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Mountain Trail Mix

Four new restaurants that are giving ski country a lift.

After a day of skiing, I have but one request: I want to eat as well in Vail and Park City as I do in San Francisco and New York. Fortunately, that's getting easier all the time as more great chefs move to the mountains—not to relax and live the good life, but to open ambitious restaurants with inventive menus. Here are four newcomers that will make you look forward to the last run of the day.

Vail Colorado
No moose antlers here. Chef Thomas Salamunovich's Larkspur Restaurant at the Golden Peak Lodge is subtly stylish, with aspen-leaf patterns on the banquettes and hand-carved hummingbirds. Salamunovich was formerly the chef at Vail's Sweet Basil, but influences from his early days in San Francisco (at Stars and Postrio) and Paris (at Arpège and Lucas Carton) show up at Larkspur as well. Classically trained, Salamunovich turns modern classics on their head. You can dine here on Chinese lacquered duck that's been blanched, air-dried and rotisseried. But he dispenses with the standard five-spice powder and instead serves it with Colorado peaches and a pistachio-and-wild-rice strudel—an odd-sounding combination, but certifiably delicious. For those who just want a burger, the Larkspur version is cooked with butter, served on a homemade bun and paired with Kennebec potato french fries that come in a stainless-steelcup. As for those Caesar salad croutons that at high altitude dry out like jawbreakers, Salamunovich ditches the bread and cuts up squares of gratin dauphinois, coating them with panko bread crumbs before frying them. A favorite dessert is homemade doughnuts with mocha sabayon. 458 Vail Valley Drive, Vail; 970-479-8050.

Carbondale Colorado
In Aspen, gentrification means the billionaires have driven out the millionaires. It also means that restaurateurs like James Nadell, of Bistecca Toscana, have fled to towns like Carbondale, half an hour away. The onetime chef at the Caribou Club in Aspen, Trattoria Roma in Carbondale and Fifteen Degrees in Boulder, Nadell planted his Tuscan grill in a space recently renovated with Peruvian cherrywood walls and huge chandeliers. He serves such Tuscan staples as Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a one-pound, center-cut porterhouse that's rubbed with garlic, fresh chopped herbs and lemon. When he serves quail, it's a generous seven-ounce bird from California with wild boar and sun-dried cherry stuffing, finished with white truffle foam. And he makes homemade spicy wild-boar sausage to serve in his Penne Salsiccia. Nadell also smokes his own fish, cures his own prosciutto, and makes his own mozzarella, ricotta, goat cheese and mascarpone. 580 Main St., Carbondale; 970-963-4800.

Big Mountain Montana
Push aside expectations of red meat the next time you finish a powder day on Montana's Big Mountain. Just because you're in the wild West, at the edge of Glacier National Park, doesn't mean you can't have raw fish. Chef-owner Scott Nagel opened Wasabi Sushi Bar last winter, and thanks to daily flights to an airport that's just 15 minutes away, he gets his fish from Japan, Ecuador, the Philippines and Hawaii via a California purveyor. "It's the same fish the guys in San Francisco are using," Nagel says.

In a room where a rock and reggae soundtrack bounces off the wasabi-green walls, diners can choose from the usual sushi selections as well as Nagel's signature Montana roll—roe from local rod-and-reel-caught whitefish on the outside and smoked rainbow trout, scallions, cucumber and tamago (sweetened omelet) on the inside. Not to mention shiro maguro, albacore tuna that's peppered, seared in sesame oil and served with a ponzu sauce. When accompanied by the "Sakarita"—a Margarita made with sake instead of tequila—Montana seems a few thousand miles closer to Kyoto. 419 E. Second St., Whitefish; 406-863-9283.

Park City Utah
Site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City is the hottest restaurant town in Utah. No one knows this better than Bill White, who has just opened Wahso. He's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who went to hotel school, in Switzerland and at Cornell, before opening his first Park City restaurant, The Olive Barrel, in 1991. That was followed by Grappa and then Chimayo, and they're still two of the town's best-loved restaurants.

Now his abundant energy is focused on Wahso. He calls the look "Shanghai in the 1930s," with coffered ceilings, gilt molding, crystal chandeliers and pieces from his wife Eva's collection of Asian antiquities, including a 5,000-pound Ming dynasty tiger and hand-carved, 300-year-old Ching dynasty warrior statues. A dozen booths with curtains function as private dining salons, where White serves dishes like seared hamachi (yellowtail) with gingered green curry and dried banana, potato-and-scallion-encrusted scallop in a ginger clam broth, and wok-seared thigh of king crab paired with an oyster emulsion. He follows it all with desserts like crème brûlée baked in a coconut.

"I try to make things that people like to eat," says White, explaining his approach. With so many packed restaurants to his credit, it's clear he knows what they like. 577 Main St., Park City; 435-615-0300.

Everett Potter is the travel editor of Ski Magazine.

Published December 2000
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