For those of you who don’t watch the delectable reality show, seventeen chefs begin a food battle in which they compete head to head in two challenges per week, one of which results in an elimination. The final four contestants; Angelo, Ed, Kelly and Kevin, all decidedly talented, were deserving of their places at the top. However, I’ve been rooting for Kelly from the very beginning.
Aside from being beautiful, modest, and talented beyond her years, Kelly Liken is one of Colorado’s most artistic young chefs. At age 27 she opened her own namesake restaurant, Kelly Liken. The sophisticated eatery focuses on seasonal American cuisine. She maintains relationships with local ranchers, farmers, and artisanal food producers and frequently changes her menu as various products come in and out of season.
My best friend, a certifiable foodie, food blogger (check out frenchpressmemos.com) and fellow Top Chef junkie, and I have decided to leave the husbands and kids at home to get away for a weekend together, just us girls. Part of our objective is to make a pilgrimage to Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado. Other than stalking our favorite reality show contestant, we plan to pamper ourselves and take a much needed break from actual reality.
It is early Saturday morning and we set off on our hour and a half journey from Denver to the chic mountain town. We talk, we laugh, and we reconnect, not that that we were ever disconnected. Our busy lives just make these trips and our time together even more precious.
When we arrive in Vail we stumble upon Gourmet on the Gore, a two-day food festival in the heart of Vail Village that offers tastings of food from local restaurants paired with wine, beer, and spirits. We stroll the festival while basking in the glorious sunshine amidst wafting smells of elk tenderloin, flank steak sliders, and shaved pork sandwiches.
We resist the tempting food served at stalls on each side of the street in the heart of the picturesque Vail Village. Set against a back drop of evergreen trees, changing aspen leaves, and blue skies this afternoon couldn't be more perfect. We decide to stop at Sweet Basil, one of my friend’s longtime favorites and voted Colorado’s most popular restaurant by the Zagat survey. We order a few things to share; Garden Tomato Gazpacho with toasted coriander and cucumber mint sorbet; Citrus Glazed Crispy Duck Wings with toasted sesame, black garlic and jalapeno; House Cut Fries with truffle and parmesan; and Foie Gras Corn Dogs. We’re stuffed and somehow manage to resist dessert.
After lunch we make our way to our hotel, the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. The resort is located just minutes drive from the heart of Vail Village. The four-star hotel is located in breath-taking mountain surroundings and gives the inviting warmth of a cozy all-season retreat. Roaring fireplaces and lodge-type ambiance invites us to unwind and relax.
Relaxation is just what we are looking for as we head over the Vail Cascade’s spa, Aria. We enter the unpretentious sanctuary and slip into our comfy spa robes. We sit down on plush arm chairs and enjoy citrus infused water while we zone out to trashy gossip magazines. We are taken back to our treatment rooms, one after the other, where we receive an hour of blissful and healing massage. My massage goes by so serenely fast it seems as though only ten minutes have passed.
We make our way through a corridor from the spa back to our hotel room. With the lines of the massage table pressed into my forehead and oil from the masseuse’s hands in my hair I begin to dress for dinner. I don’t care that because of my slicked hair I look like a fifties greaser; I’m so relaxed I don’t dare worry or stress.
We rush out of the resort to Restaurant Kelly Liken, excited for our decadent meal. We arrive and Mike, a charming young lad valets the car. We enter the small restaurant and I half-joking say, ‘um, ok, so where is she?’ referring to Kelly Liken, our Top Chef crush. We are escorted to the bar for drinks while we wait for our table to become available. My friend has a blackberry cocktail of house made blackberry syrup, fresh thyme, Small's Oregon Gin, Cointreau, served over ice with a splash of ginger ale. I go for the blackberry mocktail of muddled blackberries, Sprite, served over ice with a splash of pomegranate juice.
As we’re enjoying our blackberry elixirs we see Kelly Liken herself glide by with a mixed air of celebrity and modesty. We make eye contact with the beautiful young chef and she approaches us. We introduce ourselves and mention that we’re huge fans. Mrs. Liken is humble, friendly and chats us up for a few minutes. We ask her to pose for a photograph with us and she graciously agrees. Score!
Like giddy tweens at a Justin Beeber concert we feel like we’ve hit the lottery and that’s before the meal even begins! We sit down at a table situated between two other tables covered with mouthwatering food that we instantly covet. We order our own selection of mouthwatering food to share; English Pea Angolotti with Olathe sweet corn, roasted local mushrooms, a prosciutto chip, and corn cream; Pan Seared Veal Sweetbreads with a Vidalia onion soubise, pickled Vidalias, sauted fennel and fennel fronds; a Cucumber Juice Shooter with citrus salt and a parsley salad; Braised Veal Cheeks with summer pea sauté, tender great Northern beans, pea tendrils, veal jus and pea puree; and a Wild Rice Hoe Cake with blackberry conserve and sautéed arugula. For dessert we can’t decide on just one so we share the Chocolate-Blackberry Tower with layers of hazelnut dacquoise, creamy chocolate pastry cream, blackberry curd, blackberry thyme coulis, with chocolate sorbet and the House made Honey’d S’mores with rich chocolate cake, toasted house made marshmallows, honey caramel, smoked hazelnuts, and a graham cracker crumble.
English Pea Angolotti
Cucumber Juice Shooter
House Made Honeyed S'mores
The meal is so outrageously delicious I don’t want it to end. It is like a roller coaster ride of different flavors and textures, each course like a swoop, loop, and a glide along the roller coaster tracks of culinary genius.
While the food is gorgeous, a highlight of the meal is Kelly Liken’s signature Tomato Consommé Martini. The martini is crystal clear but packs the strongest, boldest, red, tomato flavor imaginable. Heirlooms are in season and are beautifully highlighted in this not-to- be-missed drink. Check out this link for an easy recipe: http://www.alamodejournals.com/index.php/2009/08/shaken-not-stirred/.
Our girls’ weekend of simple pleasures culminated in one amazing meal at Restaurant Kelly Liken. Though I’m not crazy about the uninventive restaurant name or the fact that Kelly Liken didn’t win Top Chef, the experience was one I won’t forget. Not only did we get to meet Kelly herself, the evening was time spent in an inviting setting with my best friend, enjoying each other’s company over beautiful food. Inspired by Top chef’s host Padma Lakshmi’s eliminating weekly phrase, ‘please pack your knives and go’, I recommend any food lover and Top Chef fan to ‘please pack your bags and go’ to restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado for an unforgettable meal of seasonal American cuisine…and for all you paparazzi, a possible reality show star sighting.