Food For Thought: Telski's Alpino Vino

Alpino-Vino-CollageWith a glint in her eye, the lovely young concierge stationed at Allred’s sent us off with the words “pow pow, gnar.” Translation: The snow was dumping as our group set off in a heated snow coach up a popular ski run for dinner at one of  Telluride Ski & Golf Club‘s top-drawer (and top of the mountain) restaurants, Alpino Vino, promising fresh tracks in powder (“pow pow”) in the morning, which is high on a scale of coolness (“gnar” or “gnarly”).

Getting the picture? Alpino Vino is not just your average evening of fine dining. You might start out going for the food – and you won’t be disappointed– but you will stay for the experience.

Alpino Vino is North America’s highest elevation restaurant happening, sitting at just under 12,000 feet near the top of “See Forever” and Lift 14 Gold Hill Express, so the views are literally and figuratively breathtaking. That is, at lunch. Or on a clear day. When you can actually see from the expansive heated deck. It was already dark when we headed up the mountain from Allred’s and the San Sophia Gondola Station, a curtain of snow further blocking our view. Best to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Half the fun of Alpino Vino is getting there. Especially with Hal in the driver’s seat.

Yes, our driver was part of the experience. A tall, affable man of a certain age, Hal seemed positively high on his job, chatting merrily away about all the wonderful people he gets to meet. He also talked about how, when it comes to snowcats, a Pisten Bully with its Mercedes engine has a Bombardier beat hands down. We learned about grousers or the cleats that protrude from the surface of a wheel or continuous track segment intended to increase traction in soil or snow – regardless, a good thing, because, as mentioned, the ride to this particular watering hole is a up a very steep incline. But no worries: Despite the storm, Hal managed to gentle the rig up the mountain to our destination at a slow and steady turtle’s pace.

Alpino Vino is a tricked-out version of a mountain hut, all stone and wood, similar to the structures that dot the mountainsides in Alpine resorts like Megeve and Chamonix. The smiles that greeted us when we walked through the door were just as warm as the fire crackling away in the fireplace – and so was the vibe, which, despite the fact the room was full, was also relatively subdued. No wall of noise that’s part of the furniture at almost any scene-y restaurant; just the steady buzz of appreciative chatter.

That evening, it was just Marla Meridith and me. She, as you know if you have been following our food stories on Telluride Inside… and Out (and they all can be found by searching under “Food for Thought” from the Home Page), is founder and editor-in-chief of the fabulous food blog familyfreshcooking.com. We partner to spread the good word about food and drink in the Telluride region, producing two commentaries, one on each site. Marla is also a world-class food photographer, hired by major resorts from Colorado to Europe to create memorable images of memorable platters.

(Find Marla on Twitter, Facebook: Food, Facebook: Lifestyle, Pinterest, and Instagram.)

So far, so good, but the trip to the restaurant was more like dining out as sport. You can, however, take comfort in the fact the food at Alpino Vino lives up to the hype.

An obvious place to start is the fact the dinner menu is vastly different from lunchtime choices of pastas, sandwiches, antipasti, and traditional Alpine dishes. We are talking about a five-course tasting menu prepared for the 26 foodies lucky enough to have scored a reservation.

“Ee-gaaads” was my first thought. Five courses? Each with a pairing? Really? Generally my husband and I split an appetizer and entree and I have, max, a glass or two of wine.

At Alpino Vino, the waiters –  Dan, “DT,” John, Luke, and Anthony – who sport hats from Alpen Schatz, besides being very well turned out are also all very well-informed about the menu and wines and each is at least a level #1 certified sommelier. They rotate the tables, but our first server assured us that each pairing is a home run, worthy of our full attention, so go for it.

And Dan was right.

The menu at Alpino Vino is orchestrated by Chef Niccola Peccedi, a native of the Alpine ski village of Bormeo. He partners with Telski’s top wine expert, sommelier Andrew Shaffner, to create a food experience that is a study in contrasting yet wholly compatible flavors and textures.

A Prosecco from northeastern Italy with zesty bubbles was acid enough to cut through the strong flavor of a smoked Rocky Mountain trout, our antepasti, served with micro greens, zucchini crostini and a tomato and Romano fonduta. And the Fontanabianca, a full-bodied white wine, as the name suggests, from the Italian Piedmont, had enough acidity and brightness to cut the richness of our next course, a handmade (and infused with saffron) lobster ravioli prepared with asparagus, ricotta, and a lobster-brandied-cream sauce, topped off with chili oil caviar. Our palate cleanser was a heavenly roasted vegetable consume, garnished with a sweet pea pesto foam and herbed crostini. Marla and I shared the two entree choices: a pan-seared tuna which derived its verve from a bed of brightly colored roasted bell peppers and a grilled elk tenderloin served with a rich Valpolicella Ripasso reduction and a wild mushroom ragout over creamy polenta. The ultimate variation on the theme of surf and turf.

The restaurant had emptied out and we were full, when we were gently but plainly encouraged to share the two dessert offerings near the fireplace: a plate of mixed cheeses with dried fruit, nuts, and truffled honey and a traditional homemade tiramisu with berry sauce.

The gastronomic experiments at Alpino Vino were anything but flashy. They simply contributed to the rustic minimalism that gives the place its overall charm.

Marla and I wanted to compliment the chef, but our engaging, attentive host, Justin Hoover, assistant general manager of Alpino Vino, informed us that he was AWOL and so was Andy, who had just gotten engaged. Oh, so the gypsies were running the palace.

Only these gypsies could cook – particularly Niccola’s sous chef, Taylor Landry, who is supported by two capable line chefs, Cass Bailey and Ben Rose.

As it turned out, Taylor’s story is the American Dream being played out on Telluride turf.

Taylor’s father is manager of the vegan dining hall – yes, the school has one – at Colby College in Maine. Every night, dad would come home and spend hours in the kitchen, where Taylor would help prep. Back home, Taylor had attended a community college, earning a degree in adventure recreation and tourism. A friend who now works at one of the region’s top dispensaries, Alpine Wellness, convinced him to move to town. At Alpino Vino, the young chef who studied at the school of hard knocks, started out washing dishes, but kept a sharp eye on the kitchen and knew all he had to do to succeed was what came naturally.

Taylor’s conversation was as easy and colorful as our dinner he had treated us to.

For the return trip down the mountain, our chariot, Hal again in the driver’s seat, inched its sure-footed way on a bed of white corduroy. A perfect ending to a storybook evening – minus our Princes Charming. Next time, for sure we return to Alpino Vino with our favorite escorts in tow.

For a review of another memorable evening at another Telski watering hole, Siam Talay, go here.

Now take it away Marla…

Marla-Meridith

There was snow. Lots and lots of snow ~ both on the ground and falling from the sky. The perfect weather (I mean WEATHER) to head up to Alpino Vino restaurant. Grins, giggles and looks of wonder took over as ten of us were whisked up the side of the mountains to reach our destination. In a snow cat.

Hal our friendly cat driver made sure to make us all feel at ease, even while perched over some of the highest peaks in the San Juans.

I have been to this Italian rustic retreat (tiny retreat at that) for a charcuterie & wine lunch. Never before for dinner. And never, ever had I taken a ride in a snow cat. Which was super fun and worth the experience in and of itself. Last time I went, I skied up to the restaurant on a bluebird day & had the most wonderful dining experience there.

The entire dining experience exceeded my expectations (and I have always heard great things!) Once our cat came to a stop we were greeted with sparkling Prosecco ~ as soon as we stepped down from the snow beast.

Once we were settled into our candle lit country table we were greeted with a 5 course menu and more Prosecco. Each of the 5 courses is paired with a well thought out wine selection. The starter was a Zucchini Crostini with Smoky Rocky Mountain Trout, Tomato & Romano Fonduto. The flavors were delicate & a very nice way to begin this elegant meal. Next up we enjoyed Handmade Ravioli. There is something about handmade pasta that can’t be beat. The texture was perfectly al dente. The ravioli were filled with steamed lobster, asparagus & ricotta. Topped with brandied lobster cream & chili oil. I licked the plate. Really.

The soup for the evening was a Roasted Vegetable Consume with English Sweet Pea Foam & Herbed Crostini. It was served in the cutest little copper pots. We sipped the soup using the handle of the little pots. I need to do that presentation here at home.

Alpino-Vino-Marla-Meridith-BO1V9286

 

There were two entree dishes to choose from, we tried one of each. Grilled Elk Tenderloin (prepared to perfection) was served with polenta & a Rispasso wine reduction. We also had Pan-seared Tuna which was served over roasted bell peppers with a light Asian style sauce.

Dessert was a true treat. I love cheese platters for this course, and always get giddy when served one. They had a wonderful platter with Humboldt Fog (one of my favorites) along with two others delicious choices. We also had the Tiramisu which was a recipe handed down from the Chef’s grandmother in Italy. Such an experience to dive into this perfect piece of classic Italian layer cake.

If you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to further indulge a perfect day in Telluride, be sure to reserve a spot at Alpino Vino!

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