Restaurants in American ski resorts are rubbish. Well, that’s not entirely true, but on the whole they’re no match for their charismatic European counterparts in the like of Zermatt, Val Thorens, and – yes – the Austrian Zillertal.
You’re hard-pressed to get a decent tablecloth lunch on the mountain where the ubiquitous self-serve burger and chilli are the rule. In the evening, the average fine dining menu is so over-egged that you tend to lose your appetite long before hi-I’m-your-server-for-tonight has finished his spiel. But notable exceptions include Vail and Breckenridge.
The restaurant at Mid-Vail is named after the 10th Mountain Division, the US ski regiment that was entwined in the original development of skiing around here. Unbelievably, this is Vail Resorts’ first shot at providing top-level on-mountain lunching in any of their resorts – and it works well. However, you pay handsomely for the privilege.
They call the cuisine ‘creative American.’ Try the Heirloom Chicken or Pheasant Pot Pie for £14 and a glass of Ken Wright pinot noir £12.50. It’s not a very big glass. Vail, like other US resorts, is shy about daytime alcohol consumption. If the glass is too much, you can order a ‘taste’, which is half a small glass. Bottles are absent from the list. “A bottle? You mean a WHOLE bottle? Boy, are you guys going to have an afternoon!” Reservations: +1 970 754 1010.
Rules is rules. You can order a daiquiri (rum and lemon juice) but not a shot of rum on its own. You may consider this a dichotomy (not on the menu). You can drink a vodka martini, but not plain vodka – even though the alcoholic content is less. With or without a drink, you can eat at the bar, if you can’t get a table – and The 10th is also open in the evening via Gondola One.
This Breckenridge eatery is simply the best restaurant in Summit County. It’s located in one of Breck’s more authentic Victorian buildings, the 125-year old Kaiser House which may or may not have been a bustling brothel in its day. Whatever, the welcome is cheerful and the ambience seductive. What you come here for are the crab cakes. It’s worth checking, when you book, that they are on the menu: Crab Cakes, pan-seared with watercress, lemon vinaigrette, and tarragon aioli £7. Quite simply, these are the best crab cakes in Colorado.
Move on from there to Blackberry Elk, which is venison steeped in blackberry brandy. Another favourite is Ginger sea scallops with orange butter sauce and coconut rice. For mains expect to pay £18 to £31. Don’t ruin a truly great evening by a visit on your way home to the Breckenridge Absinthe Bar on Main Street…well, not if you are going to drink Absinthe instead of nice wholesome Belgian beer and to wipe out any memory of the crab cakes and a whole lot more. Reservations at Heathstone.
You’ll find it on East Meadow Drive in Vail and it is so small that it doesn’t even rate a mention in the official Vail Valley Dining Guide. Plenty of other more exalted establishments cater for Japanese food aficionados, but Osaki stands out as the best. This is where the locals go. It’s tiny, with three chefs slashing expertly away at fresh fish in an extremely confined area. In fact, it’s a sushi bar rather than a restaurant. You have to book, and you have to arrive on time – and leave on time. Most definitely it’s not the place for a large boozy party.
Owner and master chef, Takeshi Osaki, learned how to craft miniature dragons out of fresh tuna and associated sushi skills from his grandfather in Osaka where the family restaurant has flourished since 1948. It ain’t cheap – five pieces of sashimi for £11 or six pieces of Kobe beef for £20 – but if you love sushi, this is a world-class restaurant. Reservations at Osaki Sushi.
Elways in The Lodge at Vail
This is an honest steak house where you get what you ask for, cooked the way you want it be a European sized New York Strip or a 22oz bone-in rib eye that would satisfy Desperate Dan. Of course you can get lobster tails, rack of lamb, and half a kilo of Alaskan crab legs too. But beef is what you come for. As a side order on our Saturday night visit in February, the waiter brought us updates on the Super Bowl that was being raucously viewed by diners on the far side of the room. Such is the escargot pace of a TV-sponsored American football game that we’d paid up and left long before the final play – and we’d only arrived during the second half. Reservations: +1 970 754 7818.
The eatery in Vail Village is the kind of authentic Italian you can fall into after 24 hours of exhausting travelling through three time zones…and suddenly find a second wind. You were thinking of a bowl of minestrone before collapsing into bed for four hours’ of blissful sleep before the first wave of jetlag kicks you awake long before dawn. Then all of a sudden you find yourself energized into ordering a full meal – and actually enjoying it. Try Cioppino – seafood in a light tomato and saffron sauce with fettuccine, the perfect foil for all that airline junk food. Around £21 for a main course. Reservations at Vendetta’s.
The Vail venue serves a bit more than the usual hot dogs and lager that you might expect in your average ten-pin alley. Try the spicy tuna tartare (£12) and the grilled tuna (£19). If you’re the CEO of an electronics conglomerate or own a chain of shoes shops in Wisconsin you might like a decent glass of wine with your meal. If you have the readies, this is the place to come. Your lane costs just £30 per hour, but you can celebrate a series of strikes with a £2,650 bottle of Chateau Petrus 2006 or splash out a more modest £1,000 on Cheval Blanc 1995. Obviously, it’s pin money to them. Reservations at Bol Bowling.
Owner and chef Matt Fackler seems to have cracked the diverse Breckenridge clientele by producing a menu that is both innovative for serious foodies and familiar for the less adventurous. This is essentially American cuisine at its best. However, the menu tends to be OTT: Australian grass-fed filet mignon (what did the rest of the beast get for dinner?) and Pumpkin seed and chili-encrusted ruby red trout. But there’s braised short ribs, lamb chops and pasta dishes. Main courses £11 to £25. Reservations at Relish in Breckenridge.
Remember that for all this feasting you are expected to pay 18% service on top of the menu prices – that’s how your waitperson gets paid. It’s utterly against European culture and the concept of service compris. Even if the service is cr*p, you are still expected to fork out in full. Why can’t restaurants pay their staff properly? Call it robbery it you like, but that’s the norm, I’m afraid. For further information on the two resorts, go to our Vail and Breckenridge resort reports.