A couple of years ago, I had an excellent dinner and one of the best Bloody Marys of my life at Larkspur in Vail. In my absence, Thomas Salamunovich, the chef/owner of Larkspur, opened Avondale in the new Westin Riverfront in Avon (just outside Beaver Creek). This lively 70-seat space features a long bar (where you can find the same sterling Bloody Mary), sweeping views of Beaver Creek Mountain and an expansive terrace sprinkled with fire pits. A salad with roasted beets and California goat cheese was given a bit of snap with some red grapefruit and cilantro, and a rich seafood risotto was followed by a succulent order of short ribs braised in wine and served with smoked-cheddar grits. Well done again, Mr. Salamunovich.
One particularly cold day, we opted for an early lunch at The Ritz-Carlton in Bachelor Gulch, where the options were a branch of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago or the less formal Buffalo Bar. I’m a great admirer of Puck, but the fare at the The Buffalo Bar won out. The food was just what we wanted, hearty and warming: spicy bison chili, turkey BLT with basil mayonnaise, bison burger with white cheddar and barbecue sauce (the table favorite) and a generous turkey pot pie. We finished off with hot chocolate and were happily fortified for a few more runs on the slopes.
In the village of Beaver Creek, The The Dusty Boot was another great place for lunch, although it did entail a short walk in our ski boots from the mountain base. This is down-home casual fare with soups (I recommend the creamy basil- tomato) and sandwiches, but the real draw is the “build y’er own” burger. I reflexively constructed a cheddar-bacon blockbuster, cooked rare-medium, with real French fries on the side (meaning that they tasted like actual potatoes). I was not sorry.
One evening, in the market for a good pizza, we tried the highly recommended Blue Moose, also in Beaver Creek Village. I dutifully ordered a small spinach salad, which turned out to be quite a large one, but it was outstanding, with mushrooms, red onions and a tangy blue cheese dressing. I give the same high marks to the pizza. The consensus favorite was the chicken ranch, with bacon, fresh tomato, red onion, cheddar, mozzarella and ranch dressing. This is a good spot for families, with a children’s menu, paper tablecloths and an ample supply of crayons for budding Picassos.
We also returned to two longstanding favorites. If you’re in the market for a congenial après ski bar spot in Vail, Sweet Basil, which has been around since 1977, fits the bill perfectly. The setting is smart, with dark wood floors and stone walls, and the appetizer charcuterie plate is terrific, with house-cured sausages, terrines, foie gras and pickles. The Colorado lamb T-bone is also a favorite, with a rich goat cheese polenta and a zippy tarragon salsa verde.
Russell’s is a cozy spot that is best known for its steaks. It’s set right along the Eagle River by Vail’s covered bridge, so try to book a window table. I’m fond of the French onion soup and the spinach salad, but the house specialty is steak Diane, a classic grilled filet served with a mild mushroom, shallot and brandy cream sauce. The 12-ounce rib eye is served with a zesty peppercorn sauce and comes with superb potatoes Dauphinoise, which makes for a meal that invariably leaves me in the unusual situation of foregoing the pretense of looking at the dessert menu.