Leonora, Vail Village
The space may look the same, but the menu, and more importantly, the experience, is vastly different. Reopening in December in what used to be Block 16 inside Vail’s Sebastian Hotel, Leonora, name after artist Leonora Carrington who created many of original sculptures found throughout the hotel, is a wonderful surprise.
Back in the Block 16 days, dinner was a delicious but drawn-out event. Finding that Vail diners wanted a more casual option, The Sebastian opted to lighten the dining experience at their signature restaurant and frame the menu around a tapas/small plates concept. The chef stayed the same, and now Mexico City-native Sergio Howland has more flavors and creativity with which to craft his food.
Menu offerings start with raw fish crudos (pictured), a must for sashimi aficionados. Small plates are meant to be shared and offer tastes from around the globe. The flatbreads selection reads like an upscale pizza menu, from bacon-asparaus to white clam. Entrees showcase Howland’s signature attention to detail and adventurous flavor pairings.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the thousand-bottle wine silo that rises to the ceiling from the center of the restaurant. Sommelier John Dooley has between 300 and 500 bottles at his fingertips to choose the right wine for the myriad flavors on the menu.
Oh, and don’t skip dessert. Pulling a touch of molecular gastromomy from their bag of tricks, Howland and pasty chef Dale DeSimone have created a sinful cocoa drink by pouring melted chocolate over a hollow chocolate orb. When the two blend together, the result is nothing short of brilliance for true chocoholics.
Dishes of note: salmon and scallop crudos; bacon-and-asparagus flatbread; shrimp sliders; Lava Lake lamb
But Leonora isn’t the only new kid on the scene. A few more to check out before the season is through:
Mountain Standard, Vail Village
The culinary prowess behind Sweet Basil, a Vail Village mainstay, opened Mountain Standard this season to provide a more casual option with same high quality cuisine. The venue’s open kitchen with wood-burning grill and rotisserie spells a menu featuring open-fire grilled meats and seafood with an emphasis on simply prepared dishes of four to five ingredients.
Dishes of note: whiskey-braised pork belly; rotisserie half chicken; shrimp and grits
Web: Mountain Standard
Vail Ale House Kitchen + Tap, West Vail
The Ale House is the newest iteration of a space that’s housed a handful of restaurants and bars in past decade. Simply put, craft beer aficionados will be pleased with this incarnation. Boasting 20 craft beers on tap—the only venue in Vail to offer such a selection—the Ale House prides itself on bringing new beers to its customers, often brews that are not available anywhere else in the high country. The menu was created to pair with the craft selections, from Avery’s White Rascal to Crazy Mountain’s Boohai Red.
Dishes of note: rattlesnake flatbread; shrimp and grits; sausage board
Web: Vail Ale House
El Sabor, Lionshead Village
In a space formerly occupied by the now-defunct Mezzaluna, El Sabor focuses on Latin flavors in its breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. The creative lunchtime “Street Cart” menu lists all manner of tacos, tamales, and tortas. Dinner includes traditional tacos and enchiladas, but also entrees with a little more depth and creativity.
Dishes of note: braised pork shoulder; street cart tacos; mole chicken
Web: El Sabor
Yellowbelly, West Vail
Are chicken joints the new burger bars? Yellowbelly hopes so. This counter-service spot serves up chicken many ways: fried, rotisserie, roasted—with fun sides including kale salad, citrus quinoa, macaroni pie, and smashed potato fries.
Dishes of note: rotisserie chicken sandwich; whole fried bird