On Valentine's Day, nothing says lovin' like something from the oven -- especially the oven at Allie's Cabin.
Nestled in an aspen grove halfway up the mountain at Beaver Creek, the ninety-seat restaurant is rife with romance -- not just because of its lovely setting, but also because executive chef David Sanchez mixes dozens of allegedly amorous agents into his dishes.
"I call it food with effect," says Sanchez. "We plant an ideal, a little magic. I want people to realize that food has the potential to give you that uninhibited feeling."
Sanchez, who has two decades of restaurant experience behind him, researched his love-heavy menu for several years before implementing it this season. Featured dishes include asparagus and yohimbe bisque with truffle-oil accent, a rare mushroom strudel, a strawberry and avocado salad with caramelized pecans and raspberry dressing, and a duck confit with ginger-lavender ponzu and ginseng couscous -- all loaded up to evoke passion.
"The ginger-seared sea scallops get people pretty revved up," says Mark Swets, a server at Allie's for the past four years.
But Vail Resorts, which owns Allie's (as well as the surrounding ski resorts and real estate), doesn't want the A-word connected with this special meal, out of concern that aphrodisiac-laden food doesn't fit the family-resort image.
"I think that Allie's definitely lends itself to a romantic evening," says Christina Schleicher, communication coordinator for Beaver Creek. As for the "interesting ingredients" on the Valentine's Day roster, she adds, "You can take what you want from the menu, but it's definitely a menu for everyone."
The servers aren't reluctant to spill the beans, though.
"We're really not supposed to be open about it, but I am usually pretty frank with them," says Swets. "Without a doubt, we see the ingredients affect people. I think we see a little more hand-holding, a little extra time spent by the fireplace." Most patrons appreciate the servers' honesty; some even call to share stories of their after-dessert escapades.
"We've had people call the next day and thank us for their post-dinner enjoyment," says Sanchez, laughing.
Food and aphrodisiacs -- defined as "a drug or agent that arouses or increases sexual responses" and named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility -- have been not-so-strange bedfellows for more than 5,000 years. Still, in 1996, the Food and Drug Administration denied the existence of culinary love potions: "The reputed sexual effect of so-called aphrodisiacs are based in folklore, not fact," the FDA reported.
Well-known aphrodisiacs like rhinoceros horns, oysters, mussels and asparagus are credited with enhancing the libido more because of their Freudian similarities to male and female genitalia than because of their chemical composition. But yohimbe, an African tree bark that releases the natural stimulant norepinephrine, is said to cause erections. Chiles and curries also gained their reputations because of their physiological effects, including a raised heart rate or sweating -- similar to physical reactions to sex.
But Sanchez doesn't want to overplay the sensual power of his menu at Allie's, pointing out that more than anything, the cozy cabin is a romantic getaway where guests arrive by snowcat, bundled up in blankets. "I want people to feel like they are going someplace discreet, mysterious," he says.
Now in its fifth season, Allie's is open four nights a week during peak skiing months for a six-course meal price-fixed at $90. On Valentine's Day, the restaurant will supplement its regular menu with champagne specials, even more chocolate, and live music -- sultry jazz, of course.