When Charles Dale opened Renaissance Restaurant in Aspen, Colo., he was an ambitious 31-year-old chef with impressive credentials. "I had cooked with Daniel Boulud, Alain Sailhac, Jean-Paul Lacombe," he says. "But I didn't know how to run a business.
My goal was to make people happy." It still is. Over the past 13 years, Renaissance has evolved into an esteemed "Colorado restaurant with an American viewpoint." Dale has been named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine and nominated twice as Best American Chef/Southwest by the James Beard Foundation.
"Like any successful restaurant, we have to offer a top experience," he says. "But for us, the stakes are even higher. We have to offer excellence in a casual way. We have to address people in a friendly manner, without getting too personal."
Quality is key. Dale continuously seeks the freshest ingredients. It enables him to be extremely ambitious in his offerings, including three-, four-, five- and six-course "composed" menus, as well as a nine-course menu he describes as "a conspiracy between us and the diner."
Inspiration also comes from a long relationship with chef de cuisine Jason Tostrup. Together, they cook up dishes such as smoked rabbit salad, porcini-dusted loin of lamb, and quail en "feuille de brik."
"I do what I want, the way I want," Dale says. "How lucky is that?"
Deer Valley Cumberland Sauce
Delicious with venison, duck or other wild game
In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of currant jelly, 2/3 cup of Port wine, the juice and zest of an orange, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 tablespoon of chopped shallots and 1 teaspoon of dry mustard. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and chill.
8,500 Reasons to Visit
If there's a pot of gold at the Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Big Sky, Mont., it's proprietor Patrick Hurd's Old World wine cellar, a room inspired by both his longtime passion for the grape and his award-winning 8,500-bottle collection. Hurd designed the temperature-controlled cellar (named the Bacchus Room), which features weeping river rock archways, gated cellar doors, slate floors and a harvest table made from an old Rainbow Ranch sign. Best of all, it's a terrific place for a private dinner or wine tasting-all of which is best topped off with a stay at the lodge.