Open Fire Cooking
It’s a bustling weekday night at one of Vail Village’s newest restaurants, the Mountain Standard, and it’s all hands on deck. Co-owner Matt Morgan and other staff stop from table to table, checking in on diners, and Executive Chef Paul Anders is in the long, open kitchen juggling pans alongside his staff. A rotisserie rack and blackened grills are where much of the restaurant’s specialty dishes are made, slow roasting over coals or getting seared over flames.
The modern yet cozy dining space is dominated by rustic reclaimed-wood rafters and oak floors, and patrons sidle up to the long, mirrored bar, a spot that becomes decidedly bustling during the après hours. It seems that both vacationers and locals alike have already discovered the Standard, even though its doors have been open barely a month.
The Mountain Standard’s sister restaurant and longtime Vail culinary landmark, Sweet Basil, is located right upstairs. The restaurant’s owners, Morgan and Kevin Clair, along with chef Anders, wanted to start a new culinary venture that would serve as the more casual counterpart to Sweet Basil. They converted the space – formerly Blu’s restaurant – then knocked out the wall of what used to be a retail space next door and completely remodeled the interior. The Standard’s prices are more casual than Sweet Basil’s as well, with starters ranging from $5 to $15, lunch entrees from $12 to $20 and dinner entrees from $18 to $35.
“Dining, as a whole, has become more casual,” Clair says. “We wanted to capitalized on the success of Sweet Basil, but provide our guests with a more casual atmosphere and dining experience with Mountain Standard. We believe the two restaurants will be a great compliment to one another.”
While the more-established Sweet Basil specializes in innovative, experimental dishes, unafraid to use modern culinary techniques, Mountain Standard crafts its dishes on an open fire, one of the oldest cooking methods known to man. Their signature dishes include rotisserie chicken, fire-grilled steaks and fresh seafood, flown in daily from around the country. Regardless of the cut of meat, there’s something very comforting about roasted dishes enjoyed in the mountains, especially during the winter months.
Chef de Cuisine Brian Brouillard, who heads up the kitchen at Mountain Standard, says the dishes will be simply cooked and expertly prepared – not much more is needed with open-fire cooking, he believes.
“You get pure flavor when cooking over fire,” Brouillard says. “We plan to offer menu selections that are simply prepared – sometimes with only three or four ingredients. We plan to keep the menu simple and straightforward, which is really the way I love to cook.”
Start your meal off with one of the restaurant’s sharing-friendly starters, which are also a great option for the après ski crowd. The molasses-rubbed quail tastes like a miniature Thanksgiving bird – the meat is tender, and the dish has equal parts sweetness and crunch, thanks to blackberries and roasted almonds. Foodies will love the roasted bone marrow, served in an ox bone, topped with braised oxtail and served with toasted bread. If you like foie gras, you’ll like this dish, which has a similarly rich, buttery flavor with a toned-down texture.
For those who enjoy après, top off the appetizers with the restaurant’s signature Bloody Mary. The classic cocktail gets a twist with roasted tomatoes and Sriracha sauce, giving the drink a smoky taste and spicy kick.
While the menu errs on the heavier, carnivorous side, it has some notable salads as well. Get a lighter alternative to the rotisserie chicken by trying the chicken salad, an entree-sized portion mixed with sourdough bread, cranberries and currants, served with a sherry-mustard dressing. The coal-roasted vegetable salad also caters to the winter palate, with tenderly caramelized veggies and arugula tossed with slightly sour sherry vinaigrette. It’s a salad with some heft that fills you up without having to add meat.
Standouts from the grilled meat and fish selections include the Rocky Mountain Trout – the roasting process leaves the fish flakey and buttery. The flavor gets a unique twist with a butter-lime sauce, and the entire dish is topped with crunchy green beans and almonds. The combination of flavors and textures makes for a satisfying, complete dish.
If you’re looking for savory meat, the Standard also has prime rib, pork cuts and lamb. However, don’t overlook what is becoming one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: the rotisserie chicken.
Some say you can judge a restaurant by ordering the chicken – it’s mundane compared to fancier dishes, but if a place can get the chicken right, chances are that the rest of the menu will be done well, too. Mountain Standard doesn’t disappoint in this respect.
The half-chicken portion is succulent, and the skin is savory and just barely crispy. To add heartiness for the winter, it comes with roasted root vegetables and wild rice risotto, all swimming in a pool of lemon-herb broth.
Seafood purists will also be fans of the restaurant’s raw bar. The Standard has a sea-to-restaurant program, working with individual fishermen to bring the freshest catch from harbors to the Standard nearly every day. Try the spiced whole shrimp served warm, or if you don’t want to bother with shells, try the flash-seared king crab legs, served on ice and with a spicy-and-tangy Bloody Mary sauce.
If you’ve left room for dessert – and cold winter nights often call for dessert – the menu offers pretty classic choices, such as fruit tarts and chocolate cake. One unique way to finish the meal is the bread pudding with cherries. Forget the mushy concoction you might be thinking of – this version is more like a firm cake, soaked with an extra-boozy kick.
The Standard will be a great winter addition to the dining choices in Vail Village. The cozy atmosphere plus sizable lunch and starter menu, paired with a high-energy vibe, will be sure to bring in both après and dinner crowds. It will be interesting to see how the menu handles a shift from the comforting winter fare it does so well into the summer months.
Our guess is that it will become a perennial favorite.