The food that several dozen diners at the first Peaks Resort “Crave” dinner enjoyed on a recent summer weeknight is not what you could be served at future editions of the Crave Dining Series.
There are four more such social evenings (communal table, fixed menu) set for this summer at the Palymra restaurant. Each is sure to be distinct, which is exactly the point of a tasting menu utilizing the best local produce in the market at the moment, not to mention the particular theme of the evening. This first dinner was a Wine Summer Social, with each of the seven courses paired with a wine selected by John Sutcliffe of Sutcliffe Vineyards, and his winemaker Joe Buckel.
(And yes, seven courses and at least seven glasses of wine – the glasses are replenished – does add up to a lot of food and wine, making for a full evening, literally and figuratively.)
The ever-charming Sutcliffe was in fine form, confiding that his vineyard was recently awarded a Wine Spectator honor as a winery of the year; and he graciously credited Buckel with raising the quality of Sutcliffe wines to their highest level ever over the last five years.
Tirelessly, it seems, and with evident enjoyment, Sutcliffe paired wines with meals not only at The Peaks for the inaugural Crave dining experience, but is doing so this summer at Cosmopolitan in Telluride as well (check Cosmo’s ads or website for dates), and at other fine dining restaurants across the Four Corners, thus patiently building his regional fan base.
Meanwhile, The Peaks has clearly given the green light to chef Patrick Funk to go all in on making a serious culinary impression. An evening like this – the food and wine spectacular – is, it would seem, becoming as much of an attraction as any other art form or type of entertainment on a high-end resort’s menu of offerings.
Each course was presented by Funk, who described the food, followed by Buckel, who talked about the wine and why he chose it for that particular course. And the good spirits flowed with chef both complimenting and complementing winemaker, and vice versa.
Compressed watermelon was new to me when I first had it maybe a year ago in a salad at a restaurant on the East Coast. More recently I enjoyed it at an Asian fusion restaurant paired with raw tuna. A Google search reveals that it is watermelon compressed by being sealed in a vacuum bag, sous vide, but then refrigerated, not gently cooked in a warm bath, concentrating the flavors and making the texture denser. Maybe Funk has been to those same two restaurants, because his first course consisted of cubes of raw tuna along with compressed watermelon, seasoned with finely chopped spring onion and garlic scapes. With their contrasting flavors, textures and colors, tuna and compressed watermelon set each other off, similar to the way Sutcliffe’s 2011 dry Reisling, with which it was paired, plays with mineral undertones and tart fruity elements.
So it went for another five courses: a salad of shaved asparagus and arugula garnished with duck confit and a poached quail egg (Sauvignon Blanc); pan-seared halibut with heirloom tomatoes and a bacon and kalamata potato puree (Cinsaut); elk loin redolent with coriander crust (Cabernet Franc); and the coup de grace, a spectacular slice of grass finished beef that looked like prime rib but was called a tomahawk chop on the menu (Trawsfynydd).
The Cinsaut and Trawsfynydd demand some explanation. Cinsaut, Buckel explained, is one of the 14 varietals that go into Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and while it is a commonly grown grape it is generally blended with other varietals and is thus not a familiar name on a wine label. As for Trawsfynydd, Sutcliffe is of Welsh origins, and his dark blend of Bordeaux varietals is named in homage to his homeland; it’s not to be found on any label other than Sutcliffe, making it as original as it is unpronounceable.
A meal like this overwhelms the senses, and you could not make a daily habit of it, but you might want to book one of the next four Crave social evenings at The Peaks – because you will be assured a memorable evening. On Aug. 7 the theme is Spanish tapas; on Aug. 28, a farm-to-table harvest dinner; on Sept. 11 there will be a guest “celebrity” chef assisting Funk prepare courses to be paired with beers; and on Sept. 25 lamb will be featured.
For more information or to book a reservation, visit thepeaksresort.com/dining/