Vail’s Left Bank: Everything’s from scratch
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – In a culture of forward motion, sometimes it’s nice to stand still in Vail, Colorado, soaking in the pure bliss of tradition.
That’s what you’ll do when you dine at The Left Bank Restaurant, perched on the Gore Creek in Vail Village. The decor alone instantly transports you to Aix en Provence, wrapped in the country comforts of French tradition and cuisine.
Owners Jean-Michel and Kimberly Chelain are husband and wife, a classically trained French chef and his wine-connoisseur spouse. They are the spirit, inspiration and personality behind this family-centric Vail landmark.
The Left Bank serves traditional French cuisine. Jean-Michel insists that his history as a French chef (cooking since he was 14) lends him a deeper understanding of the culinary genre than can be understood by anyone with a lesser tie to the region and its food.
“It’s not all butter and cream,” he says. “It’s fresh, balanced flavor. Our food isn’t about fancy preparation. We have the highest quality ingredients, and the rest comes very naturally.”
Jean-Michel doesn’t use anything frozen. Ever. He doesn’t believe in such silly items as canned broth, or anything with additives, preservatives or fillers. He lights the burners at noon to make broth for his 6 p.m. dinner plates. He believes that the quality of food is a reflection of the ingredients you put into it.
Case in point: the $6 small plate and cocktail menus at the bar. Among the standouts are the mini sliders. Not your typical bar find, these delicious burger tidbits feature sirloin (in place of ground beef), homemade bread (in place of staid mini-buns) and French-inspired toppings of capers, pickles and shallots (in place of boring condiments).
“And there it is!” exclaims Jean-Michel.
Traditional French cuisine is served on plates emblazoned with frogs, a throwback to the derogatory term occasionally used to describe Frenchmen and a testament to the sense of humor shared by Jean-Michel and Kimberly.
Try the Belgian endive salad, sassy in flavor thanks to apples, spicy candied pecans and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette. Think you know calamari? Your expectations will go out the window with the delicate, melt-in-your-mouth dish. For the main course, don’t miss the Steak au Poivre, starring a beef filet rolled in crushed white peppercorns with cream, brown stock and cognac sauce. The entire menu pays tribute to the “from scratch” cooking that Jean-Michel has now made famous.
A thick leather-bound tome displays the exceptional wines available to complement the meal.
“Tell me what you like and what you want to spend, and I can find the perfect wine for you,” says Kimberly. Her knowledge and friendly demeanor make the selection process accessible and fun.
And even before dessert crosses your mind, your order should be in. Jean-Michel fires his souffle when the diners order their entree, so be sure to let your server know in advance that you will not miss out on this exceptional dessert.
“No one does it at altitude like we do!” exclaims the chef.
How right he is.