Sitting in a banquette at Gessner, the stunning creekside dining room at Vail’s new Hotel Talisa, makes you feel like a kid in a clubhouse. Unlike ordinary, sofa-style booths, these private wood-paneled eating nooks have full walls and a roof that not only eliminates the noise and uncomfortable back-to-back proximity of neighboring strangers, but makes everyone seated at the table feel wonderfully cloistered—as if you’re tucked inside a cozy Alpine chalet.
‘The Colorado Rockies meets the Alps’ is our vision for the restaurant,” says Executive Chef Chris Bates, a Vail Valley culinary veteran who opened the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch (and Ritz hotels in Las Vegas and Orlando) before relocating to the Vail Cascade, which was rebranded as the Hotel Talisa in November after the wraps came off of a long-anticipated $65 million makeover. “We want to reflect Colorado cuisine, but we want to make it a little different from what everybody’s already doing.”
The new restaurant (which replaces the Vail Cascade’s Atwater on Gore Creek) is an homage to Conrad Gessner, a 16th-century Swiss physician, philosopher, and naturalist who roamed the mountains of Europe, meticulously cataloging every plant and animal species he encountered. Thus, the dinner menu includes steak, lamb, trout, and wild mushrooms (Bates particularly adores chanterelles, which grow abundantly in the mountains surrounding Vail). But there’s also cassoulet (a traditional French bean dish seasoned with sausage and cured poultry) and house-made pastas representing various mountain regions of Italy: goat cheese and butternut squash ravioli recalls the culinary traditions of Emilia-Romagna, and potato gnocchi baked in tomato sauce echoes the flavors of Verona.
The Euro-Colorado juxtaposition also is reflected in Gessner’s décor: Opposite the banquettes, a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooks snow-cushioned Gore Creek. And throughout the dining room, “tones of evergreen, snow drift, and cognac reflect the landscape and evoke a European retreat,” says Lara Rimes, senior interior designer for Leo A. Daly (a global design firm whose work includes the Beverly Hills Marriott and the Crowne Plaza Hotel Key West).
The menu’s Colorado elements tend to receive the simplest preparations. “The steaks are fairly straightforward,” says Bates, who selects humanely raised beef and bison that require very little fuss in order to taste spectacular. The Colorado lamb is another standout: Bates chooses meticulously raised lamb from Mountain States, a cooperative of fourth- and fifth-generation ranchers.
But where to begin? Bates suggests opening the palate with the medallion of foie gras. It’s stunningly presented, a puck of jellied goose liver served with splashes of ruby-red truffle jelly and a cluster of lemon-dressed frisée with sweet and sour accents that complement the richness of the foie gras, which is exquisite. Each bite melts on the tongue like butter. Bates, obviously proud of the dish, notes that it is cured in liquor for 12 hours, then cooked in gelatin at 145 degrees, a classic French preparation.
Next course: a rack of lamb, served with polenta, foraged mushrooms, and a bouquet of broad-leaf watercress. Then pastas. Silky and delicate, the ravioli is seasoned with a splash of lemon that balances the unctuous chèvre and squash filling; the black truffle tagliatelle is almost as tender as the foie gras—after you’ve eaten your fill, you can’t resist stabbing a fork back into the creamy noodles, eager for another dose of earthy richness. Even sides of roasted brussels sprouts get a novel treatment, glazed with a faintly sweet elderberry hibiscus reduction and salty pecorino that tames the bitterness of the charred leaves, a refreshing (and delicious) departure from the workaday bacon-topped brussels sprouts that have become ubiquitous at gastropubs nationwide.
As for wine pairings, the emphasis is on European labels, from Italian Barbarescos to French Chablis and lesser-known varietals like Spanish albariño and Swiss pinot noir. Just save room for “indulgence” (Gessner’s term for dessert): from delicate soufflés of hot chocolate and whipped cream ganache and a decadent five-layer chocolate cake to simple mini éclairs and a minimalist plate of berries and cream.
From course to course, the menu flows with a rhythm seemingly conducted by Gessner himself, who wrote, “Best of all is it to preserve everything in a pure, still heart, and let there be for every pulse a thanksgiving, and for every breath a song.”
1300 Westhaven Dr, Vail