Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wining & Dining- Game Creek Club Restaurant

The folks at Game Creek are some of our best friends at The Little Diner and many of them come in at least once every week to have breakfast and visit with us. Steve Werner and Peter McGuire have been trying to invite us up for months and while my father was in Vail for his birthday in July it presented the perfect opportunity to try out Chef Collin Meyer's new menu!

For those of you not "in the know" Game Creek is a private club and restaurant located in Game Creek Bowl on the western end of Vail Mountain at 10,500 feet. In the summer it is open from mid June until late August serving dinner Wednesday through Saturday and they are also open for brunch only on Sunday. To get there you have to take the Eagle Bahn Gondola from Lionshead Village to Eagles Nest and from there you can elect to take a horseback ride, hike (Sundays only), or simply take the shuttle. You will be able to choose your transportation option at the time of your reservation. 

During the winter though it's a whole different story..

In the wintertime during the day Game Creek Club and is only open to members and their guests for lunch. At night it is called Game Creek Restaurant and is open daily to the public. In the daytime members can ski to and from the club to enjoy the facility, the food, and the amenities in it's picturesque setting. 

If only the best will do one can rent the "Chalet" for an unforgettable ski vacation!

This three bedroom, five bath retreat located across the catwalk from the main Game Creek building goes for as low as $1000 a night (depending on the "package" you choose)! Your stay includes: Ski-in/ Ski-out accommodations including an entertainment room, internet access, satellite television, a fireplace, an outdoor hot tub, a gourmet kitchen, a private chef, personal concierge services, and daily housekeeping. Also included is access to the Arrabelle Spa, Pool, Fitness, & Business Center at the bottom of the gondola in Lionshead.. But wait there's more! They also provide you with your own private personal mountain guide/ ski instructor AND lift tickets! 

For more information click [here].

It was of course summer and this is how it looked when we arrived.. There was about an hour or so until sunset and we were delayed because of a thunderstorm (lightning and ski lifts don't mix), but we made it in time and lucky for us this was the result!

The deck off the dining room looks due west down the length of the Vail Valley with Holy Cross & Notch Mountain to the left and Beaver Creek, Avon, Edwards, and Cordillera in the distance. Castle Peak is to the right of the setting sun.. This photo does it no justice whatsoever. Breathtaking!

Enough of the pleasantries, it's time to get down to business
and this place just so happens to be in the awesome food business!

On to the FOUR HOUR parade of food and wine!

Due to our psuedo-celebrity status (kidding) and (mostly) because of our friendly relationship to the staff we were in for a real treat! The normal three or four course Prix Fixe Menu was thrown out the window for a more audacious six or seven course food extravaganza. The way Steve and the rest of the staff described the menu to us in the days leading up to this event left us salivating on every hanging word so we basically wanted to try EVERYTHING! And that is pretty much what they did. They brought us almost everything, with wine pairings of course, and it was all exquisite! They tried to keep us away from too much of the filler so we didn't get to try every single salad or appetizer and Steve REALLY tried to not let us have a second helping of the Brioche, but it was way too awesome and I had to get another helping.. It really was that good! The best bread I've ever had in Vail, no joke. Too bad I didn't get a photo of it, but it is just bread after all. Enough of the fluff let's move on to the good stuff!

The Crab. Basically a chilled flourless crab cake (for lack of a better term). It was one of the best tasting and unique appetizers I've ever had, and apparently it is a new addition to the menu with Collin Meyer's recent promotion to Executive Chef.

The Shrimp with chorizo, jicima, cilantro, corn, mustard, and tomatillo. Another winning combination and the shrimp were like the size of hockey pucks! Fresh and tasty! We were trying to share everything and my dad tried to stab my hand with his fork when I went in for seconds on this one.


The Kampachi (or Almaco Jack) is a fish from Hawaii and is a great alternative to Tuna. I'm glad they serve it here as it seems that too many fine dining establishments think the HAVE to offer some sort of sushi grade Tuna in one form or another. Just like the rest of the choices on the menu this dish is superb and well thought out, plus I love the micro gastronomy here with the gelatinous watermelon balls. The Rhubarb was fantastic as well! I love the fact that Chef Collin is using different ingredients than everyone else. Hooray for creativity!

Sweet Corn Bisque. I could have drank a gallon of this! Another unique and tasty combination that was TO DIE FOR: Olathe Corn, Vanilla, Saffron, Cran, Fresno Pepper, and Chives. Yummy!

Chef Collin's take on the Eggplant "Rolatini" was ridiculously good. Served with Fontina cheese, Basil, Spinach, Parmesan and a Tomato Vinaigrette it had the right balance of sweet & savory plus it was so light compared to any other I'd had before that I really fell in love with it. I thought that it was truly one of the best appetizers I'd ever eaten (even without meat!) and I could have eaten six of these.. It's getting to be a theme.

Kurobuta Pork³ (aka three ways). Could it really get any better? My top three most favorite porcine creations? I think not.. In fact it was so good I had to have seconds!

From left to right:
Braised Cheek- The best & most tender piece of meat on the hog done almost like BBQ.
Pork Belly- Bacon on steroids this ubiquitous creation was so good I had three more for dessert
Scallion Dumpling- If Chinatown made 'em this good they could build an empire. (Oh wait!)

The Baby Vegetable tray was really great, just your standard assortment of grilled mini veggies. Of course it was done perfectly with Artichoke, Zucchini, Fennel, Radish, Snap Peas, Squash, and a Basil Vinaigrette. I guess they didn't want us to keel over after the pork overload so they brought us something "healthy"!

The Goat Cheese Burrata was another great starter (vegetarian or otherwise). The Minus 8 Vinaigrette was the perfect contrast to the cheese and the heirloom tomato crust and micro arugula added the perfect amount of texture to this dish. Yay for (another) something different!

How can you go wrong with Fois Gras? The answer is you can't.. In fact, it makes every meal better! Plus I really like the fact that they serve it here with Pommes Anna (French scalloped potatoes).

Binchotan (Japanese Charcoal) Grilled Salmon with Edamame, Baby Turnip, Pancetta, Yuzu (Citrus Fruit), and Tat Soi (Mustard Spinach). Perfection! I loved the crispiness of the outside and the medium temperature of the inside which you can only achieve with the high temperature of the coals. Mmm Yakimono..

Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree, Kefir Lime, Baby Bok Choy, Eggplant, Basil, and Tamarind. As you guessed, it was great! Also, in case you haven't noticed the attention to detail here on all the the dishes is ridiculous and I loved all the presentations. Everything looked almost too good to eat!

One of the many great wines of the evening with a very appropriate name of course (FYI both my father and I are named James Little). This one though was the most unique and versatile in my humble opinion and went quite well with many things especially the heavier dishes. I think it would go well with Duck, Pork, Beef, Dark Meat Chicken, or even Salmon. An easy drinker that would make a great everyday "Table Wine". I'm not going to go on and on about it and write a whole Wine Spectator article, but if you'd like to read more you can check it out [here]. In fact, it was the only one we requested they leave the whole bottle. As I've said in the past I'm no wine aficionado and I almost always let our waiter or Sommelier suggest what is best so this evening was no different in that respect.. It worked out great!

This would be the Duck and what a fabulous taste of foul this was! In fact, yet another one of the best tasting and well thought out dishes I've had in years. It came with Piquillo Pepper, Barley, English Peas, Red Lentil Daal, and a Fig Gastrique. In case you need a little help on these items you can read up on Daal [here] and Gastrique [here].

Beef + Shortrib+ Marrow aka "The Bovine Sampler".. Need I say more? Just look at it! Other than the Pork Belly if there was one single item on the menu I could have requested seconds on it would have been this one. It was rough sharing this with everyone else at the table. It's served with Asparagus, Royal Mushroom, and Sambal, but you don't really care about all that stuff do you? It was #%&*@=$ good!

Sea Bass with Shrimp, Kabayaki (Eel), Shiitake Mushrooms, Broccolini, and Miso Dashi (Sauce). If you know me then you know I'm all about the grilled or sautèed meat and vegetable dishes (Yakimono) from Japan so this one was right up my alley! Now that my most favorite Japanese restaurant in Seattle has been closed for many years now (The Mikado, RIP) I'll take it anywhere I can get it and this one definitely fit the bill. Oishi desu ne!

Well, this terrible picture is of the Elk dish. It was awesome. So good in fact that my dad and I got into a fight with or forks over every last bite of it! Too bad I didn't get a better photo of it though. Pity. Anyway, it was served with Achiote (Red Annatto), Sweet Potato, Pioppini Mushroom, Pomegranate, and Spiced Pepita (Pumpkin Seed). A great idea for Elk since it is in season in the fall this would be perfect for a Christmas dinner. I might just have to keep this one in mind.. Excellent!

Another bad photo. I'm sorry, but between the wine and the darker lighting as the evening progressed it became more and more difficult to take quality pictures. So, what self respecting fine dining restaurant in this fine state does not sell Colorado Lamb? The answer is NONE. I have been here for sixteen years and I have yet to go to a high end establishment that doesn't have some iteration of this animal on the menu. We even had it at our wedding! The only reason I'd say this Colorado Rack of Lamb takes second place is the fact that we got married that night and that it was all you can eat! Otherwise this lamb was fantastic! Flawlessly executed with the Middle Eastern flair of Cumin, Sumac, Kumquat Yogurt, Carrot Confit, Olive, and Muhammara (Syrian Hot Pepper). Appropriate and creative.

How did we have enough room for dessert you ask? Well, we in fact didn't, but we managed to find the space. Especially for the Cherry w/ Bread Pudding, Sweet Corn, Crème Fraîche, and Fleur de Sel (Sea Salt). My father's favorite.

The Chocolate Valrhona Bombé with Espresso, Shortbread, and Grand Marnier. Out of this world and my wife's favorite item on the menu. She'll probably come back just for this one thing. Hopefully it'll still be on the menu next time!

The Pear Sticky Toffee Pudding with Pistachio, Mascarpone, and Lemongrasswas my personal favorite dessert of the evening. My father should have gotten his own because I surely didn't want to share! Another one that almost looked too good to eat.

The Cheese "Platter".. I basically just took one small bite of the different cheeses to try them because at this point I was starting to feel like I was going to explode! I will say the harder cheeses and fruit with the Truffle Honey were outstanding, but then out came my "seconds" of Pork Belly compliments of Chef Collin and all bets were off! Too bad I didn't get a picture of it. Such is life..

A meal fit for a king! Peg and I can't wait to come back this winter and try out Chef Meyer's new menu items. But, until then a fun time was had by all and on the way down the gondola at the end of the evening we all agreed it was one of the best dinner's we'd ever eaten anywhere (and it wasn't just the wine talking). We would like to thank our friends at Game Creek for an unbelievable dining experience. Until next time!

En Guete!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Yarr! Avast ye Scallywags! There be the treasures of the sea (or at least Cap'n Scully's "Catch of the Day!")!

Sorry folks, but my father has been in town for the last two weeks and I've been too busy to write. Don't fret this weeks post is great! Hopefully it is good enough to make up for my slacking off. It keeps with the summertime theme and I talk about some of my most beloved dishes.. Fried Seafood!

If anyone has seen Summer Rental (as I'm sure most of you have..) you'll remember Rip Torn's fantastic performance as Captain Scully. The proprietor of the tourist trap restaurant in the film that basically just sells frozen fish sticks or "Scully's Catch of the Day". He also serves up "deep" ideas like this one in the film when coaching Jack Chester (John Candy) how to sail- "She'll make ya rich, or she'll feed ya to the fishes. If she wants you to dance, sonny boy, you've got to follow her lead".

Summer Rental perhaps Mr. Torn's best performance (or at least my favorite) 
and is the perfect start to this weeks post about fried fish!

Well, we don't sell fried fish at The Little Diner or any fish for that matter other than Tuna Salad, but it is one of my favorite things to eat! Growing up in Seattle you do get to eat some of the best seafood in the world, but perhaps one of my fondest childhood memories is going to Ivars on Pier 54.

It's the pier just to the left of the ferry dock with the blue awning.

Ivars back in th 40's. Generations of Seattlites have come here to get their fish fix. For many (like me) it was probably the place they tried eating fish for the first time! Ivar Haglund was "The Man" and way ahead of his time in advertising constantly doing publicity stunts. Even today! Check out the most recent one here.

Pier 54 today with the Fish Bar on the left and the more upscale Acres of Clams restaurant entrance in the middle. They recently constructed a covered eating area to the left of the Fish Bar with a life size bronze statue of Ivar feeding the seagulls. There's a cool picture of it here.

The "Goods"! Halibut & Chips, Fried Clams, Onion Rings and the famous Clam Chowder from our last trip to Seatown. You can even buy the condensed form of the Clam Chowder in the Deli section at Costco now. Just add milk! Hooray for Seattle based companies bringing local food to everyone!

It's pretty much a rite of passage in Seattle to feed the seagulls when you go to Ivar's.. 
It's all good, just don't feed the pigeons!

When we went to London on our last trip to Europe one of my goals was to get some "real" Fish & Chips. We were staying in the Regent Palace Hotel in Picadilly Circus and while the location was great the hotel itself was a dump..

I'm pretty sure they used the hotel in the Austin Powers movies as either Dr. Evil's or
Austins Swinging 60's "lair", it looked really familiar..

Luckily there was a Harry Ramsdens "World Famous" Fish & Chips restaurant on the bottom floor!
They were voted best in London (even though it is a chain) when we were there and it was great!
The Haddock was perfect. They said I HAD to try the Mushy Peas and I actually kinda like 'em
though I suspect they're not for everyone..

While attending college in Phoenix one of the places everyone frequently visited was Pete's Fish & Chips. They have locations all over the valley, but I used to go to the on on 44th the most because it was closest to my winter ski tuning job at Peter Glenn Ski & Sport.

While I usually like the wet beer batter on my fish the most the dry cornmeal & cracker crust at
Pete's is pretty awesome! They also prefer Cocktail Sauce as opposed to the usual Tartar, must be a Maricopa County thing, but it works! Their signature item is the square patty pictured above.
It's all reminiscent of the fish sticks I used to eat as a kid, but fresh, and actually good! I miss Pete's..

If you have southern roots like I do then you get the craving for Fried Catfish! Fortunately, Vail Colorado is home to Moe's Original BBQ! While they have locations all over the country their first location was here in Vail and we're lucky enough to be next door neighbors with them at The Little Diner!

Ahh, fried catfish just like my grandma used to make.. The Jambalaya on the right and the hush-puppies in the middle are delicious too!

 Another one of my favorites at Moe's is the Shrimp "Moe Boy"! 
It's awesome, but if you want to step it up a notch on the 
days they are selling the catfish sandwich or platter you can request a 
"Seafood Moe Boy" with BOTH the Catfish AND Shrimp.. 
It's one of my most favorite things in the world! 
The Mac & Cheese in the back is fantastic too!

On our recent trip to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast we indulged in fried seafood quite a few times, but hands down the best breakfast dish was the Fried Softshell Crab Benedict (aka Eggs Stella) at Stanley just off of Jackson Square! Check it out!

Sorry, this was one of the first times using my iPhone to document stuff and I was still trying to get the hang of it so things are a little blurry.. On the right is the Eggs Stella. Yum! On the left is the Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy my wife had- it was "tha bomb" too! The potato salad in the back was killer as well, you pretty much can't go wrong at Stanley. Many awards are on the way for them. Truly awesome food! Not pictured is the best gumbo I've ever eaten.. (We'll save that one for another post!)

I'm really not sure how to define Alligator.. Is it seafood? For me it tastes like fishy chicken as does frogs legs. Being an amphibious reptile it kind of blurs the lines a little so I think I'll include it with this post. The best dining experience as a whole for us on this tour of the gulf coast was at Cochon in New Orleans. Chef Donald Link and Chef Stephen Stryjewski truly deserve their individual James Beard Awards for their talent and it was a privilege and delight to dine at their awesome establishment! The hype is real..

Who'd a thought Fried Spicy Alligator with Mint could be so unbelievably awesome? Not me, at least not at first.. That was until I took my first bite! Staggeringly great! I almost ordered seconds. THE best appetizer and the best overall meal of the trip. Fantastic!

In Destin we pretty much ate fried seafood in one form or another every day. Luckily with it's close proximity to NOLA this vacation spot on the western end of the Florida Panhandle is home to several awesome Louisiana based restaurants! One of them was literally right next to our condo in Miramar Beach- It's called Kenny D's and it's great!

For my dinner here on our first night in town I had the Fried Grouper topped with Crawfish Étouffée- Kenny's mothers recipe. Fantastic! The Yuengling on-tap definitely "upped" the awesomeness factor..

Probably the best single dish of the trip was at another creole restaurant over in Destin Harbor called Louisiana Lagniappe. I guess they have another location in Baton Rouge, but everyone I've talked to says the one in Destin is better. Check out the Sunset from the Deck!

It's a little gritty, but it was almost dark out so not too bad a shot considering.. This was from our table.

Like I said it got really dark so it's a little hard to make out, but this is their "Special" fish of the day dish- Fresh Fish en Papillote. On this night it was Grouper. They basically wrap the fish in parchment paper and bake it. Then, they take a lump crabmeat and shrimp stuffing "patty" and pan fry it. When the fish comes out of the oven they lay the fried shellfish stuffing "fritter" over the top of the fillet and top it with Hollandaise! I know it's not fried fish per se, but the stuffing is fried so that counts right? Anyway, it's one of the best things I've ever eaten in my life and it beat out the classic Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish (Sea Trout stuffed with Crab Meat) at Commanders Palace as the best single entrée of our trip! Not to dissuade you from going there because the Brennen's have done a fine job manning that ship for generations and they truly deserve all of their prestigious awards including their FIFTH James Beard award this year. Cochon only slightly beat them for best meal overall..

Back to Greasy Nick's!

If you didn't catch my last post about hamburgers and my adoration for Leno's Clam Bar then you can check it out here. Otherwise Greasy Nicks does GREAT fried seafood. It doesn't get much better than bearing down on a plate full of fresh full belly fried clams on a sunny afternoon at this place on the New Rochelle, NY waterfront.

Mmmmmm! My favorite!

'til a fortnight me buckos! Jolly eatin' 'n calm travels on th' seven seas!