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Vail Valley dining: Love letters to vegetables

Wren Wertin
Vail CO Colorado
Troy Cone/Special to the DailyColorado beets are often on the dish menu, but Jenna Johansen changes the preparation weekly.
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VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Jenna Johansen’s menus read like love letters to vegetables, like odes to fruit.

She could probably coax wilted basil into a caprese salad and not even the tomatoes would be the wiser. She must be really good at veggie pep talks because in her kitchen everything comes in fresh and nothing goes to waste.

The chef-owner of dish, Johansen gets some of her products from foragers with names like Running Squirrel and Wolf. She also knows her farmers by name. And if one day the man who lives down the street walks in with a handful of eggs from his happy, livin’-large chickens, she makes a place for them that very night.

“I’m not tethered to one menu,” she says earnestly. “We can make something really special just to celebrate those eggs for a night or two. Besides, if I don’t change the menu every week, the staff goes a little crazy.”

When she opened dish with partners Pollyanna Forster and Chris Irving, they were dedicated to constant change.

Now, the restaurant, with its sister establishments – eat!, a wine bar specializing in artisan cheeses; drink!, a wine store with a focus on undiscovered gems; and cut, an old-school butcher shop that’s as local as it gets – have settled into a symbiotic rhythm that’s enhanced by the downstairs garden.

Heirloom tomatoes, herbs and nasturtiums (for nasturtium butter) occupy the planter.

Each establishment has a defined role, and they nestle in together like a mix-and-match puzzle. Yet they all work to the same end: Live and eat passionately.

At eat!, that means seeking out cheese that’s made by people who raise their own goats, sheep and cows. At cut, Kevin Delonay not only brings in fresh fish from a variety of locales, he makes his own sausage and has honed in on what are called “value-added cuts” in the industry – cuts of meat that require perhaps a little more time and effort to prepare, but are a real bargain. He sells meat from as close by as Edwards.

Forster is always on the lookout for under-the-radar vintages for the drink! shelves, as well as her own wines that she sells under the Muse label.

And Johansen best sums up what’s happening at her restaurant: “At dish we never say no,” she says.

So if she or one of her chefs wants to make bacon fritters, they do – or play with garlic whistles or snow cap mushrooms or pancakes. Everything is fair game.

At the restaurant, the menu was designed with the idea that sharing your food is fun. You can order your own sampler or opt for a chef’s tasting menu. T

he dishes built around proteins – perhaps rubbed and grilled steak, Korean-style fried chicken or organic salmon sitting like a crown jewel in the middle of the plate – can be ordered as a small portion (tasting) or a large one (traditional entree size).

And the wines are equally accommodating – get them by the glass, the quartino, the bottle, or simply skip the whole list and go for one of the tongue-in-cheek handcrafted cocktails. As Johansen put it, nobody has to say no at dish.


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