The sweet taste of success: Black tie and breast enlargement were optional at the eighth annual Taste of Vail earlier this month, when more than a thousand really beautiful people gathered for the Grand Tasting (read: great gorgefest). After sipping about twenty of the hundreds of wines available, my tastebuds shut down and refused to budge--but before that happened I found a few good deals in the vino department, and I still managed to sample everything from the forty Vail Valley restaurants represented.
This is the third year that the event has been held at the Marriott Mountain Resort, and because the April 2-4 Taste sold out, it was probably the most successful. People were actually fighting at the front door to get in--one couple tried to get my husband to sell them his ticket--but once inside, the crowd for the most part was poised and well-endowed, in more ways than one. The $135-per-person event is well worth the price of admission, though, when you consider that the Grand Tasting offers all-you-can-eat food from some of the top chefs in the nation, as well as all-you-can-drink wines from some of the top wineries. If you go next year, just remember that the Mset & Chandon and the foie gras are the first things to disappear.
The rest of the weekend featured wine-and-food seminars; the best were "Adventures in Wine and Chocolate" with wine nutcase and master sommelier Joshua Wesson and to-die-for chocolates from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and "Killer Wines of the 80s," which won points for sheer ingenuity, even though nothing absolutely stunning was opened. Still, where else can you taste about a dozen wines from 1984 to 1989, getting the chance to compare the vintages and the wineries?
My favorite wine of the weekend, though, was Louis Latour's Montagny "La Grande Roche" Premier Cru, a crisp white with musty fruit flavors and a genteel finish (it was also just frickin' delicious). And I'd walk from here to Vail to again eat the arborio-crusted sea scallop with a parsnip-potato puree in a creamy truffle vinaigrette from Cucina Rustica, the restaurant at the Lodge at Vail, as well as the cones of smoked salmon and caviar from Vail's nationally known Sweet Basil.
Non-food highlights included the winemaker who wore skin-tight funkadelic pants and the Denver Post's Bill Husted walking around wearing a set of filthy, crooked false teeth--which, strangely, didn't seem all that different from his own.
We also had some fine meals away from the event, particularly the killer steaks at Chaparral at Cordillera, one of four restaurants owned by Brit Felix Posen, who earned his millions in textiles and then started buying up real estate and opening golf clubs and restaurants in Edwards with American Gerald Engle. These guys must be something, because every employee I talked to spoke of them in reverential tones. It seems they're offering pretty much the best benefits package ever heard of in the restaurant industry, with full dental and optical, and they give their employees paid vacations. As our exceptional server--one of the few I've encountered in this country who didn't have to be asked to decant the red wine, she just went ahead and did it--said, "People ask me why I want to continue being a waitress, and I say, 'Where else can I get all these benefits, get paid well and have my days free to ski?'"
Chaparral's kitchen staff, including chef Michael J. Connolly, must be happy, too, because most of the food we tried was wonderful, from the spicy Maryland crab cake appetizer ($12.95), to the 14-ounce New York strip ($26.95) that was as soft as cream cheese, to the rich, creamy creme brulee ($5.95). Along the way, we also devoured an order of gorgonzola-enhanced potato cakes ($5.95) and the broccoli au gratin ($5.95), one of those dishes that make eating broccoli fun; we poured classic bearnaise sauce ($3.95 for a pitcher) over everything. The atmosphere was less harshly male than at the average chain steakhouse, and I'm telling you, service doesn't get any better than this.
I wasn't as impressed with the pizza ($14.95 for a large plain) at The Blue Moose in Beaver Creek Village--the sauce had too much oregano and the crust was too chewy--but I loved Beaver Creek itself. I've always stayed in Vail, but now I don't know if I ever will again: Beaver Creek is so down-to-earth and easy to get around in (I had the mountain nearly to myself, too, so I could fall all over the place on my snowboard without embarrassing myself publicly). And there's a restaurant there that's reason enough to return to Beaver Creek Village: The Golden Eagle Inn, where we ate lobster saffron soup ($3.95 for a cup); spinach salad with goat cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds and blackberries ($7.95); crab cakes with a honey-sweetened cilantro butter and plums ($11.50); and veal goulash ($12.95). As they say in Vail, it was faaaabulous.
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Celebrity sweep: How do you celebrate your last day at Channel 7? If you're perpetually tan Ernie Bjorkman, you head over to the Brewery Bar II at 150 Kalamath, where the green chile is a lot hotter than KMGH's ratings--and where Bjorkman was warmly greeted by fellow customers after he signed off the air two Fridays ago. Booted from Channel 7's ten o'clock news when Natalie Pujo came to town, Bjorkman subsequently lost his evening anchor slot when Cindy Velasquez took over as general manager--and then resigned the station altogether rather than accept a lesser gig. Have a Tiny for us, Ernie.
More familiar faces headed much farther south for the opening of the Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix on March 31, including Colorado Rockies co-owner and big brewer Peter Coors, microbrewer John Hickenlooper (who thought just about every abandoned building in Phoenix would be a good site for a brewpub like Denver's Wynkoop Brewing Company at 1634 18th Street), and brew-pourer Melissa Lee, the sometime Dolly Parton lookalike who, along with her husband, tends bar at The ChopHouse at 1735 19th Street.
Even more familiar was the name of a bar a few blocks away from the ballpark: Jackson Hole. But it turns out the joint is no relation to the Denver-based Jackson's Hole Sports Grill, or Jackson's All American Sports Grill, as some of the local restaurants are now called; the Phoenix Jackson Hole just happens to be a hole (albeit a cheerful one) located on Jackson Street. Which caused no end of problems for the folks from Denver's Jackson's Hole when they wanted to open a place near the Phoenix ballpark. Instead, they settled on Jackson's on Third (Avenue, that is). Otherwise, says a suds-pourer (32 on tap), the Phoenix version "is exactly the same."