be corrected that’s of a critical nature, the owners and managers are on top of it and doing everything they can to be in compliance.”

Left Bank cleans up

Carlson says he has never seen a more conscientious restaurant than the Vail’s Left Bank, currently closed for the off-season, according to its answering machine.

“Without a doubt, the cleanest and most fastidious regarding maintenance is the Left Bank,” he says. “In 33 years of doing inspections and licensing, I’ve never seen a more clean and well-maintained kitchen.”

Another restaurant that regularly receives high marks is La Tour, owned by chef Paul Ferzacca.

“This community being such a prestigious international resort, it’s absolutely mandatory that we have some great restaurants and five-star restaurants,” Ferzacca says. “That’s one thing that makes the resort so prestigious.”

Poor sanitations dooms a restaurant, says Ferzacca, who may have a slightly better eye than most for spotting flaws.

“I think sanitation is one of the most important things about a good restaurant,” he says. “If a restaurant does not have good sanitary practices, I don’t go eat there. I was at a restaurant Wednesday night – not in the Vail Valley – and I was absolutely disgusted about some of the things going on.”

Inspectors as partners

The town’s restaurant inspections are public record. Carlson says, in a sense, he feels like a silent partner in the restaurants he inspects.

“I conduct this program with the opinion that I want do everything I can for guests to come into town and have a safe dining experience,” Carlson says. “Essentially, restaurant owners and myself are partners in their business licenses and share the responsibility. We can’t afford to have guests come in and have a bad experience.”

More restaurants being open during the slow seasons also could revitalize the dining scene in the village, says Williams, whose Sweet Basil is popular with locals for its off-season specials.

“Vail Village is still the core of entertainment and nightlife,” she says. “The main thing that’s important is to stay open. We want to show people that no matter what time of year it is, this is a place to come and visit.”

“When so much is closed,” she adds, “it gives the appearance there’s nothing to do here.”

Inspections are public

Vail’s restaurant inspections are public record. Residents can view inspection files by making an appointment with Environmental Health director Bill Carlson at 479-2333.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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