After spending a day stacking vertical feet on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, invariably one question must be asked once the lifts stop spinning: what’s for dinner? In and around our ski villages, especially during the holidays, the sky’s the limit. You can sup on a rack of caribou for two paired with an exquisite Napa Opus One in the Antlers Room at Pepi’s, or devote an entire meal to Italian truffles at La Bottega, and when you’re done tuck into a crème brûlée for 10 at the Swiss Chalet. The point is: if you want to indulge in a memorable meal that’s shared with family and friends and make memories that may last a lifetime, there’s no better place than the bustling basecamps of Vail and Beaver Creek. At the tail end of the last ski season, we sent an award-winning food photographer to shoot the splurgiest dishes and bottles on the menus at signature local dining rooms. While menus change with the seasons (and sometimes daily based on what’s fresh from the market and on a chef’s mind), the experience of going all out for dinner here remains the same: sublime.

Terra Bistro's Bittersweet Chocolate Molten

 

Terra Bistro | Vail Village

Some consider Terra Bistro to be the hidden gem of Vail Village. It’s just off the bustling main Village thoroughfare (on the corner of Vail Valley Drive and East Meadow Drive, near the walking paths to the Betty Ford Gardens), tucked inside a quiet corner of Vail Mountain Lodge, blessedly immune from the crowds that descend en masse on culinary hot spots along Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive. However, don’t count it out—as one particularly enamored TripAdvisor reviewer gushed after a holiday meal last season: “Some of the best food I have ever eaten!” Not a fan of social media? Just ask locals who dine here regularly, and they’d tell you that the ambience (Matsuhisa aside, Terra Bistro is perhaps Vail Village’s toniest dining room) is on par with the cuisine. A lively and contemporary dining space with high ceilings and amber-toned drop chandeliers is centered around a roaring fireplace, with a more intimate semi-private dining room where groups as large as 40 toast from magnums to art served on a plate.

Splurge Dish

Wagyu New York Strip “Butter Steak,” $57

Splurge Wine

1998 Château Lafite-Rothschild, $2,200

352 E Meadow Dr; 970-476-6836, terrabistro.com

Left Bank | Vail Village

There’s only one place in the whole valley where you can get an entire Dover sole for two prepared à la meunière and deboned tableside by an elegantly attired garçon Parisien: The Left Bank. Needless to say, the menu is classically French—as is its chef, Jean-Michel Chelain, a native of Grenoble who cut his teeth in kitchens in Cannes before heading stateside in 2006 to take over The Left Bank from Luc Meyer, who opened the Vail Village culinary landmark in 1970. It’s a welcoming place where Francophiles gather in an opulent dining room to feast on blinis au saumon fumé et caviar, escargots à la bourguignonne, and a pilgrimage-worthy chocolate soufflé (that requires pre-ordering so it puffs while you sup). And speaking of the dining room—the entire space underwent an extensive facelift recently that includes chic interior touches (like delicate, glass bulb chandeliers, a wall of wine, and plush, blue velvet banquet seating) that might make you and your pack forget you’re in the heart of Vail and not some hip bistro on the Seine.

Splurge Dish

Côtes de Veau Rossini (veal chop with pan-seared foie gras), $77 

Splurge Wine

1981 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru Domaine de la Romanée-Conti $12,000 

183 Gore Creek Dr; 970-476-3696, leftbankvail.com

Chef Noack’s Fondue der woche (fondue with black truffles)

Swiss Chalet | Vail Village

The Sonnenalp Hotel’s signature dining room, the Swiss Chalet, has evolved since it opened in 1986, but one thing has remained constant: “We really haven’t changed the menu since we opened it,” laughs Johannes Faessler, whose family established the original Sonnenalp—a five-star luxury resort in Ofterschwang, Germany (where Mikaela Shiffrin stays when she’s racing the World Cup)—a century ago before opening a “Kleiner Sonnenalp” in Vail in the 1960s. And for good reason. “The traditional Swiss fondue and raclette concept … it’s such a wonderful way to spend dinner with the whole family, especially a multigenerational family,” says Faessler. “And it’s fun for kids to be part of—it’s an active dining experience, so it really is kind of perfect.” As such, the Sonnenalp opens its holiday reservation block for the Swiss Chalet on November 15, and typically has booked every time slot for the week spanning Christmas and New Year’s Eve within two to three days (so plan accordingly). Only adding to that buzz is the announcement of the Sonnenalp’s new chef, German-born Alexander Noack, to helm culinary operations at the resort for the 2019–20 ski season. Pro tip:  Save some time (and some room) to wander over to the King’s Club—the hotel’s plush lobby area—for after-hours music and an after-dinner Erdinger hefeweizen (8 p.m. nightly).

Splurge Dish

Raclette Matterhorn, $44

Splurge Wine

1996 Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon Oenothèque, $975

20 Vail Rd; 970-476-5656, sonnenalp.com

Baby beet salad with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and dried cherry vinaigrette

Wyld | Bachelor Gulch

After shuttering its Wolfgang Puck-branded signature dining room, Spago, in 2016, the Ritz Carlton’s sprawling slopeside enclave in Bachelor Gulch decided to redirect its culinary focus to the valley’s roots, rebranding its dining room Wyld and devoting the new restaurant’s menu to local greens, Rocky Mountain game meats, and “hyper-seasonal” fare. Chef Jasper Schneider—who spent much of his career helming tropical kitchens in far-flung locales like Hawaii and the Caribbean—was tapped to head the transformation. “It was different for me seeing snow and cold, but being in the mountains means we’re able to add things to the menu like venison and Colorado lamb, which is completely different than lamb you get anywhere else in the world, and then we use root vegetables and wild, foraged mushrooms,” he says. “The ingredients are the star of the plate, and that’s how it was taught to me when I was doing a lot of seafood—the fish is the star of the plate.” Knapp Ranch, in Edwards, provides much of the produce for Schneider’s plated creations, which have amassed a following thanks to the chef’s farm-to-table dinner series that kicked off (and sold out) this past summer.

Splurge Dish

Black Truffle Mac and Cheese, $40

Splurge Wine

2000 Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut, $2,100

0130 Daybreak Ridge Rd ; 970-343-1168, ritzcarlton.com

Mirabelle's soufflé with crème Anglaise

Mirabelle | Beaver Creek

If you want to celebrate the essence of winter with a multicourse meal prepared by America’s only Belgian master chef in a landmark homestead on the banks of Beaver Creek, book a table at Mirabelle. There, Daniel Joly—who took over the kitchen at Mirabelle in 1992 before purchasing the restaurant from Vail Resorts with his wife, Nathalie, in 1999—celebrates the holidays with impeccably plated selections from “Le Menu,” from beef tartare to a sublime Dover sole meunière. Arrive early to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail seated around a crackling fireplace in Mirabelle’s cozy living room/bar area, a reminder that the restaurant is a historic homestead (built by pioneer George Townsend) that still is home to the Jolys (who live upstairs), a culinary couple who delights in hosting families and friends for an unforgettable meal. If you happen to spot an Epcot-inspired geodesic dome out back as you’re parking your Tesla, take note: it’s a hydroponic greenhouse where, like Townsend long before him, Chef Joly grows much of the fare that ends up on your table.

Splurge Dish

Le Menu Gourmand (four-course chef’s tasting menu), $90

Splurge Wine

2006 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg, $3,275 

55 Village Rd 970-949-7728, mirabelle1.com

Executive Chef Tyson Peterson

Leonora | Vail Village

During the holidays, every corner of The Sebastian is humming with holiday energy. There’s a giant gingerbread house and cookies and cider served daily (at 3 p.m.) in the hotel’s lobby, and a smartly dressed crowd from Mexico City that tends to congregate for after-hours martinis in the lively and dramatically lit bar, Frost. In Leonora, the hotel’s signature dining room (named after surrealist Leonora Carrington, whose artwork adorns much of the property), that holiday energy manifests itself in plate after heaping plate of family-style tapas. “You’re already coming in with this notion that you’re sharing everything,” says Executive Chef Tyson Peterson of the family-style menu. “I come from a big family in Utah, and that’s how we eat during the holidays—potluck-style meals passed around the table.” And since multiple courses call for a plethora of pairings: a floor-to-ceiling wine vault that’s the focal point of the dining room, an artwork unto itself.

Splurge Dish

Pepper-Crusted Wagyu Manhattan Steak, $41

Splurge Wine

2006 Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon Brut, $230 

16 Vail Rd; 970-331-0698, thesebastianvail.com

8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill | Beaver Creek

Parents will love the Mountainside Bar & Grill at the Park Hyatt for menu mainstays like a 28-day dry-aged bone-in New York rib eye (with truffles!) and touches like a cigar bar selling Cohibas on your way out the door. Although, kids will undoubtedly be won over by the hotel’s s’more packages—complete with roasting sticks—available to diners (for $12 each) who choose to stick around after their meal for a DIY dessert around the communal fire pits on the restaurant’s patio on the ski yard. The best part? You don’t have to wander far from the slopes to make your reservation—thanks to the Buckaroo Express Gondola right outside the hotel and restaurant’s back door.

Splurge Dish

28-Day Dry-Aged New York Rib Eye, $50

Splurge Wine

2004 Château Palmer Margaux, $900

136 E Thomas Place, 970-827-6600, hyatt.com

Juniper's CAB ribeye

Juniper | The Riverwalk at Edwards

Although not exactly slopeside, Juniper has anchored a quiet corner of the Riverwalk since 2002, serving up Colorado lamb loin with sides like duck confit pizza and seared foie gras. Save room for dessert—Charles’s Hot Sticky Pudding Cake from the eatery’s longtime pastry chef, Charles Broschinsky, has been a favorite finale capping an evening at Juniper from day one.

Splurge Dish

“CAB” Rib Eye, $48

Splurge Wine

Screaming Eagle Cabernet, $3,500 

97 Main St 970-926-7001, juniperrestaurant.com

Image: La Botegga

La Bottega | Vail Village

If you love truffles, take note: after a meal at La Bottega, you’ll be floating on a cloud of truffle-stuffed nirvana thanks to the restaurant’s holiday season menu, dedicated exclusively to the world’s most expensive culinary ingredient. Start with black truffle tagliatelle (pictured at left) before splitting a Kobe beef cheesesteak topped with bufala mozzarella, foie gras mousse, and more black truffles. And if you’re not truffled (or tapped) out by then, you can always order a brick oven truffle pizza for the table, garnished with occhio di bue (duck egg!) and 4 grams of Alba white truffles, an ultimate splurge that’s literally worth its weight in gold.

Splurge Dish

Truffle Pizza, $145

Splurge Wine

2013 Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia Masseto Merlot, $1,350

100 E Meadow Dr 970-476-0280, labottegavail.com

A special dessert at Splendido

Splendido at The Chateau | Beaver Creek

For those who remember (and long for) the days when Beaver Creek’s tongue-in-cheek motto was “not exactly roughing it,” a night at Splendido, located in the ever-so-swanky Chateau, is one way to still dine by that credo. Entertainer Kathy Morrow still helms the Steinway (call ahead for times and dates) and the dining room still sells out nightly thanks to a loyal following that includes local restaurateurs (which ought to tell you something). Splendido has been a diamond not exactly in the rough since it opened in 1994. “It’s the same team that’s been here forever, so when you sit down at the bar and have a drink before dinner, our guests know it’s the same bartender that’s been here and remembers them from the last time they were here,” explains executive chef and Splendido owner Brian Ackerman. “Our goal is consistency—our main goal is that people walk out of here having had a great meal.” Which includes what Ackerman estimates is $20,000 worth of caviar and $15,000 worth of truffles that finds its way to Splendido’s kitchen—and inevitably to the plates of its diners. Don’t miss dessert, either—the restaurant’s longtime pastry chef, Sebastien Schmitt, has earned his own loyal following, thanks to Instagram-famous desserts like his  signature snowman, a stacked trio of (chocolate) truffles dusted with coconut powdered sugar snow.

Splurge Dish

Israeli Royal Osetra Caviar, $145

Splurge Wine

2007 Château Mouton Rothschild Pauillac, $1,295

17 Chateau Ln; 970-845-8808, splendidorestaurant.com

Sweet Basil's 26 oz creekstone farm rib eye with blue cheese, saba, and crispy onions

Sweet Basil | Vail Village

In the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t Vail Village culinary scene, you’re probably in for a treat when you find a fine-dining establishment that’s inhabited the same address on Gore Creek Drive since 1977—let alone one that claims the Kardashian clan as fans (Kim, Kanye, and company dined here in the winter of 2015). Sweet Basil loyalists (who don’t break the internet) often stake their claim on a table in the dining room months in advance for their annual holiday meal to bask in the snow globe–like aura of the Gore Creek Promenade just outside the destination’s wall-spanning windows. Owner Matt Morgan (who started his culinary career in Vail busing tables at Sweet Basil in the late ’80s) has gone on to open just-as-hot eateries like Mountain Standard (a sister restaurant downstairs) and Craftsman in Edwards, but Sweet Basil remains the top pick among the foodies (and their families) who annually flock to Vail Village during the holidays. Why? “Every time we change the menu, someone will bemoan the fact that we got rid of their favorite dish,” says Morgan. “So, we’ve kept some of our classics (like the saffron linguine, a mainstay since the ’80s), but we’re always trying to make it better.” And then there are traditions earned  from being a culinary cornerstone of the
village—like a pack of carolers who duck in during the holidays to serenade the dining room before heading back out into the cold. “It’s always a showstopper,” says Morgan. “And we give them peppermint patty nips (chocolate liqueur and peppermint schnapps) to warm up … it’s just a joy.”

Splurge Dish

Saffron Linguine, $MP

Splurge Wine

2014 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru La Tache, $3,666

193 Gore Creek Dr; 970-476-0126, sweetbasil.com

The Sommelier’s pick at the Four Seasons

Flame | Vail Village

The Four Seasons needs no introduction—although, you may need to reacquaint yourself with the culinary concept behind Flame, the hotel’s palatial dining hall. Widely considered the seat of the valley’s sirloin specialists, Flame soon will evolve beyond Wagyu and bone-in rib eye (served family style with sides like gooey Gouda mac and cheese and crispy kimchi brussels sprouts). With Executive Chef Marco Fossati—a scion of four generations of culinary royalty from the Italian Alps—now helming the hotel’s culinary operations (as it prepares for a major renovation of its signature, in-house restaurant, set for sometime in 2020), that means plenty of new menu items, like elk chop scottadito, heaping plates of assorted Colorado charcuterie with house-made Chianti butter and Italian giardiniera, and a white truffle upgrade available for everything.

Splurge Dish

24 oz Dry-Aged T-Bone, $75 

Splurge Wine

Krug Champagne, $850

1 Vail Rd; 970-477-8600, fourseasons.com/vail

 La Tour | Vail Village

Like the belltower atop this landmark dining room (which chimes “Edelweiss” on the hour), Chef Paul Ferzacca has been reliably producing French classics for the past 21 years. Pro tip: ask for the foie gras upgrade, which can be added (3 ounces, $19) to make any dish one to remember.

Splurge Dish

Dover Sole Meunière with Haricots Verts and Colorado Creamer Potatoes in Lemon Brown Butter Sauce, $59

Splurge Wine

2011 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Puligny-Chassagne Montrachet Grand Cru, $3,200

122 E Meadow Dr; 970-476-4403, latour-vail.com

Vista | Arrowhead

Overlooking a fairway slumbering under drifts of snow, the open-to-the-public dining room at Country Club of  the Rockies is a cozy refuge where hushed conversation is subservient to plates of regional favorites (e.g., grilled Rocky Mountain ruby trout) and piano man Micky Poage channeling Sinatra on a winter night (6 to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday).

Splurge Dish

Colorado Rack of Lamb, $54 

Splurge Wine

2015 Hall Cabernet, $96 

676 Sawatch Dr; 970-926-2111, vista-arrowhead.com

Roast venison with truffled root vegetable puree

Pepi's | Vail Village

Your first stop for a family meal when you get to town? Pepi’s. Why? Because this is Vail Village hallowed ground: a venerable pub, hotel, ski shop, fashion boutique, and fine-dining restaurant that doubled as the home of the late Pepi Gramshammer, a resort pioneer who founded the landmark in 1964, long before Vail fancified its main lift with heated seats and Wi-Fi. Reserve a table in the Antlers Room, a formal dining room decorated like a hunting lodge that pairs its Old World décor with a wild game feast (wild boar, roast quail, elk loin) locals savor with an Austrian red (naturlich!). Among Pepi’s most notable guests? Lindsey Vonn, Buzz Aldrin, and President Gerald Ford—who took ski lessons from Pepi (a veteran of Austria’s national team) and stayed in the attached inn before he became president and bought a place of his own in Beaver Creek.

Splurge Dish

Rack of Caribou, $42 

Splurge Wine

2003 Château Pétrus Pomerol, $3,300

231 Gore Creek Dr, 970-476-4761, pepis.com

Sommelier's pick at Grouse Mountain Grill

Grouse Mountain Grill | Beaver Creek

As a cornerstone of Beaver Creek’s fine-dining scene since 1993, the valley’s culinary cognescenti collectively gasped when Grouse Mountain Grill’s founding chef, David Gutowski, sold the landmark two years ago. Since then, chef Tony Ferrozzo (Gutowski’s longtime sous chef) has helmed the kitchen with a steadfast hand, staying the culinary course and maintaining the landmark’s status as TripAdvisor’s  top traveler-ranked restaurant in Beaver Creek. Longtime regulars return  year after year to be serenaded by Vail Valley jazz guru “Tony G” Gulizia while tucking in to Grouse classics. “I trained under Chef David, so I don’t feel like I need to mess with success,” explains Ferrozzo. This winter, that means Long Island duck (aged 14 days), paired with Anson Mills farro risotto and butternut squash from Boulder’s Munson Farms. Or grilled elk in a sauce of pickled blueberries. And the cognescenti sigh.

Splurge Dish

Canadian Rocky Mountain Elk Strip Loin, $50

Splurge Wine

2004 Pol Roger “Sir Winston Churchill,” $550 

141 Scott Hill Rd; 970-949-0600, grousemountaingrill.com

Uni tiradito

Matsuhisa | Vail Village

After opening ultra-hip sushi hot spots from Beverly Hills to Paris, Nobu Matsuhisa explained his globe-spanning recipe for success in a recent interview with Forbes, “My philosophy is it has to be fifty-fifty: good food and good service. And that’s a concept that works all over the world.” In Matsuhisa’s Vail Village outpost—a cavernous contemporary dining hall occupying the atrium of  Solaris (the village’s most exclusive address) thrumming with the beat of techno jazz—that means every new arrival elicits a chorus of “Irasshaimase” (which roughly translates as “Come on in!” in Japanese) from  all corners of the restaurant. The scene at nighttime: a two-story wall of glass overlooking Vail Mountain’s front side aglow with the lights of  Gondola One, and a roar of conversation and laughter erupting  from the bar at the  center of the room, parties in the Fireside Lounge (with private seating for 14, starting at $1,000) or the Nobu Room (seats 40, starting at $2,500) and diners feasting on the five-course omakase tasting menu. Meanwhile, in Matsu’s more casual sushi bar (with first-come, first-served seating ) couples on date-night perches sip on sake and watch an assembly line production of hundreds (if not thousands) of sashimi and hand rolls, the sushi-fueled dining room’s main engine room. It’s culinary drama, Japanese theater.

Splurge Dish

Chef Nobu’s Daily Creation Omakase Tasting Menu, $175 

Splurge Wine

Junmai Daiginjo Hikari Sake, $670 

141 E Meadow Dr; 970-476-6628, matsuhisarestaurants.com/vail


The best place to be for NYE fireworks

 

Larkspur's NYE Bash

Want to Facebook Live you and your sweetheart smooching with rockets red glaring over Vail Mountain as the clock strikes midnight on January 1? It’s just a shuffle across the dance floor to the outdoor patio at Larkspur, Golden Peak’s culinary epicenter and special event space. Fireworks are just the pyrotechnic cherry on top of an evening that includes two seatings. The 5 p.m. NYE fest affords parents with pint-size partiers an early-to-bed opportunity to ring in the new year, complete with kid-friendly fare (like mac and cheese and mini versions of the restaurant’s signature Larkburger) and plenty of fish eggs and bubbly  for Mom and Dad)—plus a front-row seat to the torchlight parade that snakes its way down Golden Peak at dusk. If you don’t have little ones in tow (or you scored a sitter!), book a table at Larkspur’s second seating (at 8 p.m.), when the fine-dining venue morphs into an upscale nightclub,  hosting the swankiest NYE party in the valley. Starting with chilled king crab legs and oysters topped with caviar, and a sprawling buffet and dessert bar that takes up an entire hallway of the main dining room. Buckets of iced Veuve Clicquot abound, and the bar gets a glam upgrade with confetti-covered chandeliers and rose petals strewn across white linen table cloths. Then there’s the dance floor, a center stage ringed with tables, where  things get lively after dinner (last year’s dance party was led by an energetic 10-piece band), pausing at 11:59, when revelers head to the patio to “ooh” and “aah” as crossettes and comets blaze over the summit of Golden Peak. Do: dress your best—your go-to mountain chic attire will need an upgrade for this one (black tie isn’t overdoing it). Don’t: book a table on the dance floor unless you really like to be in the center of the unrelenting action, although, if you plan on dancing the night away, it’s the best seat in the house (first seating from $165 per adult, second seating from $265 per adult). Reservations: 970-754-8050; larkspurvail.com

 

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