Thomas Salamunovich runs his one-year-old Larkspur restaurant with a firm hand and unflappable confidence. "Owning a restaurant is a major responsibility," he says. "I might be in my chef's whites, but my attention is always on the big picture-the front of the house, the service-as much as the kitchen."
The "big picture" is a 10,000-square-foot space at the base of Vail Mountain, which, despite the restaurant's size, has an intimate feel. Perhaps it's due to the friendly staff, who will pour you a pepper-infused vodka, tuck you into a private banquette or describe with zeal the evening's offerings.
On the other hand, it could be the origami hummingbirds that flock an entire wall, the subtle Italian lighting or the casual alder wood decor. Most likely, it's the appeal of the open kitchen and the 4,000-bottle, glass-enclosed wine room. "I want people to be involved in the entire dining experience," Salamunovich says. While Larkspur is the first restaurant that Salamunovich has owned, it benefits from his experience: in San Francisco with Wolfgang Puck at Postrio and Jeremiah Tower at Stars, and in France at Paul Bocuse and Lucas Carton. Before opening Larkspur, he was executive chef at Vail's Sweet Basil and Zino.
Salamunovich dazzles diners with duck pulled from the smoker, chopped Asian-style and served with an orange bigarade sauce and wild rice-pistachio strudel. Huge volcano lamb shanks are offered with sweet potato gnocchi. Ahi tuna is crusted with anchovies and capers, accented with a veal demi-glace and salsa verde and set atop a warm frisée-and-pumpkin polenta Napoleon. Warm apple and pear crepes complete the meal.
As if running a high-volume resort restaurant weren't enough, Salamunovich also oversees an attached gourmet market. "It's high-intensity around here," he says. "But it's not like New York or L.A. Off-season comes around and we get to relax a little."
Dining Off The Beaten Path
Big-name ski-town chefs motivated to make it on their own are opening restaurants in mountain communities that are slightly off the beaten path. These three are well worth the trip.
Mark Fischer, formerly of Aspen's Caribou Club, opened his eclectic eatery two years ago in a turn-of-the-century, arts-and-crafts-style house. "Random acts of cooking" include truffle-goat cheese gnocchi salad, fiery red curry mussel stew and New Zealand lamb with tomato-apricot chutney.
Snake Creek Grill
Three years ago, Barbara Hill left Robert Redford's Zoom Roadhouse Grill in Park City to serve up crispy corn cakes with sweet pepper cream, herb and asiago-crusted sea bass, "Belle Isle" baby backs, and sides like hand-pressed fries and a "mess o' greens" near the old Heber Creeper Depot.
The Old Dewey House Restaurant
In 1995, former Jacksonites Liz Baca and Mike Sheridan turned a Twenties stone house into a showcase for hearty, homestyle cooking. Chef Sheridan's picks include house-made goat cheese with roasted garlic, blue corn-crusted trout, oriental fried catfish and charbroiled sesame pork steaks.