Vista shines with culinary class
December 22, 2003
There is something a bit poignant – and telling – about the way that Vista manager Janine Glennon chooses to bus the tables at her busy Avon restaurant. Working the room on a busy early summer evening, the cordial Glennon opts to douse the many potted plants lining Vista’s window-heavy walls with drinking water left behind by customers, rather than sending the glasses back to the kitchen. “The drought’s not necessarily over, after all,” she explains, then happily continues on her way.A veteran of traditional, high-stakes Vail Valley dining might dismiss the episode as a minor eccentricity of one of Avon’s food success stories – situated as Vista is in the “boat” building, one of Avon’s own architectural peculiarities. But given Vista’s motto – “Good Food, Nice People” – Glennon’s cheerful demeanor finds a perfect fit in a comfortable location that’s been serving tastefully creative American cuisine for three and a half years.Partnered in the business with her husband Michael, both longtime veterans of Vail’s Montauk, the Glennons launched Vista as an affordable, approachably adventurous variation on traditional valley dining. Over the years, the couple has finessed a menu bursting with creative seafood dishes, fresh salads and reinterpreted favorites (Certified Angus top sirloin, braised Colorado lamb shank and even a comforting chicken pot pie).Throw in a hearty, well-proportioned wine list – including the popular 20 wines under $20 – and you find a selection which has earned Vista Wine Spectator honors three years running.Seated in the restaurant’s breezy 50-seat lower dining room (50 more seats, ideal for parties, round out the room upstairs), it’s best to dig in on the action served up in an open kitchen by Michael Glennon and his fellow chef Jeff Lawrence. Vista is known for its appetizers, so we took the opportunity to sample a quartet of favorites, beginning with the soft, smooth, subtle flavor and al dente goodness of the lobster-filled raviolis ($8.95) or Vista’s trademark Maryland blue crab cakes ($9.95), overloaded with fresh crabmeat and a tasty lime-cilantro aioli. Or take a study in contrasts: a flavorful bundle of crisp baby asparagus teamed with portabella mushrooms and freshly shaved parmesan cheese versus the butt-kicking flavor wallop packed by the firecracker shrimp ($9.25), deep-fried, wonton-wrapped shrimp whose spectacular spiciness is happily mitigated by a soy and fish sauce mix.Salads are also fresh and original: the classic Caesar ($6.50), served on full leaves of romaine, carries a garlicky goodness that’ll knock your tongue for a loop; or the baby arugula medley ($7.95), which blends candied spiced pecans, fresh Colorado beets and a not-overpowering Stilton cheese and a light raspberry vinaigrette. The roasted tomato and red pepper salad ($6.95), abundant with cucumbers, olives, and fresh mozzarella, is also a fine option.Repeat visitors to Vista have no doubt worked their way through the favorite entrees (sweet Thai chile marinated grilled shrimp and pan-seared halibut being some of the best), but this year’s new addition, a Hoisin barbecued North Atlantic salmon ($17.95), could join the ranks. Firm, well-seasoned salmon is taken in a whole new direction with the sour/sweet Chinese sauce; served in a stir-fried blend of rice noodles, crispy vegetables and soy/ginger fish broth, the dish’s competing flavors end up being very complimentary.Those going for the gusto (or merely dropping in for a dessert) will find themselves helpless against treats such as grilled bananas served with warm rum caramel sauce and Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream or a Kahlua cinnamon crme brulee – whose crisp topping gives way to an almost ice-cream consistency inside (both priced at $5.25). Or forego with food entirely and order up the X-Rated ($7.50), a wild blend of white chocolate and raspberry liqueurs, Bailey’s and vanilla vodka, served in a martini glass – yikes. Leave the driving to someone else.